Posts Tagged 'Abuse'

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.

Oh, fuck right off

PC Mike Baillon, 42, quit his job after becoming the butt of jokes from fellow officers over a YouTube video of him battering the Range Rover of a 74-year-old driver. The video of PC Baillon wielding his truncheon became a YouTube sensation – with the tribunal being told it has been viewed online thousands of times. The tribunal heard PC Baillon walked out of his job after being ridiculed every day by his colleagues at the police station where he worked, reports the Daily Mail.

So, lets get this straight.  Because he got the hump about the (richly deserved) ribbing he got from other coppers for his extreme, thuggish and violent behaviour – he didn’t even attempt to ask the driver to open the door and then take the key – he walks out of the job, sues the police, and the poor bloody taxpayer picks up a bill for £430,000.  Poor bloody lamb.  This seems to be a case of small man syndrome by a petulant little pillock who looks like the stroppy type who would attract ridicule like turds attract flies and who probably only joined the force because it enabled him to throw his weight around.  They say this prat would have made Sergeant.  I would have pitied any copper who had this buffoon for a skipper.

Despite the worst efforts of some officers, there are still some decent old style thief takers in the UK’s police forces that deserve our respect.  Some of them experience real traumas in the course of their duties, but still get on with the job rather than take the easy option of leaving with a big payoff.  Even those that can’t cope after intensely stressful and emotional incidents that can be truly horrific at least leave for understandable reasons.  But being mocked by colleagues because of their own ridiculously over the top actions isn’t one of them.  No doubt his reaction to the mockery fuelled its continuation.

I for one am sick and bloody tired of people like this self absorbed idiot abusing public money to fund a lifestyle change, or to simply cash in because they see an opportunity to do so.  Apologies for the language, but sometimes….

And in other news…

The 6-year-old boy who was suspended from school because his parents refused to fill his lunch box with tofu, lettuce, carrot sticks and wheaten bread as per the school’s dictatorial ‘healthy eating’ policy, preferring to give him a sausage roll, or scotch egg and mini cheddars or other snack type foods, has now been expelled from his school – and his younger brother’s funded sessions at the school’s pre school have been withdrawn.  The school said:

If we are faced with a situation where a parent threatens to send a pupil into school with insufficient food to sustain them throughout the school day, it is a risk we simply cannot afford to happen.

This is the usual demonising, twisted doublespeak we have come to expect from the control freaks who are determined to take control of the upbringing of our children.  The issue was not insufficient food, rather the parents did not conform to the kind of food the school decided should be provided.

The school had said that it was extremely disappointing that the media have been provided with such grossly misleading information which has resulted in them running a wholly inaccurate and potentially damaging story for the school, yet its subsequent comments do not correct any of the original assertions, instead they reinforce them – particularly when the statement adds:

…during the course of a recent four day exclusion, the pupil’s parents made it publicly clear that their child would not be following the school’s policy on healthy eating upon their return.

Welcome to the glorious fruits of the quiet, slowburn cultural marxist revolution in action.

The other side of the Legal Aid cuts coin

Make no mistake, the cuts to the legal aid budget will have ramifications for the ability of less well off people to have access to justice.  The media, in particular the BBC, will continue to tease out individual cases as part of its activism to make the case against cutting legal aid.

But the fact remains that legal aid has been abused by many people who easily have sufficient means to fund legal counsel, and by a number of solicitors and barristers, some of whom have become extremely wealthy over the years as a result.  Legal aid has also been used by convicted criminals to make unwarranted, nuisance challenges to punishments and restrictions justly handed down to them.

So it is of no surprise to hear yet more bleating from vested interests about how they are being adversely affected by the cuts after years of living happy on the hog, milking the legal aid fund to maintain very comfortable lifestyles indeed at our expense.

The most prominent example of this has surfaced in the Telegraph today, as Michael Mansfield QC’s firm, Tooks Chambers, has announced it is to cease taking client instruction from next month and close at the end of the year – as a direct result of the legal aid funding reductions.

Since the miner’s strike, joint head of chambers Mansfield has made a lucrative living taking on human rights cases and challenges to the establishment.  So much so that in legal circles he earned the nickname Mr Moneybags, with earnings apparently exceeding £700,000 per year.

A good example of how Mansfield earned this title, at the expense of taxpayers, is retailed in a Daily Mail piece from 2007.  It recalls how even as far back as 1998, Mansfield represented a client in a criminal appeal before the House of Lords.  In return for 43 hours work he submitted a legal aid bill of £22,300, or more than £500 per hour. Apparently after the Lord Chancellor criticised the fee, Mansfield very generously knocked £10,000 off the bill and only took £12,300 from the public purse.

There is no doubt that Mansfield has, during his career, taken on deserving cases in need of justice.  But the issue is the manner of his treatment of the public purse.  The Telegraph piece sets out what steps Mansfield and other Tooks’ barristers are being forced to take in order to start a new chambers and keep working after Tooks has gone:

Mr Mansfield said he plans to form his own, low-cost chambers “within the near future”.

Fifteen barristers from Tooks are expected to join the new set, to be called Mansfield Chambers,     which will keep overheads low by employing fewer clerks, sharing desks in cheaper offices and using     free computer software.

Only now, with limits put in place on the previously never ending reservoir of public money wrested from us through taxation, are some of these well-heeled legal eagles starting to be mindful of the costs they incur that they have long relied upon us to fund.

Where was this focus on costs previously?  The only conclusion that can be drawn here is that many solicitors and barristers are now reaping what they have long sown.

Had they charged reasonable fees and sought to be responsible in their use of other people’s money, perhaps the legal aid cutbacks would not have needed to be so drastic – and most importantly, more innocent people in need of help to fund worthy cases would not be squeezed out and left at the mercy of better resourced parties.

Perhaps this is something the BBC and other agenda based media would do well to consider when attacking the government.


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