Supreme Court finds in favour of BBC in Middle East analysis case


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The Independent Online

A widow’s battle to win her late husband’s struggle to get the BBC to reveal analysis of its Middle East coverage was thwarted today when the Supreme Court found in favour of the corporation.

Solicitor Steven Sugar, who claimed an anti-Israeli bias, fought a six-year legal challenge to gain access to an internal BBC report examining its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Following her husband's death from cancer at the age of 61, his widow Fiona Paveley took up the fight on his behalf, insisting to abandon it would be a “betrayal”.

But earlier today the Supreme Court found the BBC had a right to refuse to release the report on the grounds that it was held for "purposes of journalism, art or literature".

The BBC welcomed the ruling and said it gave the corporation "space to conduct its journalistic activities freely".

"Independent journalism requires honest and open internal debate free from external pressures. This ruling enables us to continue to do that,” it added.

Today’s decision effectively establishes the legal test for future cases as to "what constitutes a document held for journalistic purposes".

Mr Sugar applied in 2005 for disclosure of the Balen Report under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA).  The report was researched after pressure groups complained that the corporation's coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not impartial and led to recommendations for improvements.

But the BBC refused the application on the grounds that the report was outside the scope of the FOIA because it was held for "purposes of journalism, art or literature".

That triggered litigation which led to the case going all the way to the House of Lords before returning to the Information Tribunal. The tribunal's finding in favour of Mr Sugar was overturned by the High Court in a decision subsequently upheld by the Court of Appeal last year.

And today five Supreme Court justices unanimously dismissed the appeal. All agreed that the report was "outside the scope" of the FOIA as it was “predominantly” for the purposes of journalism.