Tuesday, July 06, 2010
Simple as ABC/BBC: Middle East reporting out of FOI bounds
Previous posts here about the exclusion from the Commonwealth Freedom of Information Act of documents held by Australia's public broadcaster the ABC (and SBS) "in relation to program materials" have mentioned what appeared to be a contrast with the situation in the UK, where the BBC enjoys an exemption for documents concerning journalism. ABC Managing Director Mark Scott last year indicated the ABC was prepared to talk to the Government about tightening the exemption to something more in line with the UK provision, although nothing seems to have come of that.
Out-Law.com reports a UK Court of Appeal decision to refuse access on the basis of the journalism exemption to a study into how the BBC covered the Middle East in 2003 and 2004. In an earlier decision the Information Tribunal ruled the report should be disclosed. The Tribunal's interpretation was the exemption required the BBC to show that journalism was the main reason for the study, when it appeared to have been undertaken for strategic and resourcing reasons as well. The High Court and the Court of Appeal disagreed: as long as one of the reasons for the report was journalism then it was covered by the FOI Act exemption.
The Australian Federal Court decision that gave the ABC exclusion from the FOI act a generous interpretation, even by Mark Scott's reckoning, also resulted in a decision to refuse access to an ABC report on complaints it received about coverage of the Middle East in 2000-2002.