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Friday, February 13, 2009

Public broadcasters all struggle with split personality.

In November we commented about the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's almost perfect record last year in refusing Freedom of Information applications, perhaps aided by a very generous court decision a few years ago which endorsed a broad interpretation of the exclusion that applies to the ABC "with respect to documents in relation to its program material." (No typo, but Parliamentary Draftsman please stand).That case was an unsuccessful attempt to access complaints about ABC bias in the coverage of the first Iraq war.

The BBC similarly enjoys an exemption from the UK FOI Act in respect of information held for the purposes of “journalism, art or literature” but has just lost a battle in the House of Lords, arguing that this extended to an internal report on a possible anti-Israel bias in its coverage of the Middle East.Now it's back to the High Court to argue the substantive issues in the case.Public broadcasters are easy pickings for criticism in these circumstances..The
Times Online says it's pure " Yes Minister"-you couldn't make it up- and concludes:
"The BBC's website contains a section called Open Secrets - A Blog About Freedom of Information. Very good it is, too. It makes freedom of information requests and reports on those made by others. And yet here is the BBC itself spending hundreds of thousands of pounds of licence-payers' money in the courts resisting the very Act it uses every day. It is one thing testing the law. But it has tested it now and lost. Enough."
The Brits can sort that one out. But when Minister Faulkner gets around here to those second phase of FOI reforms, we should look again at what protection the ABC really needs to cover information concerning its commercial and competitive interests.

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