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Balen Report

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The Balen Report is a document written by the senior broadcasting journalist Malcolm Balen in 2004 examining the BBC's coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The report was commissioned by former BBC Director of News, Richard Sambrook, following allegations of bias from both sides in the conflict.[1][2][3]

Freedom of Information court case

A number of people requested copies of the report under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The BBC rejected these requests on the grounds that the report fell under a derogation in the FOI Act: "Information held by the BBC is subject to the Freedom of Information Act only if it is 'held for purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature'."[4] The BBC contended that as an internal report aimed at checking its own standards of journalism, the report was held for purposes of journalism.[4] The BBC's position was challenged by Jewish activist,[5] and consultant commercial solicitor at London firm Forsters,[6]Steven Sugar, who appealed initially to the Information Commissioner (who ruled in favour of the BBC) and then to the Information Tribunal (who ruled that the report was not held for purposes of journalism).[4]

The BBC appealed against the decision of the Information Tribunal to the High Court on two grounds: that the Information Tribunal did not have jurisdiction to hear an appeal from the Information Commissioner in this case and that even if did its decision was flawed as a matter of law. The High Court decided that the Tribunal did lack jurisdiction and rejected Mr Sugar's challenge to the Commissioner's decision. The High Court did not consider the BBC's second ground of appeal. Mr Sugar's appeal to the Court of Appeal against the High Court's decision on the jurisdiction question was dismissed but his subsequent appeal to the House of Lords (the highest court in the UK) was allowed by 3 votes to 2 on 11 February 2009. Thus the Tribunal's decision in Mr Sugar's favour was reinstated. [7][8] The BBC retained its second ground of appeal and the case returned to the High Court on 2 October 2009, when Mr Justice Irwin ruled in the BBC's favour. His decision was that the information requested was held 'significantly' for the purposes of journalism and therefore was exempt under the Freedom of Information Act.[9][10]

Alleged legal costs

The Daily Mail and others have reported that the BBC may have spent up to an estimated £200,000 in an effort to withhold the report, and noted that some BBC chiefs have been accused of wasting licence fee payers' money. Conservative MP David Davis called the block "shameful hypocrisy" in light of the corporation's previous extensive use of FOI requests in its journalism.[1]

The BBC's press release following the High Court judgment included the following statement:

"The BBC's action in this case had nothing to do with the fact that the Balen report was about the Middle East – the same approach would have been taken whatever area of news output was covered."

The plaintiff, Mr Sugar, was reported after his earlier success in the House of Lords in BBC v Sugar[11] as saying:

"It is sad that the BBC felt it necessary to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money fighting for three years to try to load the system against those requesting information from it. I am very pleased that the House of Lords has ruled that such obvious unfairness is not the result of the Act." [12]

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