Posts Tagged 'Freedom of Information'

Scrutiny of the BBC: It’s time to amend the FOI Act 2000

One of the most controversial aspects of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 is the way it is interpreted and applied by the BBC.

The BBC’s interpretation, backed by establishment cover among the political class, enables the corporation to reject requests for information, effectively exempting itself from being held to account by the public that is compelled by law to fund it if they own and use a device capable of real-time reception of a TV signal.

A recent story about left wing bias at BBC News and Current Affairs, as acknowledged by presenter BBC Radio 4 Today programme John Humphrys, and now a leaked briefing note from the Question Time programme showing David Dimbleby was told to direct a series of difficult questions to Lord Heseltine (Conservative) and Simon Hughes (Lib Dem), but only ask two tame and generic questions of Rachel Reeves (Labour), are the latest in a string of revelations which consistently point to BBC bias in one direction.

We could submit FOI requests to the BBC for information about the editorial line that had been taken and why it was taken, but we would receive a reply along the lines of:

…the information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’    Part VI of Schedule 1 to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters is only covered by the Act if it is held for ‘purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature” 1. The BBC is not required by the Act to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities…

Therefore it is time for a concerted effort to have the FOI Act 2000 amended to remove the clause that allows the BBC to reject requests for information in respect of information held for purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature.

Ireland’s public service broadcaster, RTE, falls under that country’s Freedom of Information in the same way as the BBC here in the UK.  However, unlike the BBC, RTE doesn’t leave its exemption open to the widest possible interpretation to suit its own interests and instead it publishes exactly what is exempt and what isn’t.  RTÉ tells the Irish public that it:

… is funded in part by public money through the licence fee and we believe that our policies and operations should be open to public scrutiny and that access to our records by the public will show that we carry out our public service remit scrupulously and honestly.

before going to to explain:

What is excluded?

Commercially sensitive, personal or confidential journalistic records cannot be released. Reporter’s notes or off-the-record quotes, whether broadcast or not, are excluded. RTÉ’s internal reviews or analysis of broadcast programmes are also excluded.

It is a stark contrast to the BBC’s efforts to keep the public in the dark about how it works when suspicions are raised, questions are asked and when information requested is rejected on the basis of the catch-all exemption.

There is simply no justification for not answering questions from the public about:

  • details of its editorial position on important issues
  • details of its editorial decision making process when making programmes
  • the names of people who inform BBC policies
  • how and why it selects those people
  • how it selects or omits contributors and guests on its programmes
  • metrics about complaints from the public on specific issues

Releasing information about the details above would in no way compromise confidential sources or require details of whistleblowers to be revealed, which are reasonable exemptions and surely the purpose behind the exemption in the first place.  It would not mean sharing commercially sensitive information and it would not require journalists’ confidential notes or off the record quotes to be shared.

Instead compelling the BBC to release information from the bullet list above would enable the public to discover if there has been bias in the way influential programmes – news and current affairs programmes in the main – have been made and if the editorial process has sought to advance a political or activist narrative, in contravention of the BBC Charter requirements on impartiality.

The only way this will happen is if the FOI Act 2000 is amended so that the exemption is removed from the BBC, Channel 4 and S4C in Wales, and a clearly defined and much more narrow exemption put in its place.  The government talks at length about openness, transparency and accountability, so let the demonstrate it by agreeing to a demand from taxpayers to make those fine words a reality.

————

Some notes…

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 gives people a general right of access to information held by public authorities. As the Act makes clear:

Any person making a request for information to a public authority is entitled

(a) to be informed in writing by the public authority whether it holds information of the description specified in the request, and

(b) if that is the case, to have that information communicated to him.

But lurking deep inside the Act, on page 53, is an undefined, catch all exclusion that was granted to a public body which, more than almost any other public body, has the capacity to influence public knowledge and thinking on any number of issues – the BBC.  The full reference reads simply:

The British Broadcasting Corporation, in respect of information held for purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature

That single reference is found in Part VI of Schedule 1 – Public authorities in the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which names the BBC as one of the ‘Other public bodies and offices: general’ under the provisions of the Act.

What the BBC thinks the exemptions means for itself…

In summary, the BBC considers the derogation protects the journalistic, artistic and literary integrity of the BBC by securing a creative and journalistic space for programme-makers to produce material for broadcast free from interference by those who would seek to influence our output.  Additionally, as also recognised by the Court of Appeal, it allows for a “level playing field” between the Public Service Broadcasters caught by the Act (BBC, Channel 4, S4C, GMS) and their commercial competitors.  In practical terms, the BBC has interpreted this to mean that we are not required to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities.

So pleased for the BBC

There are few sights as heartwarming as seeing the BBC writhing around in orgasmic ecstasty, but that is what we have been able to enjoy today.

We can only feel pleased for the corporation, for no less than 120 Beeboids were shipped to South Africa to cover the Nelson Mandela memorial service for TV, radio and web.  And rightly so, because no opportunity to visit far flung corners of the world for a well deserved jaunt on full expenses and with no luxuries spared should ever be passed up.  It has been earned.  And in return our intrepid and fearless expeditionary force rewarded us with an impossibly large range of news angles to tell us in many, many different ways that Mandela was special.

Not only were our BBC truth seekers able to get moist while listening to a conveyor belt of eulogies to one of their biggest heroes, who transformed the world single handedly without any hint of a stain or blemish on his character, they were also treated to what may be the final curtain call for BBC favourite Archbishop Desmond Tutu; and were privileged to have been in the presence of a Cuban Castro – names which have featured so prominently in impartial and balanced BBC coverage for decades.

But best of all for Team Auntie, they have experienced the thrill of seeing, live and in the flesh, their hero of the modern era, President Barack Obama.  The World’s President stood like a giant, holding forth in full effect, working that teleprompter like no one else can, before taking a few selfies with a Danish blonde and an Old Etonian with narcissistic tendencies and a delusion disorder.  Truly he is great.

In fact, such was the BBC delerium at seeing Obama it was hard to tell from the news reports whether the most significant event just outside Johannesburg was Madiba’s memorial or Obama’s tribute to his hero.  Naturally it was a fine line to tread, but one the Beeboids did with poise and without the slightest hint of sycophancy.

What is especially pleasing is that in recent days the BBC has achieved all this by making liberal use of license fee money and managing to triage the news in order to sift out trivial domestic events, such as the worst storm surge in the last 60 years that has flooded hundreds of families out of their homes and businesses.  Make no mistake, this is a triumph.

The BBC identified what was important to them and their worldview, then put their backs into ensuring we all shared in the experience.  They did this safe in the knowledge that any small minded person who lacks the education and intellectual depth required be able to respect the BBC way as the right way and who deigns to complain about this, will be brushed off in the usual manner; and that thanks to the entirely proper and not at all hypocritical Freedom of Information exemption enjoyed by the corporation, have done all this safe in the knowledge the editorial decision making process will remain secret and beyond accountability.  As it should be, naturally.

Well done Beeb.  So pleased for you.

BBC Trust report author John Bridcut unfazed by uncovered deception

As mentioned in the post about the BBC’s lie that the ‘best scientific experts’ made up the external attendees at its 2006 Climate Change seminar, the film maker John Bridcut was the author of a report for the BBC Trust about ‘safeguarding impartiality in the 21st century’ in which it was written:

The BBC has held a high-level seminar with some of the best scientific experts, and has come to the view that the weight of evidence no longer justifies equal space being given to the opponents of the consensus [on anthropogenic climate change].

On his website Bridcut states that he wrote the ‘From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel‘ report with the help of ‘a steering group from inside and outside the BBC’.  Having presented as fact something that has now been shown to be patently false, AM contacted Mr Bridcut to ask him if he wished to comment on the fresh information and if he would say who told him the seminar comprised a group of ‘best scientific experts’.  The email trail is below:

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Dear Mr Bridcut

You will no doubt be familiar with the following words taken from the above named report:

“The BBC has held a high-level seminar with some of the best scientific experts, and has come to the view that the weight of evidence no longer justifies equal space being given to the opponents of the consensus [on anthropogenic climate change].”

Information subsequently found in the public domain regarding the attendees at that seminar, and currently being discussed on social media and in the press, reveals your assertion to be inaccurate. There is a suspicion that your assertion stemmed from information you were provided with about the seminar when compiling your report. Would you care to comment on this, perhaps outlining where information colouring the assertion you made regarding the ‘best scientific experts’ originated? I feel it is only proper that you have the opportunity to clarify this matter and ensure the record is correct.

I look forward to your early reply.

Yours sincerely

———————–

Dear Mr Nightingale,

Thank you for your message. When you say that my assertion is revealed to be inaccurate, to which words are you specifically referring? For your ease of reference, I append the whole paragraph from the report, rather than the single sentence you have highlighted.

“The BBC has held a high-level seminar with some of the best scientific experts, and has come to the view that the weight of evidence no longer justifies equal space being given to the opponents of the consensus. But these dissenters (or even sceptics) will still be heard, as they should, because it is not the BBC’s role to close down this debate. They cannot be simply dismissed as ‘flat-earthers’ or ‘deniers’, who ‘should not be given a platform’ by the BBC. Impartiality always requires a breadth of view: for as long as minority opinions are coherently and honestly expressed, the BBC must give them appropriate space. ‘Bias by elimination’ is even more offensive today than it was in 1926. The BBC has many public purposes of both ambition and merit – but joining campaigns to save the planet is not one of them. The BBC’s best contribution is to increase public awareness of the issues and possible solutions through impartial and accurate programming. Acceptance of a basic scientific consensus only sharpens the need for hawk-eyed scrutiny of the arguments surrounding both causation and solution. It remains important that programme-makers relish the full range of debate that such a central and absorbing subject offers, scientifically, politically and ethically, and avoid being misrepresented as standard-bearers. The wagon wheel remains a model shape. But the trundle of the bandwagon is not a model sound.”

Best wishes

John Bridcut

———————–

Dear Mr Bridcut

The words to which I specifically refer are:

“The BBC has held a high-level seminar with some of the best scientific experts…”

The reason for this is the attendee list of the seminar you refer to, which the BBC has fought an expensive legal action to withhold from the public, has been found in the public domain and is currently forming the basis of stories in various media. Of the 28 external attendees, i.e. non BBC staff, only three were scientists and none of those were specialists in climate change disciplines. The rest of the 28 attendees were environmental campaigners from pressure groups, charity representatives, a staffer from the US Embassy, students, someone from the Church of England, an insurance industry consultant, and even a representative from the CBI.

Perhaps you will agree this puts the seminar in a completely different light to that presented in your report. Many are arguing the assertion in your report misrepresents the facts. That is the reason for me contacting you and inviting you to comment and outline the origin of the information you asserted in your report.

Best wishes

———————–

Dear Mr Nightingale

Thank you for your further communication. I was not privy to any specific information about the guest-list at the seminar, but I am baffled by the attention you are devoting to that clause, since it seems to me it contains the least important words in the paragraph. The point, surely, is what the BBC’s conclusion was after the seminar, however constituted, and then my report’s words of admonition (from the second sentence through to the end of the paragraph) – words with which, from the tone of your message, I would have thought you found some agreement. To concentrate on the constitution of the seminar is to miss the point of this section of the report entirely.

Best wishes

John Bridcut

———————–

Dear Mr Bridcut

Thank you for your reply. I think you may be missing the significance that has been attributed by the BBC to the claim the seminar consisted of “some of the best scientific experts”, the point you make in your report.

As Andrew Orlowski points out, the outputs of the seminar resulted in the BBC abandoning balance and impartiality in its coverage on a topic for the first time since World War II. Even in its reporting of the conflict between this country, the Empire and allies with Nazi Germany, the BBC remained impartial. However on the subject of AGW the BBC has cited as the justification for its editorial position the advice received from “scientific experts” at this seminar, a group it now transpires was actually made up of NGOs, activists and campaigners with not a single climate specialist in the room.

I argue that although it is a clear misrepresentation it is something you have retailed as fact in your report. I would suggest in the light of this your assertion being factually incorrect, irrespective of the comments you follow it with, has implications for your credibility possibly through no fault of your own. That is why I am attempting to identify the source of the information you used that lead you to make an assertion that had no basis in fact.

I hope this clarifies the rationale for the strict focus within your text.

Best wishes

———————–

Dear Mr Nightingale
I am afraid I cannot now recall the origin of that phrase, and you are the first person to have raised it with me. But if you wish to take issue with the report, I suggest you take up the matter with the BBC Trust.

Best wishes

John Bridcut

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———————–

It seems incuriosity is something that permeates the BBC and those it commissions to do its bidding, and when pressed people seem to develop short memories about significant details they use to bolster their work but which are later found to be without foundation. Sadly Bridcut doesn’t seem bothered he was given false information and seems happy for it to stand in the public record. This is very telling in itself. It’s clearly OK to witter on about impartiality, but truth and accuracy are dispensible perspectives.

BBC lied about ‘best scientific experts’ being used to construct its biased climate change coverage

In recent days this blog has focussed attention on the BBC’s policy of arbitrarily rejecting Freedom of Information requests.  The corporation has consistently cited a self interpreted catch-all derogation they say exempts them from releasing information, because all the information they have is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’

The focus on this stemmed from a failed attempt by Tony Newbery of the Harmless Sky blog, to get the list of names of attendees at a BBC seminar held in 2006, from which the BBC made the decision to give up any pretence of impartiality when covering climate change in news and current affairs output.  In a BBC Trust report on impartiality by film maker John Bridcut, the discussion at the 2006 seminar was referenced and was used by the BBC to declare that the man-made climate change argument was over.  It was happening and their coverage would reflect that.  In fact it would go further, as Bridcut revealed:

The BBC has held a high-level seminar with some of the best scientific experts, and has come to the view that the weight of evidence no longer justifies equal space being given to the opponents of the consensus [on anthropogenic climate change].

In light of such a seminal moment, the moment the BBC abandoned impartiality on a subject when even during World War II they refused to come down on support of one side, it would not be unreasonable to know who these ‘best scientific experts’ were.  They must have offered some solid, irrefutable evidence and cast iron argument to justify their stance that would see licence fee payers effectively funding biased coverage on the subject in contravention of the BBC Charter.

So it was Newbery asked the BBC to name the attendees of the seminar.  For years the BBC has doggedly refused to give up the information, hiding behind the infamous derogation they use to bat away any attempt for the licence fee paying public to find out how editorial policy has been formulated and decided.  It then spent a small fortune, of money collected via the licence fee, to fund a team of six expensive lawyers to fight to keep the details secret when Newbery dragged the matter before an information tribunal – which we referenced in a blog post here.

In a follow up blog post in which we considered the derogation, the fact it is only the BBC’s interpretation of the FOI Act exemption and that it should be challenged at a tribunal, we asked the obvious question: ‘So what exactly is the BBC hiding?’

Now we know.  Information uncovered in the last 24 hours by Maurizio Morabito of the Omnologos blog has confirmed that the BBC lied to Bridcut about the seminar being attended by ‘some of the best scientific experts’ which informed its decision to take one side in the climate change debate.  Maurizio later went on to explain why this is important.

Since Newbery’s original FOI request the BBC has conducted a systematic cover up to hide the fact its editorial policy was chosen by a range of 25 environmentalists, eco campaigners, a staffer from the US Embassy, students, someone from the Church of England, an insurance industry consultant, and even a representative from the CBI. In a previous blog post we mused:

The attendee lists and outputs of such sessions are not being held for the purposes of journalism, but rather as a validation of the partial worldview the BBC chooses to hold and propagate via its channels.

How absolutely prophetic this proved to be.  The BBC’s favourite activists were gathered together, all possessing an identical worldview and determined to deny those who challenge their claims the oxygen of publicity and an even playing field upon which to debate the issue.  The BBC knew what outcome it wanted and engineered it by listening only to those whose views would validate the prevailing worldview within the corporation.  It then hid behind the FOI derogation to stop the public finding out.  And we only have confirmation of this because Maurizio was smart enough to trawl the Waybackmachine to see if an entity had at some point published the attendee list that exposed the cynical deception.  Kudos!

Andrew Orlowski in The Register puts the attendee list in its proper context with, as he says, most…

… coming from industry, think tanks and NGOs. And as suspected, climate campaigners Greenpeace are present, while actual scientific experts are thin on the ground: not one attendee deals with attribution science, the physics of global warming. These are scarcely “some of the best scientific experts”, whose input could justify a historic abandonment of the BBC’s famous impartiality.

The BBC has lied.  It has hidden behind its questionable FOI derogation to maintain its lie.  That needs to be burned into the public’s collective consciousness. Those who did it need to be held to account and drummed out of the corporation.

However there is a bigger issue here and Orlowski for one is on the same page this blog has been on for a long time; namely that what needs to be tackled urgently is the BBC’s self interpreted FOI derogation.

We know it is completely unjustified, but now that knowledge is backed up with incontrovertible evidence of how the derogation, as the BBC keeps applying it, enables abuses such these to be perpetrated and covered up.  It is as many of us suspected.  The corporation is rotten to the core and the public has been disgracefully deceived on this issue and perhaps many others.  It is time for a light to be shone in those areas the BBC has, without justification, kept off limits to the people who fund the corporation.

If we want to hold the BBC to account we need to focus as one on challenging its FOI derogation and having it stripped away.  The message to the BBC should ring out loud and clear, tear down this wall.

Is this the basis of a challenge to BBC refusal of FOI requests?

Following on from our post yesterday about the BBC and establishment’s tag team defeat of Tony Newbery’s challenge to a FOI request refusal, there is a need to look more closely at the stitch up we are subjected to.  All too often people who want to understand how the BBC arrived at an editorial position or selected its news coverage and sources submit a FOI request, and in turn receive the following boilerplate in the response:

…the information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’    Part VI of Schedule 1 to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters is only covered by the Act if it is held for ‘purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature” 1. The BBC is not required by the Act to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities

Is that fact, or just what the BBC would like people to believe?  Consider for yourself when you read this separate explanation from the BBC, in response to a request for the documents about its policies, that make the BBC feel it can exempt itself from information using the broadest possible interpretation of the Act’s provisions:

In summary, the BBC considers the derogation protects the journalistic, artistic and literary integrity of the BBC by securing a creative and journalistic space for programme-makers to produce material for broadcast free from interference by those who would seek to influence our output.  Additionally, as also recognised by the Court of Appeal, it allows for a “level playing field” between the Public Service Broadcasters caught by the Act (BBC, Channel 4, S4C, GMS) and their commercial competitors.  In practical terms, the BBC has interpreted this to mean that we are not required to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities. [emphasis in bold italics is mine]

So the BBC considers that the derogation protects the journalistic, artistic and literary integrity of the BBC by securing a creative and journalistic space for programme makers to produce material for broadcast free from interference by those who would seek to influence their output, extends to anything and everything the corporation does. It is not just a stretch of the Act, it’s dishonest too.

But that excuse should not be allowed to withhold information from people requesting information about how the BBC arrived at an editorial position when it has a public service remit, is duty bound to be impartial and is funded with public money.  That excuse should not apply when people simply want to be informed about how the output was selected so members of the public may decide for themselves if the output can be considered partial, slanted or biased.

The BBC having freedom of expression is absolutely fine if it is paid for from commercially derived revenues.  But the licence fee paying public that funds the BBC deserves to know if any BBC output is being driven by rationales, motives and agendas that may be at play within the corporation, because it would reveal a failure to comply with the requirements in the BBC Charter to be impartial.  The BBC appears to be hiding behind its own interpretation of the FOI derogation to evade appropriate accountability.  So what exactly it the BBC hiding?  The claim that sharing information could place the BBC at a disadvantage against their commercial competitors just doesn’t stack up.

Perhaps it is time to challenge the BBC notion that asking to be informed about how the BBC determines its output is tantamount to seeking to interfere with or influence the BBC’s output.  Asking how something was determined is not the same as interfering with output or seeking to influence it.  It is a rational argument and one I do not think has been tested, not even in the Sugar (deceased) v British Broadcasting Corporation case.

Maybe it is time for it to taken out for a test drive.

Held ‘for the purposes of journalism’

One need only see that expression and, if they have any scintilla of interest in Freedom of Information and accountability for the use of taxpayers’ money, they will know instantly this post is about the BBC and its blatant misuse of a clause in the Freedom of Information act as it relates to the corporation.

The BBC makes liberal use of FOI to demand information that it then uses to construct news stories and editorial pieces.  Yet when the BBC receives FOI requests that enquire about how it has determined its editorial stance on any number of issues and from where it took advice to inform that stance, the slams the door shut and the very people forced to pay to fund the BBC are treated with contempt and told to piss off.

The government has been complicit in this evasion, protecting the BBC as part of the establishment.  So when the BBC is challenged and taken to an information tribunal, the establishment sees to it the tribunal outcome is determined by ‘reliable’ placemen with an in-built bias against freedom of information and personal enmity to the worldview of the claimant.  The BBC spends huge sums of our money to defend such actions and keep the information concealed from us, then continues about its propagandist mission while funding it with yet more our money.

It is high time people removed their rose tinted glasses and set aside the carefully constructed and insiduous ‘Auntie’ narrative and demanded this publicly funded organisation be held to account.  It thrives with public money but wants to be treated as a private organisation and a special case.  It has to end.

Having a clause that permits the BBC to decline FOI requests ‘for the purposes of journalism’ is perfectly rational and appropriate, if it conceals whistleblowers and details of human sources of news material – or who provide assistance to reporters on dangerous assignment – who might lose their jobs through retaliation or be targeted by vengeful individuals or regimes seeking violent retribution.  No reasonable person would question that.

But concealing the names and credentials of so called ‘experts’ (many of whom it appears are no more than activits and lobbyists) who are gathered to inform the editorial position of the BBC, secreting away reports into the BBC’s coverage on important issues and fighting court actions to keep them secret, and refusing to release details of viewer/listener feedback/complaints about slanted coverage is a wilful and unacceptable misuse of the clause.

It is time for the FOI Act, as it relates to the BBC, to be strictly redefined to ensure the corporation is forced to be properly accountable to those who fund it.  It is plain wrong that the BBC can, if it chooses (and as many suspect) fill a room with partial and likeminded people and use them to influence news and current affairs output while hiding their identities and agendas from us so we cannot question their involvement or suitability.  The attendee lists and outputs of such sessions are not being held for the purposes of journalism, but rather as a validation of the partial worldview the BBC chooses to hold and propagate via its channels.  The FOI should not and must not apply in such cases.

Frack off, Cameron

Back in May this year, Ed Davey revealed to Parliament there had been a discussion at Number 10 with ‘experts in the shale gas industry’ concerning shale gas in the UK.

What was interesting about this, as Andrew Montford at the Bishop Hill blog pointed out, was that these experts apparently told David Cameron and other assembled stuffed shirts that it would take some time to exploit shale gas – and that ‘strong regulation’ would be required.  It was certainly a strange sentiment coming from people in the industry, who presumably would want to push ahead quickly to exploit shale, and do so with minimal constraints.

As Montford speculated at the end of his post, ‘I wonder who Number Ten’s experts were?’  I wondered the same thing, which is why I submitted the Freedom of Information request shown below:

Now bearing in mind in April this year, none other than the Cabinet Office (the department that would field my request) Minister Francis Maude wrote in the Guardian (where else?) the claims below, one would expect that openness and transparency to be readily on display:

Since coming to office, the coalition has made great strides towards David Cameron’s commitment that the United Kingdom would be the most open and transparent government in the world. We have already brought a new openness to all areas of government, radically challenging the damaging idea that public data is owned by the state, not the citizen.

- Francis Maude, The Guardian, 19 April 2012

But of course, when it comes to politics we are in the Post-Truth Age.  Anything goes in this ideologically bankrupt administration, so long as it and its friends benefit.  Which is why more than two months after submitting my request – without explanation for the failure to comply with the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, or apology for the delay and failure to respond to my follow up queries – I received the following:

The suspicion is that the government is – as it so often does – only listening to opinions that reinforce its viewpoint and agenda.  It stretches the bounds of credulity that even if the likely reserves of shale are not as extensive as some might suggest, representatives of the shale gas industry would seek to hinder their effort to exploit shale and actually demand significant government action to restrict the extraction of shale.

The rhetorical question is, in whose interest is this government working?  It’s certainly not ours.

It belongs to us

There have been many stories this week, but there are two that have dragged me to my keyboard at a time when I really haven’t felt like writing.

This post concerns the first one, the news on Thursday that the government is planning to introduce charges for FOI requests, perhaps involving a “range of tariffs”.  As our blogging friends at Save FOI explain:

Charging for FOI requests would drastically curtail the ability of ordinary people as well as charities, journalists, businesses and others to hold public bodies to account.

Save FOI goes on to say that this seems a particularly strange move for a Government whose Prime Minister has said “We want to be the most open and transparent government in the world.”  But of course, as readers of this blog have long known – and an increasing number of people up and down the country are at last starting to realise – it is impossible to trust anything most politicians say, and when it comes to David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband in particular our default position must be the justifiable assumption that they are lying through their teeth.

But there is a more fundamental point to be made here that even Save FOI appear to have missed, namely that we are required to request information to be made public in the first place.

While there are obvious exceptions where some information has to be kept out of the public domain lest it aids a potential enemy to do harm to this nation, the fact remains this is information that should be released and made public proactively.  The information is the public’s.  It is produced and exists supposedly to serve the public.  We pay for it.  Therefore it belongs to us.

That we are forced to go in search of it (and all too frequently encounter significant obstruction in getting it) is a scandal.  That we may also now be compelled to pay for that which is ours is an outrage.  This reinforces the reality of a them and us society, where on one side we have a self selecting elite operating in its own interest at our expense and on the other side we have the general public, abused and treated with contempt.

If we had genuine people power in this country via system like Referism the inverted master and servant relationship would be corrected.  Power is exercised through the  control of funds.  Under Referism the people would decide regularly where our money is spent.  Representatives would be forced to abide by the public will instead of acting as our masters.  And one outcome would be the end of the pantomime that sees us forced to crawl and beg for titbits of information from those who pretend they are a class apart.

Sign the petition opposing this move to charge for FOI by all means.  But don’t lose sight of the fact that this is our information that should be made public, without delay or hindrance, by default.  That is what we should be demanding, not going cap in hand to the likes of Cameron – whose two faced party (if you can believe the irony / hypocrisy / self delusion *del as appropriate) produced the t-shirt on the right – hoping we can cling on to scraps of information, sometimes supplied when it suits the political class, on request and under sufferance.

We should not be addressing the symptom, we should be fighting the problem.  That is why it is time for disparate voices to combine and declare our demands.  I will be there at the Old Swan in Harrogate with the other people who will be working to frame those demands and pursue them.

With that event in mind, two of my favourite bloggers make essential points that all need to burned into our collective memory.  Firstly, Raedwald who reminds us that we don’t request, rather we demand our freedom, because it’s our freedom and not for others to grant us.  Secondly, Witterings From Witney who reminds us that that the politicians are always the servants and never the masters of the people, irrespective of the fact they behave otherwise.  It is time to make both a reality.

FOI gamechanger – Bolton Council loses court appeal over senior officers’ outside interests

Regular readers may remember the story of the battle between transparency campaigner John Greenwood and the bureaucrats at Bolton Council to force the authority to make public the register of interests of Council Officers, so the business dealings of senior town hall staff are a matter of record.

As we said in a blog post about the matter in June last year, John Greenwood won what amounts to a game changing battle when the Information Commissioner ruled that the details of the register of interests should be released.  Imagine for a moment what would happen if Council Officers – and by extension civil servants in other branches of government – had to release the details of business dealings with developers, or reveal relationships with organisations such as Common Purpose.

Undeterred by the Information Commissioner’s ruling, Bolton Council has used thousands of pounds of council taxpayers’ money to appeal the decision so it could continue hiding information about the outside interests of its officers from the public.  That the elected councillors in Bolton have let this happen is not only shocking but should also raise alarm bells about what might be being concealed.  As various branches of government keep telling us, if there is nothing to hide there is nothing to fear.  So what is it Bolton Council’s public servants fear?

The story returned to the fore last week with John Greenwood kindly contacting AM to point us to this news in the local Bolton press.  In Court it has been ruled that the council’s appeal will be partly allowed, in that lower-paid staff’s privacy would be protected.  But the outside interests of senior officers – the real decision makers in the local authority –  must still be made public as per the Information Commissioner’s earlier ruling.

This really is the gamechanger in Freedom of Information we hoped for last year.  The outside interests of senior council officers must by law be made public.  FOI requests about these interests cannot be refused.

However, the story in the Bolton News omits a number of important points that put matters into proper context and should, once again, cause the residents of Bolton some concern.  Although there were around 1,000 council officers who were paid at Grade 8 and above, only about 70 of them bothered to to submit a declaration of interest to the Council register.  So it is estimated there are more than 900 council officers who have failed to comply with the requirements to declare their outside interests.  Also omitted from the story is that while the lower paid council officers will now have to declare they have outside interests, they won’t have to say what those interests are.  This is a very odd state of affairs and one which will only serve to raise more doubts in the minds of the public about their probity than before.

As John Greenwood observed to AM, what will now be interesting to see is what Bolton Council Director of Legal Services (and standards monitoring officer) Alan Eastwood does personally.  He is due to retire in May but Greenwood is wondering if Eastwood will now decide to go earlier in order to keep any outside interests he has out of the public domain.

Liverpool City Council’s latest money making scheme

In November a trawl of local newspapers unearthed this little story in the Liverpool Echo.

It is another example of local authorities looking for opportunities to use their official status to forcibly part people from their money, while increasing the powers and adding to the weight of regulation for which they are responsible for enforcing:

BUSKERS could soon have to hold a permit to play in Liverpool under new plans being drawn up by Liverpool Council bosses.

Proposals due to be put to the council’s cabinet before the end of the year could see street musicians told to buy a licence – and then being limited to when and where they can play and for how long.

Performers would also be required to take out costly public liability insurance.

Importantly, the article went on to tell readers that:

A council spokesman described the current arrangement as a “free for all” and said the proposals came in response to requests for better regulation from the public, city shopkeepers and even other buskers.

One thing that never rings quite true is a claim from a council that residents and businesses want more regulation and officialdom.  So AM sent a Freedom of Information request to Liverpool City Council to see their evidence for this claim.  The response arrived during the hectic pre-Christmas period, hence the delay in writing this up.  It is shown in full below:

Imagine my shock and surprise to find the response provides no formal evidence whatsoever for Liverpool’s council officers to justify the regulation and increase in council powers!  Yet the officers are asking councillors to put the regulation into force.  Clearly the questions are a little too inconvenient, hence the response being packed with text that is irrelevant to the FOI enquiry.

Liverpool City Council is setting itself up as the judge and jury of which performers are the ‘more professional entertainers’ thereby stopping others from plying their trade and perhaps being noticed by someone who might open doors for them to build a career.  The people who benefit are the City Council and their approved entertainers, creating the conditions for cronyism and backroom deals.

Drunk on power and free from anything approaching proper oversight and control by elected councillors, this is another example of councils serving their own interests at the expense of the taxpayers; who are treated as nothing more than cash cows to fund the whims and biases of officers and their bumper salaries and generous pension schemes.

AM has written back to Liverpool City Council asking for a copy of the papers officers have prepared for elected councillors about this recommedation to see all of the evidence the decision will be based upon.

A call to arms

Following on from our recent post about changing focus to take back power, two posts from a very generous blogger, The Progressive Contrarian – ‘A Thorn in the Side‘ and then this call to arms: ‘Go Forth and Multiply‘.

Hopefully we will be seeing a lot more of TPC in the weeks and months ahead, so do add him to your reading list.

Bolton Council fails in attempt to withhold information from the public

Following on from the recent series of posts on EU Referendum about bailiffs being used by Councils to enforce tax demands and fines, we have a timely story that reveals a successful effort to shine a little more light into the dealings of Council Officers behind the scenes.

Regular readers may remember this important story on Autonomous Mind posted in June this year about Councils trying to hide information that the public should have access to.

Fresh from that victory in forcing Bolton Council to make public the outside business dealings of its senior town hall staff, campaigner John Greenwood has struck yet another blow against Bolton Council’s desire to help its staff avoid transparency and avoid being held to account by the people they are supposed to serve.

A FOI request to Bolton Council asking for copies of all emails or any other correspondence between any officers of Bolton Council which discuss parking Appeals, Regulations, Signs, TRO or Consolidation Order issues saw Mr Greenwood ask for the names of those appearing on correspondence relating to parking enforcement issues.  These particular officers are mostly concerned with parking matters and the application of parking policy together with the issuing of PCN’s (Penalty Charge Notices) in the town of Bolton.  The Council refused to give the names and the matter went to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

As John Greenwood explains on the We Are Watching You blog:

Some of the council officers involved made it clear to the Information Commissioner they do not want members of the public to know who they are and they have specifically requested the Commissioner not to reveal their names.

The Commissioner says he considers that those in a public-facing role should have a greater expectation that some details about them, for instance their name and the fact that they work for the authority, might be disclosed as part of carrying out their day to day duties.

The officers whose names have now been ordered by the Information Commissioner to be disclosed hold positions such as managerial or media officer positions within the council and therefore they must have an expectation that in dealing with members of the public their names would be disclosed in the course of their day to day duties.

The information Commissioner has decided that, by ordering the disclosure of the names of the council officers involved, it would provide to members of the public details of the actions they took part in as part of their role in the council and would create greater transparency or accountability.

The details of the ICO’s important findings can be seen on Greenwood’s blog.  This could be yet another gamechanger as Councils up and down the country can now expect to be held to the same standard and key Officers prevented from hiding behind an unjustified cloak of anonymity.

While it is disgraceful that public servants continue to think of themselves as the public’s rulers and act accordingly, their grip on the power that should reside with us is slowly being loosened.  The yawning democratic deficit is narrowed bit by bit through determined actions such as these.  More people need to stand up in this way and challenge those public servants who presume to be our masters.  We need to take the power back from them.

Incredibly there is another parallel between this case and the EU Referendum saga – the handling of the matters by the media.  For as the Sunday Telegraph was censoring key pieces of information from Christopher Booker’s column on Richard North’s story, Greenwood reveals the Bolton News has failed to report his story.  It is important because if the Council fails to comply with the steps required by the ICO it may result in a written certification of that fact going to the High Court pursuant to section 54 of the Act, which could see the matter dealt with as a contempt of court.  Instead the Bolton News prefers to run with meaningless stories about Council Member navel gazing.

Is it any wonder more people are rejecting the establishment’s self serving channels and instead are turning to the blogosphere to find out what is really going on?

We haven’t a clue… starring Rotherham Council

When you consider the huge sums being spent by local authorities on their ‘fight’ against climate change, you would expect them to have a full understanding of their aims and what they expect to achieve.

They do things differently in Rotherham.  It is the town where everyone matters, but evidence that informs their actions does not.

An AM reader has kindly brought to our attention this Rotherham’s FOI response to a local greenbelt campaign group (posted on their campaign website) which asks a number of reasonable questions about  Rotherham Council’s consistency and understanding when approaching the issues of ‘climate change’ and ‘reducing carbon emissions’.

Rotherham Council proposes to build 12,750 new homes from 2012-2027.  But the impact of this would surely undermines their stated environmental policy. So the campaign group wanted to understand how Rotherham’s policy proposals of building on large swathes of scenic greenbelt land can be reconciled with their climate change and carbon emissions efforts.  The FOI response below shows just how vacuous and dogmatic Rotherham Council’s position is.

Asked if concreting over greenbelt land will result in an increase in CO2 emissions Rotherham MBC’s official response is that they do not know.  Incredible.

This begs the most obvious question.  If all they can cite is a graph and a generic link to the Met Office website, should they be spending massive amounts of taxpayers’ money on the fight against evil CO2 in the first place when their growth agenda contributes to increasing urbanisation which counteracts it?

Information Commissioner’s ruling against Bolton Council could be a gamechanger

Take a bow please, transparency campaigner John Greenwood.  This could become huge.

Mr Greenwood has been campaigning for Bolton Council to make public the outside business dealings of its senior town hall staff.  He asked for details held on the council’s register of interests in a request under the Freedom of Information Act, but was refused, so he took his case to the Information Commissioner and has won.

As the Bolton News reports:

The commissioner has now ruled that the details of the register of interests should be released. The register records the name of council officers and any personal interests they have, such as ownership of property, family associations, business interests, shareholdings and membership of organisations that may conflict with their decision-making role.

Mr Greenwood said: “This is a major victory for the public and those wanting open, transparent governance over Bolton Council who sought to keep the status quo of secrecy.”

If there is nothing to hide then there is nothing to fear, right?  That’s what we keep being told by government at all levels. So it comes as no surprise to learn that the public servants in Bolton do not want the public to know anything about the dealings of those who are charged with serving their interests and are seeking advice with a view to appealing the matter.

MPs and Councillors already have to declare interests and memberships so the public can see if their decision making is being influenced by a desire to seek advantage for themselves or their friends and contacts, so why not Council Officers? After all it is the officers who work up proposals and make recommendations for Councillors to decide upon and it is officers who are responsible for decisions that affect the local community and involve spending public money. This has been a black hole for years, but now there is finally hope that the floodlights can illuminate the darkest corners of town halls up and down the country.

Mr Greenwood’s victory could be a real gamechanger and make Freedom of Information request a more powerful tool.  The prospect is mouthwatering.  Imagine for a moment what would happen if Council Officers – and by extension civil servants in other branches of government – had to release the details of business dealings with developers, or reveal relationships with organisations such as Common Purpose – which Mr Greenwood tried to do in 2009.  There is so much that could be uncovered that would reveal to the public how government really works.

More on the BBC’s abuse of FOI to avoid scrutiny

Over on his blog, Gaz the Journo has posted a follow up piece to the BBC FOI investigation that started when an Autonomous Mind reader came up against the brick wall behind which the corporation is allowed to shield itself from the scrutiny of licence fee payers (despite using FOI with zeal when it suits its own purposes).

It all started with a complaint to the BBC about a lack of journalistic rigour during an interview with President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives. The complaint was rejected prompting a Freedom of Information request to the BBC about the way it handles complaints, which was also rejected. Our reader demonstrated outstanding perseverence and launched an appeal to the Information Commissioner, and surprise surprise this was also rejected as the establishment closed ranks around its propaganda tool. As we pointed out at the time:

This is quite a staggering communication from the ICO, if again completely unsurprising.  At the heart of it is the assumption or belief that because the BBC says the complaints material informs their editorial direction they should not be bound to reveal how many complaints they receive.

However at no point is the BBC asked to provide evidence that demonstrates, on the basis of complaints received, they have ever adjusted their editorial approach.  We are simply enjoined to accept it without proof.

This case piqued the interest of Gaz the Journo. In considering the BBC response to a complaint he has made on a separate matter, he too is now asking whether the BBC actually use information from the complaints process to inform its journalism, as it claims to. Gaz seems to have already drawn a conclusion from the reply the BBC sent him, as you can read on Gaz’s blog here, but nevertheless he now seems to be committed to a course of action to dig deeper.

The more that people challenge this unjust status quo the greater the chance the BBC’s exemption from the FOI Act will come under review, and the greater the likelihood that the corporation will finally be subject to proper scrutiny from those forced to pay for it so that we can hold it to account.

Abuse of the law and public inertia

Or, The State We’re In.

Our current condition throws up some examples of how power crazed bureacurats are falsely charging themselves with the power to stamp on individuals who rightly stand up against bureaucracy and public service failings and challenge unaccountable and unsanctioned decision making. Two cases make the papers today that should be spread far and wide.  But as always there is little or no ‘follow through’ by the journalists to connect the dots and display the bigger picture for people, so we have to rely on the blogosphere to do that.

Firstly we have the case of blogger Jacqui Thompson, author of ‘Camarthenshire Planning Problems and More’. She tells the story of how she was arrested for allegedly breaching the peace this week for filming part of a Camarthenshire County Council meeting from the public gallery to bring events to a wider audience.

Ms Thompson then goes on in a follow up blog post to describe her treatment after being arrested and presents readers with an evident example of the law being abused by Camarthenshire Councillors and the police to suit the ends of the establishment. A polite refusal to acquiesce to an unreasonable demand – namely to stop filming when filming is not banned by the Council’s own standing orders – is not a breach of the peace.

A legal action for false arrest seems justified as to deny this woman her liberty for wishing to highlight failings in the supposedly democratic process is an abuse under the law. There was no need for the Council to suspend proceedings and no grounds to instructing her to leave the public gallery. The police were not only heavy handed, they were resorting to stereotype number one, that the establishment is in need of protection and the ordinary taxpaying member of the public is the aggressor.

Secondly we have the case of blogger Daniel Sencier, author of ‘Prostate Cancer – My Journey!’ and a former cancer patient at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle.  He tells the story of how North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust are bullying him using threats of legal action for daring to speak out about the experience of newly diagnosed Prostate Cancer patients at his local hospital in Carlisle.

The Trust is giving the impression of having more power than it actually possesses, as once you read the content of their solicitor’s letter to Mr Sencier you can see how little they can do to prevent a protest they believed Mr Sencier was planning. But the abuse becomes evident when you see the Trust’s threat against Mr Sencier if his blog contains what they consider to be:

…unsubstantiated criticism of the care you received at the Trust the Trust will have no hesitation in considering taking legal action against you

Criticism is subjective and if Mr Sencier considers the care he received was substandard then he has the right to say so. It is his opinion and there should not be any need for his opinion to be substantiated by anything. At any rate, as if to underline the blowhard position the Trust is only saying they won’t hesitate to consider taking legal action. They know they will almost certainly have no grounds for doing so, but that doesn’t stop them trying to intimidate a dissatisfied member of the public into silence.

This is the reality of Britain in the 21st Century. We supposedly boast the mother of all Parliaments and the finest model for legal systems that has been much duplicated around the world. But what we see here is not only examples of the corruption of our democracy but the extent of the assault on our liberty and individual rights by the State in service of its own interests against ours.

For how much longer will the public stay silent on matters such as these and shy away from taking back from the establishment the power that is ours by right?  It cannot continue. We need to make a stand.

(Cross posted at Orphans of Liberty and Independent Political Bloggers – links on the right).

Who are they serving, exactly?

The Daily Mail is going to town over the decision by Crispin Blunt to approve a prison inmate’s application for artificial insemination because of his human rights. They sense blood in the water and are hunting for a scalp.

But irrespective of the rights, wrongs, accuracies or otherwise of the story and the reporting, one line in the Mail’s piece should stand out as yet another example of how the ruling elite serve their own interests rather than ours. Attempts by the media to find out who exactly made the decision to let the prisoner attempt to father a child while still in prison, resulted in this outcome:

The Ministry of Justice yesterday refused to say who took the decision.

These are public servants who are supposed to be accountable to the people of this country. We are entitled to know which Minister or faceless bureaucrat took the decision. The Ministry of Justice has no legitimate reason whatsoever to deny us this information. This is deniability and lack of accountability writ large and it is unacceptable.

It is a measure of the contempt in which we are held. The political class wants us to do two things, pay up and shut up. It is another example that underlines how Referism is an idea whose time has come.

Met Office losing commercial customers

Earlier this month a report in the Sunday Express (published online late on 7th May) about the forecast for the Royal Wedding made a couple of interesting observations that prompted a blog post here on AM.

Firstly there was confirmation that the Met Office will pay performance-related bonuses this year which will push the total paid to its 1,800 staff in the last six years to almost £15million. Apparently these bonuses are based on profitability and when the Met Office meets its targets on forecasting accuracy.

Secondly there was a reminder that the majority of the Met Office’s £190million annual income comes from public funds by means of contracts to provide services to government departments and that critics say it is time to force it to compete in the open market against other forecasters.

It was these factoids that made me curious about the reality of the Met Office’s forecasting performance.  Do its executives really deserve the bonuses they are going to receive?

While the Met Office might like to aggressively counter stories like that in the Sunday Express, as it did on 9th May by claiming its forecast the day before the Royal Wedding was more accurate than the newspaper claimed, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.  Or in weather forecasting terms, seeing how many private customers are sufficiently satisfied with Met Office forecasts to continue buying services from them commercially.  So this blog submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Met Office asking them:

Please will you supply me with full details of:

1. The number of non-Governmental (private) customers purchasing
forecasting services from the Met Office in the years 2008, 2009
and 2010 respectively

2. The total revenue received from non-Governmental (private)
contracts for forecasting services provided by the Met Office in
the years 2008, 2009 and 2010 respectively

Please note I am not requesting details of the individual customers
or specifics of their contract terms.

It was a clear enough request.  However, the Met Office’s reply seemed to be trying to conceal something:

The number of commercial customers purchasing services from the Met Office over the three year period would show us whether the customer base is stable, rising or falling.  The number of commercial customers is a fair reflection of customer confidence in Met Office forecasts.  But the Met Office clearly did not want to deal in specifics.

So a follow up was sent asking that they provide me with the exact number of commercial customers in each of the three years specified as per my request.  Their reply arrived today:

While revenues (for the years where figures are available) have remained fairly constant, we can now see that since 2008-9 the Met Office commercial customer base has shrunk by 17.3%.

We can now see why the figures were not provided in response to the original request.  And this is happening against a backdrop of independent forecasters adding customers to their books.

Customers generally don’t leave specialist service providers that deliver good performance, so it is reasonable to assume that faith in Met Office forecasting is declining due to accuracy failings.  If performance is on the wane the question that must be answered is how can the Met Office’s executives continue to award themselves bonuses year on year?

Without the cushions and comfort blankets provided by guaranteed government contracts funded with our tax pounds one wonders how the Met Office would fare operating exclusively in the private sector.

Does the BBC refuse FOI requests by default?

From the TV Licensing blog as posted in April this year and indirectly linked to our post earlier today…

BBC Confirm Detector Vans Never Used in Court

Despite being very reluctant the BBC has finally confirmed what we all knew anyway – detector van/portable detector evidence has never been presented in court.

The revealing Freedom of Information Act response came after the BBC u-turned on their earlier decision to withhold the information under the law enforcement exemptions of the 2000 Act.

In their revised response, issued after an internal review found in our favour…

The question is, does the BBC refuse FOI requests by default?  After all, how could the BBC justify refusing that FOI request in the first place? How could they possibly determine their exemptions from the Act applied to this?    Read the whole post here.

How the establishment closes ranks around the BBC

Regular readers may recall a couple of posts back in January where we told the story of an Autonomous Mind reader who complained to the BBC about an edition of Hardtalk.

This is the one in December 2010 where President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives was allowed to state, without challenge, that due to human induced climate change sea levels around the Maldives are rising.  The lack of journalistic rigour and blind acceptance of such a controversial viewpoint as fact led to the complaint being made and the BBC’s two fingered resp0nse in January which included the immortal words:

We’re committed to honest, unbiased reporting and are determined to remain free from influence by outside parties.

Following the response, our reader then filed a Freedom of Information request to the BBC asking for details of:

  • how many complaints/ accusations of bias the BBC received from the public about the BBC’s coverage of climate change
  • how many of the complaints received about climate change were upheld by the BBC, i.e. were accepted
  • brief details / a list of all the complaints upheld, i.e. the details of the upheld complaint and the BBC’s response (excluding details of the person complaining)

In publishing the story in a follow up post we shared the unsurprising news that the response from the BBC to our reader’s request was a refusal to provide the information sought.  Once again the BBC was hiding behind its establishment-given provision to withhold any information the BBC considers to be held for the ‘purposes of journalism, art or literature’.

As this blog said in our commentary on the decision, the BBC seemed to have chosen to interpret the Act in a very loose way by extending it ‘to the sifting and review of praise and criticism from audiences, as well as the seeking of an independent view of criticism in order to undertake this review process.‘  The thrust of the BBC’s response was that complaints are used to inform the creation or improvement of programming.  As a result our commentary concluded:

It would seem obvious that complaints rejected by the BBC are not used to inform the creation or improvement of programmes because they are arguing the complaints are baseless.  So, the only possible reason for withholding details of rejected complaints is to hide the extent of viewer and listener dissatisfaction with an editorial line the BBC is determined to pursue.

Our reader was advised that if he disagreed with the decision he could appeal to the Information Commissioner.  So he did.

We now fast forward to last week when our reader received an incredibly lengthy reply from David McNeil, a Complaints Officer and the Information Commissioner’s Office, which you can read below:

This is quite a staggering communication from the ICO, if again completely unsurprising.  At the heart of it is the assumption or belief that because the BBC says the complaints material informs their editorial direction they should not be bound to reveal how many complaints they receive.

However at no point is the BBC asked to provide evidence that demonstrates, on the basis of complaints received, they have ever adjusted their editorial approach.  We are simply enjoined to accept it without proof.

The only way this can ever be assessed is if the complaints process was made transparent, but they continue to hide behind the Act, with establishment approval, to prevent that happening.  The question of course is ‘what are they hiding and why?’ which takes us back to the Balen Report and Steven Sugar’s attempt to uncover the details of the report.  It is simply that the findings would reveal the bias so many people believe the BBC possesses and that many more people reject the BBC worldview than the corporation is comfortable with revealing?  If we do not know what the report held we cannot assess whether any material change in editoral approach was ever made.  Likewise, when it comes to complaints such as these.

Why should the license fee payer, compelled to pay the fee under pain of fine or imprisonment, be denied information about how many people complain about the BBC’s output and be able to ascertain for themselves whether the views of the public are ever taken into account?

This is just another example of the establishment, of which the BBC is an integral part, protecting its propaganda arm and treating the public who are forced to pay their wages with utter contempt.  On this basis our reader is now considering taking this complaint to the next stage.  Is it worthwhile?  You decide.

See also this post about a rare BBC u-turn after originally turning down a FOI request.


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