Court rejects BBC Israel bias report appeal

By Jessica Elgot, February 15, 2012
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Steven Sugar

Steven Sugar

The Supreme Court will not force the BBC to reveal a report commission into potentially biased reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The court's five justices unanimously dismissed the appeal of solicitor Steven Sugar, who had demanded the BBC release the internal 2004 report, compiled by the BBC's senior editorial consultant Malcolm Balen, under the Freedom of Information Act.

Mr Sugar, described as a "respected solicitor and supporter of the s tate of Israel", had fought the case since 2005. He died of cancer in January last year. His widow, psychologist Fiona Paveley and Mr Sugar's former firm, Forsters, took on the case.

The BBC had argued it was exempt from releasing the report because it was "for the purposes of journalism, literature or art."

Four out of five of the Supreme Court judges ruled that the report was beyond the scope of the Freedom of Information Act, even if information was held only "partly for the purposes of journalism."

Lord Wilson ruled that if information was held "predominantly" for the purposes of journalism, it was outside the scope of the act, and he judged that to be the case with the Balen R eport.

They dismissed the argument of appellant barrister Tim Eicke QC, that the withholding of information would violate the European Convention on Human Rights Article 10, the right to receive and impart information.

The BBC said in a statement: "We welcome the Supreme Court's judgment, which upholds the rulings of other courts in this case, and will ensure that the BBC is afforded the 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."

The Information Tribunal ruled in Mr Sugar's favour in 2005, ordering the BBC to release the report. But the decision was overturned by the High Court, and upheld by the Court of Appeal.

Read the full judgement here

Last updated: 12:31pm, February 15 2012