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Sunday, March 25, 2007

BBC spending 200,000 pounds to muzzle report on anti-Israel bias.

We knew that the BBC is doing its best to cover up the Balen report. If they had nothing to hide, that would not be the case. Muzzle-watchers take note.

BBC pays £200,000 to 'cover up report on anti-Israel bias'>

by PAUL REVOIR - Last updated at 21:24pm on 22nd March 2007

The BBC has been accused of "shameful hypocrisy" over its decision to spend £200,000 blocking a freedom of information request about its reporting in the Middle East.

The corporation, which has itself made extensive use of FOI requests in its journalism, is refusing to release papers about an internal inquiry into whether its reporting has been biased towards Palestine.

BBC chiefs have been accused of wasting thousands of pounds of licence fee payers money trying to cover-up the findings of the so called Balen Report into its journalism in the region, despite the fact that the corporation is funded by the British public.

BBC bosses have faced repeated claims that is coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict has been skewed by a pro-Palestianian bias.

The corporation famously came under fire after middle-east correspondent Barbara Plett revealed that she had cried at the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004.

The BBC's decision to carry on pursuing the case, despite the fact than the Information Tribunal said it should make the report public, has sparked fury as it flies in the face of claims by BBC chiefs that it is trying to make the corporation more open and transparent.

Politicians have branded the BBC's decision to carry on spending money, hiring the one of the country's top public law barrister in the process, as "absolutely indefensible".

They claim its publication is clearly in the public interest.

The BBC's determination to bury the report has led to speculation that the report was damning in its assessment of the BBC's coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict that the BBC wants to keep it under wraps at all costs.

Others believe that the BBC is using the case to test the law about how much protection it has got from making its editorial activities public and also because it fears that if it loses the case it will create a precedent.

The BBC's action over the case have provoked inevitable charges of hypocrisy as the BBC itself makes frequent used of freedom of information requests to get stories.

The BBC's own website boasts of 69 stories that it says it has broken with the help of the Freedom of Information Act.

If the BBC loses the High Court case next week it could appeal again and again until the case reaches the European Court in Strasbourg.

This would soak further thousands from BBC coffers, which should be spent on making TV programmes.

Conservative MP David Davies said: "An organisation which is funded partly to scrutinise governments and other institutions in Britain appears to be using tax-payers money to prevent its customers from finding out how it is operating. That is absolutely indefensible."

He added: "I think the BBC are guilty of shameful hypocrisy. What could possibly be in this report that could possibly be worth £200,000 to bury. What is it they feel is so awful in this report."

A source close to the case said they believed that the BBC had spend in the region of £200,000 on the case so far, while another legal expert claimed the cost could be as much as £300,000.

The document was put together by BBC editorial advisor Malcolm Balen in 2004 but never released.

The High Court action next week is the latest episode in what has become a lengthy legal battle which has been pursued by London solicitor Steven Sugar, who made the initial FOI request.

Initially Information Commissioner Richard Thomas agreed with the BBC's decision not to release details of the report.

But Sugar appealed the Information Tribunal and they backed his claims in September. This then saw the BBC appeal to the High Court.

The BBC claims public broadcasters do not have to disclose material that is held for the purposes of "journalism, art or literature".

But the BBC is now facing accusations it is using this rule as a smoke-screen.

It claims the measures are there to protect the integrity of its reporting and protects its journalists from interference from the public.

The BBC Believes that this includes the Balen Report.

The BBC also claims that if the court finds in Sugar's favour it could lead to a sudden increase in FOI requests which would require more staff and a further burden on the licence fee.

While the BBC did not reveal the findings of the Balen Report, which was compiled in 2004, the corporation did last year make public the findings of an independent panel report into the BBC's impartiality on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That report found said that there was "no deliberate or systematic bias" in the BBC's reporting, but said its approach had at times been "inconsistent" and was "not always providing a complete picture" which had been "misleading".

But some claimed that the independent panel report only took a snapshot of the BBC's activities and should have looked more deeply at the reporting of the most troubled moments of the conflict.

Steven Sugar, who said he was prepared to take the case all the way to European court, said: "What I would like to see is the disclosure of an important document which will give us an insight into what the BBC itself thinks of its own performance.


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