BBC evading scrutiny over Jeremy Hunt emails


10:10 am - September 13th 2011

by Martin Williams    


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The BBC is knowingly breaking Freedom of Information laws by refusing to release emails sent between the Director-General Mark Thompson and Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The disclosure of communications was requested in June by myself, but the BBC has not responded as it should.

They said: “we need further time in which to consider the public interest in disclosing the information.” But, having already extended their response deadline by 20 days, they have now crossed the final legal deadline for response.

Despite warnings to the BBC stating that it’s intention to delay the disclosures would be a breach of the rules, staff remained defiant. “The BBC is of the view that the delay is justified,” a policy adviser said.

This was not the view of a source at the Information Commissioner’s Office who said he couldn’t see how the behavior did not constitute a breach.

The ICO explain: “Public authorities should respond to a request for information within 20 working days. If they need to consider the public interest this may be extended to 40 working days, providing you have been informed.”

More than a week has passed since the maximum 40-day deadline.

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About the author
Martin is a regular contributor, and a freelance journalist. He has written for the Guardian, The Independent, The Sun and The Mirror. He blogs at Access Docs and focuses on FOI and investigative journalism. His own website is here.
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Reader comments


How exactly do you reconcile the serious allegation made in The BBC is knowingly breaking Freedom of Information laws with the corporation’s own explanation that The BBC is of the view that the delay is justified?

Just because you have a different interpretation of the rules doesn’t give you a licence to be defamatory. The Information Commissioner will arbitrate. That’s what he’s for.

…. and why not put in the same FoI request to DCMS?

Hmm, I’m not finding it on WhatDoTheyKnow…

Buttocks — I’m going round in circles. A familiar practice around here, I know…

They refused to publish the Balen Report too, used £200.000 of TV Licence funds to do that!

I’m amazed how the tone of BBC’s political coverage has altered with the change of government. Has Andrew Marr put a difficult question to a government minister since the election? It’s not that long ago he was asking Gordon Brown whether he was addicted to pain killers, based on something he’d read on the internet. Why is there hardly any mention on the BBC of the George Osborne/prostitute/Cocaine story?

If the Mark Thompson/Jeremy Hunt have nothing to hide they will release the e-mails.

@1

The BBC have not provided a ‘different interpretation of the rules’ – they have simply failed to comply with the law.

@OP and @Ciaran #8:

The BBC have not provided a ‘different interpretation of the rules’ – they have simply failed to comply with the law.

The law is misstated in the OP.

The BBC is entitled to a “reasonable time” to consider the public interest test (s10(3)). The ICO has expressed the view that public authorities should in all cases respond within 40 working days in total (not in addition to the initial 20 working days); but that is not a statement of the law. If the BBC can make good its claim that the further delay is justified, then there is no breach.


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