The Protection of Information Act

Everybody who frequents this site will know that the BBC has spent lashings of our telly tax on legal fees to safeguard the secrecy of a report they themselves commissioned. The subject was their coverage of the Middle East, and the question was: is the BBC biased against Israel?
The legal battle took many twists and turns, and Steven Sugar, who steadfastly fought for the release of the Balen report, very sadly and inopportunely died at the age of 60, shortly before another stage of the unfolding court case was due to be heard.
No-one knows whether Malcolm Balen’s findings confirmed the BBC’s anti Israel bias, but one thing’s for sure, the battle to keep them secret certainly gives the impression that they did. So, in some ways, the BBC’s intransigent refusal to let us take a peek works against them almost as much as the revelation of its contents might have done.

One slightly ironic bonus of this ongoing legal tussle is that the public gets to discover a bit of extra information for free, namely that the BBC is virtually exempt from the obligations of the FOI act, because of a cunning exclusion clause concerning ‘journalism art or literature,’ for the purpose of, yer honour m’lud.
Anything in that category is ‘out with’ the FOI act. In other words the entire BBC output can, if it likes, shelter under the same get-out umbrella.
So are we up in arms at the arrogance of the BBC for wallowing in a unique all-embracing exemption from scrutiny, which flies in the face of the ultra desirable, most-wanted virtue du jour – *transparency* – the essential quality that all organisations long for, and the one thing that makes everything come good? (WikiLeaks, anyone?)
Bear with me.
As well as (and to a large extent because of) the media – the dinner-party set, socialists, trade unions, celebrities and the Muslim community – all currently bask in a toxic climate of pro Palestinian advocacy and anti Israel activism. It’s a kind of global man-made antisemitic climate-change, and it is alive and well, flourishing even, in our universities. You can virtually get a doctorate in hating Jews.

The Arab sourced funding that some of our universities currently rely on has led to the alarming ascendancy of Islamic studies departments set up by Saudi Princes at places like Exeter, where anti Israel polemicists Ilan Pappé and Ghada Karmi prevail, and the LSE, Oxbridge and various other renowned academic institutions. I vividly recall reading with dismay this 2008 article about Aberystwyth University. It implies that if a student won’t toe the line they will probably fail their degree.
So here’s my point.
I found a FOI request that I am glad the BBC refused to deliver. It’s in the public domain, and there’s no super injunction preventing me from knowing about it. I found it on Google, by accident, as I was looking for something else.

I have no idea what this Palestinian gentleman from Strathclyde University intended to do with the information he requested. Ideas that ran through my head ranged from: *write a learned dissertation on Hasbara, *organise a troll blitzkrieg on B-BBC, and sadly, but inevitably, *kill infidels.

Why would I be grateful that the BBC refused to give details of the complainants and complaints about anti-Israel reports to a post graduate student who might be doing some important academic research? Because the student is a Palestinian activist with links to some very hostile people. Because we live in a culture of intimidation. Because B-BBC is number 12 on the list. Because because because.

I hesitated before posting this. I sought advice. They said “publish!” which I hereby do, sincerely hoping that B-BBC and I won’t be damned. What a sorry state I’m in to have such worries. It’s regrettable that some of us, because of our particular circumstances, are conscious of the need to take limited steps to preserve our anonymity, just because we dare to defend Israel.

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10 Responses to The Protection of Information Act

  1. john in cheshire says:

    I suspect that the people who read postings on this site don’t need the Balen report to know that the bbc is institutionally hostile to Israel. However, I think it is necessary for the report to be released into the public domain for that knowledge to be legitimised. Which is probably why the bbc refuse to do so. What a sick organisation it is.


  2. deegee says:

    There are quite legitimate and traditional reasons for the protoection of information for the purpose of ‘journalism art or literature,’ Protection of sources comes to mind. Also protection of the privacy of people involved in art, for example, as nude models. However the BBC has interpreted the clause to cover virtually everything to do with its output.

    It seems to me that the only practical way to attack this is through the courts. Sue the BBC for not answering a legitimate FOI request and in the process have the court define what is covered and what is not. That requires very competent legal advice, as we can expect the BBC to fight this tooth and nail, and resources for a long Balen style legal campaign.


  3. Demon1001 says:

    The last paragraph of Sue’s is chilling.  How the hell have we let things in this country come to such a terrible state!   If nothing is done about it now, the future is bleak, very bleak.  These same types that Sue lists: “the dinner-party set, socialists, trade unions, celebrities and the Muslim community” have taken Orwell’s 1984, and, instead of using it as a warning, have used it as a blueprint for the future they want to inflict on us.


  4. Fran at AFI says:

    There is an online petition to the culture Secretary asking him to compel the BBC to release the contents of the Balen report to License Fee payers here


  5. TooTrue says:

    Interesting that right at the end of his request our Palestinian has the following:

    4-Between January and March 2006 The BBC complaints homepage states
    that it handled over 32,000 editorial complaints. Some of these
    complaints had to do the Middle East conflict news coverage:
    “Political Bias: Some viewers and listeners felt that Middle East
    news coverage was biased:
    some felt that Israelis were favoured and
    others that the bias was in favour of Palestinians”.

    I would like to know the name of any organization (s) that sent
    these complaints and to have copies of them.

    So he is also interested in complaints from Palestinian supporters? This makes me feel that he is more interested in an academic inquiry than terrorism. Some of the info that he requested would be available by ploughing through websites of the organisations named. Honest Reporting, for example, consistently mentions the complaints it makes against the BBC and other media. Could be that our Palestinian is simply trying to save himself a huge amount of work by getting the BBC to do a considerable amount of it for him.

    I think it’s also worth noting that he wasn’t asking for personal info but just the names of organisations. 

    But I take your point about the pro-Palestinian climate of intimidation at universities in Britain. Of course it’s not limited to Britain. Even in some Israeli universities students’ acamedic prospects are prejudiced if they don’t toe the lefty, sympathetic-to-Palestinians line. I also take your point that one has to be concerned about personal safety when putting one’s head above the parapet. Sad but true.


    • sue says:

      You’re probably right. He wants to use the information constructively.
      As far as I know no complaints to the BBC  have been made under the auspices of B-BBC in any case, so even if they did hand over the goods there’s be nothing there.

      The thing about this activism malarky that I don’t like is that it’s so unbalanced. There’s half of Israel (slight exaggeration) on the left, sabotaging their own country by disseminating self-hating propaganda, and half the diaspora Jews on the left doing something similar.
      On the other side, there are very few Muslim defenders of Israel, bar the Muslims for Israel people and this courageous chap.
      Then there’s the Guardian and the BBC, not to mention the pro Palestinian campaigners who pretend to want peace, but their virulence only inflames people who might otherwise not have bothered, and whips them up into a state of agitation and aggression.

      If you look at the mission statements of some of the organisations I mentioned in the post, they pretend they’re working towards something or other, but their articles are full of nonsense. Look at the one about settlements for example.
      So if they’re going to make things up, why bother to request copies of complaints in the first place? They may as well invent their own.