Like it or not, what the BBC has to say has an influence beyond Britain’s borders, and that makes this story from The Commentator of more than local interest.
The background is that some years ago the BBC commissioned Malcolm Balen, one of its senior journalists, to produce a report to look into allegations of anti-Israel bias at the corporation. The report has never been made publicly available, and the BBC, usually so keen on transparency in others, has gone to considerable lengths to keep it that way.
How considerable? Well, The Commentator filed a request under the U.K.’s Freedom of Information Act to find out. The result? It turns out that “the BBC has spent almost a third of a million pounds [half a million dollars or so] to hide the report from the public eye.” That number is given before tax, and takes no account of the cost to the BBC of in-house legal time.
These bills were largely run up on (successful) efforts to fend off requests by the publicly funded BBC to disclose the contents of the Balen report under the Freedom of Information Act (there is a “journalism” exemption). That can be a matter of reasonable legal debate, but, once the BBC had made the wider point that it did not have to make the disclosure, there was nothing to stop it going ahead and releasing the report as a matter of legitimate public interest.
Yet it has not done so.
The Commentator notes:
Just this week, the BBC’s Director General, Mark Thompson, said that the BBC was “very, very close to the edge” and that he did not see where further cuts in spending for the BBC could be made. But the figure represented by the legal costs associated with the Balen Report could indeed provide for dozens of staff salaries at the BBC, a revelation that will likely cause discord within the organisation as departments are closed or shrunk.
Mark Thompson, of course, will be becoming the CEO of the New York Times Company later this year.