The BBC went to court today to try to supress the realease of the "Balen report" an internal BBC report which apparently examines the journalistic balance of BBC Iraeli/Arab news coverage.
An information Tribunal, considering a case brought by a London solictor, Mr Sugar, had previously ruled that the BBC should release the report but the BBC is now seeking to overturn that decision - at a cost to the British taxpayer of some £200,000.
We reported previously how this is a major test of the Freedom of Information information legislation but that the BBC has barely mentioned the Balen report court case in its own news coverage. We find this quite astonoshing given that the case raises major questions about he application of the Freedom of information Act and the use of BBC license fee money to pursue such an action.
Monica Carss-Frisk, QC, representing the BBC, told Mr Justice Davis at the High Court that the BBC was maintaining that the Freedom of Information tribunal was wrong to grant Mr Sugar access to the document.
Ms Carss-Frisk said that the Information Tribunal did not have jurisdiction to hear Mr Sugar’s appeal under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act.
An expert in media law at Taylor Wessing,Niri Shan, said that this was a very important case because few freedom of information cases reach the High Court. Most go no further than the Information Tribunal appeal stage.
“If the High Court overturns the Information Tribunal’s ruling it will be a blow to its credibility - and would have a significant bearing on future Tribunal cases,” Mr Shan said.
A major focus for the two-day hearing will be whether the Information Tribunal had jurisdiction to consider Mr Sugar’s appeal and rule as it did.
According to the Freedom of Information Act, the BBC is only bound by the Freedom of Information Act “for purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature”.
The BBC is allowed to hold back material that deals with the production of its art, entertainment and journalism. It has used these grounds to reject over 400 Freedom of Information requests.
Mr Sugar in his successful appeal had argued that the Balen report was not held by the BBC for the purposes of journalism “because it is a report about journalism itself”. He claimed he was therefore entitled to apply to see it under the Freedom of Information Act.
Yet again there was no mention of this on the main BBC news coverage. We wait to see how much coverage the BBC gives the case when the High Court rules.