BBC: Something to Hide?

HonestReporting UK previously reported on the BBC’s failure to prevent the release of the Balen Report

into the Corporation’s Mideast coverage. We therefore submitted our own request under the Freedom of Information Act for access to the report in the belief that it would reluctantly be granted. Some weeks later we were disappointed to receive this response:

The review, written in 2004 by Malcolm Balen a senior BBC journalist, is currently used by senior editors in BBC News to inform coverage of the Middle East. In our view, the Act does not apply to this document because the BBC holds this document and other Output Reviews for the purposes of “journalism, art or literature.” Schedule 1 of the Act provides that the legislation only applies to information held for other purposes.

So it appeared that the BBC was not prepared to release the report despite the ruling of a tribunal. Only days later, the Sunday Telegraph revealed just how badly the Corporation wants to prevent access to the Balen Report:

The BBC has spent thousands of pounds of licence payers’ money trying to block the release of a report which is believed to be highly critical of its Middle East coverage.

The corporation is mounting a landmark High Court action to prevent the release of The Balen Report under the Freedom of Information Act, despite the fact that BBC reporters often use the Act to pursue their journalism.

The action will increase suspicions that the report, which is believed to run to 20,000 words, includes evidence of anti-Israeli bias in news programming.

Does the BBC have something to hide? Does the Balen Report contain the “smoking gun”? For now we cannot know. We can only hope that the High Court will rule against the BBC and force it to release the report once and for all. HonestReporting UK will continue to keep subscribers updated on developments.


Meanwhile, the BBC has been more forthcoming in publishing an abbreviated version of its journalists’ guide to facts and terminology, as recommended by the BBC Governors’ independent report into BBC coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Commenting on this development, BBC Jerusalem bureau chief Simon Wilson says:

It may not immediately look like it, but the style guide on Israeli/Palestinian coverage which we’re publishing on the website for the first time today is the fruit of hours and hours of hard work by some of the BBC’s most experienced Middle East specialists.

The aim is not to be proscriptive, but to give colleagues who can’t reasonably be expected to follow every twist and turn of the conflict some suggestions to deal with the more contentious topics.

In many cases, it’s about being careful not to adopt, even inadvertently, the language of one side or the other, which may give an impression of bias.

Of course, this assumes that each side carries a moral equivalence. Thus, in the BBC’s world, Israeli counter-terror measures are no different from Palestinian attacks, while the word “terrorist” is reduced to “militant” in order not to adopt an “Israeli narrative”. As stated in the style guide, under the heading of “Terrorists“:

Note the BBC producer guidelines which state: “We must report acts of terror quickly, accurately, fully and responsibly. We should not adopt other people’s language as our own. Our credibility is undermined by the careless use of words which carry emotional or value judgements. The word “terrorist” itself can be a barrier rather than an aid to understanding. We should try to avoid the term, without attribution.

HonestReporting UK invites subscribers to read this guide and judge for themselves. Comments can be posted on the BBC’s blog at the bottom of Simon Wilson’s article.

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