BBC rejects ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ Freedom of Information request

BBC Information Policy & Compliance has rejected my 16-point request for documents pertaining to Saving Syria’s Children and related BBC News reports on the grounds that:

The information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’ The BBC is therefore not obliged to provide this information to you and will not be doing so on this occasion. Part VI of Schedule 1 to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters is only covered by the Act if it is held for ‘purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature”. The BBC is not required to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities.

Media Lens observes that the exemption of BBC News editorial decision-making from the Freedom of Information Act “is a longstanding, fundamental barrier to making @BBCNews accountable.”

I have lodged an appeal against the BBC’s decision with the Information Commissioner.

I presented a summary of my concerns regarding Saving Syria’s Children to Jeremy Corbyn MP on 16 December 2015.   


Information Policy & Compliance

bbc.co.uk/foi   bbc.co.uk/privacy

Robert Stuart

26th January 2016

Dear Mr. Stuart

Freedom of Information request – RFI20160158

Thank you for your request to the BBC of 14th January 2016, seeking the following information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000:

“ I wish to request under the Freedom of Information Act the following documents relating to the September 2013 BBC One Panorama programme Saving Syria’s Children (SSC) and related BBC News reports. 1. All internal BBC communications, documents and reports relating to the commissioning, planning and production of SSC. 2. All subsequent internal BBC communications, documents and reports pertaining to SSC and related BBC News reports. 3. All internal BBC communications, documents and reports pertaining to complaints made by myself and others about SSC and related BBC News reports. 4. All video footage shot by Mohammed Abdullatif [1] of the aftermath of the alleged incendiary attack on “The Iqraa Institute”, Urm Al-Kubra, Aleppo, Syria, on 26 August 2013, sections of which were broadcast in SSC and related BBC News reports. 5. All footage and still images shot by members of the SSC team (including reporter Ian Pannell, cameraman Darren Conway and BBC News security personnel) on 26 August 2013, retaining time codes. 6. All footage and still images shot by members of the SSC team (including reporter Ian Pannell, cameraman Darren Conway and BBC News security personnel) on a subsequent visit to “The Iqraa Institute”, Urm Al-Kubra, Aleppo, Syria on 28 August 2013, retaining time codes. 7. All correspondence between BBC personnel and the personnel, executives and trustees of the charity Hand in Hand for Syria during the planning and production of SSC and all subsequent related correspondence. 8. All correspondence between BBC personnel and Dr Saleyha Ahsan during the planning and production of SSC and all subsequent related correspondence. 9. All correspondence between BBC personnel and SSC fixer/translator Mughira Al Sharif during the planning and production of SSC and all subsequent related correspondence. 10. Recordings or transcripts of interviews with members of the SSC team conducted by the BBC Trust Unit’s Independent Editorial Adviser (IEA). [2] 11. A recording or transcript of the IEA’s interview with freelance journalist Paul Adrian Raymond. [3] 12. All other recordings or transcripts, correspondence, documents and reports pertaining to investigations and deliberations at Stages 1, 2 and 3 of the BBC complaints process in respect of complaints made by myself and others about SSC and related BBC News reports. 13. All correspondence between BBC personnel, including SSC fixer/translator Mughira Al Sharif, and the Diskapi Yildirim Beyazit Training and Research Hospital in Antakya, Turkey, relating to the SSC team’s attempts to secure permission to film inside the unit. [4] 14. All correspondence between the BBC’s Istanbul Producer and Turkish health officials relating to the SSC team’s attempts to secure permission to film inside the Diskapi Yildirim Beyazit Training and Research Hospital. [5] 15. All correspondence between BBC personnel and Human Rights Watch (HRW) in respect of the alleged incidents of 26 August 2013, including the chain of correspondence between the BBC and HRW commencing on 29 August 2013 and any appended reports and the IEA’s correspondence with the Advocacy Director of HRW’s Arms Division. [6] 16. All correspondence between BBC personnel and UK and foreign state agencies relating to the planning and production of SSC and all subsequent related correspondence.

[1] Mr Abdullatif is identified as the cameraman by Ian Pannell at 3 minutes 25 seconds in this BBC World Service report https://soundcloud.com/bbc-world-service/another-horrific-attack-in-a

[2] [3] [4] [5] [6] https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/bbc-senior-editorial-complaints-advisers-decision-26-september-2014/

The information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’ The BBC is therefore not obliged to provide this information to you and will not be doing so on this occasion. Part VI of Schedule 1 to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters is only covered by the Act if it is held for ‘purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature”. The BBC is not required to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities.1

The limited application of the Act to public service broadcasters was to protect freedom of expression and the rights of the media under Article 10 European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”). The BBC, as a media organisation, is under a duty to impart information and ideas on all matters of public interest and the importance of this function has been recognised by the European Court of Human Rights. Maintaining our editorial independence is a crucial factor in enabling the media to fulfil this function.

That said, the BBC makes a huge range of information available about our programmes and content on bbc.co.uk. We also proactively publish information covered by the Act on our publication scheme and regularly handle requests for information under the Act.

Appeal Rights

The BBC does not offer an internal review when the information requested is not covered by the Act. If you disagree with our decision you can appeal to the Information Commissioner. Contact details are: Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF, tel: 0303 123 1113 (local rate) or 01625 545 745 (national rate) or see http://www.ico.gov.uk/

Please note that should the Information Commissioner’s Office decide that the Act does cover this information, exemptions under the Act might then apply.

Yours sincerely,

Jeremy Hayes
BBC News Division


1 For more information about how the Act applies to the BBC please see the enclosure which follows this letter. Please note that this guidance is not intended to be a comprehensive legal interpretation of how the Act applies to the BBC.


Freedom of Information

From January 2005 the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000 gives a general right of access to all types of recorded information held by public authorities. The Act also sets out exemptions from that right and places a number of obligations on public authorities. The term “public authority” is defined in the Act; it includes all public bodies and government departments in the UK. The BBC, Channel 4, S4C and MG Alba are the only broadcasting organisations covered by the Act.

Application to the BBC

The BBC has a long tradition of making information available and accessible. It seeks to be open and accountable and already provides the public with a great deal of information about its activities. BBC Audience Services operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week handling telephone and written comments and queries, and the BBC’s website bbc.co.uk provides an extensive online information resource.

It is important to bear this in mind when considering the Freedom of Information Act and how it applies to the BBC. The Act does not apply to the BBC in the way it does to most public authorities in one significant respect. It recognises the different position of the BBC (as well as Channel 4 and S4C) by saying that it covers information “held for purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature”. This means the Act does not apply to information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output (TV, radio, online etc), or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities.

A great deal of information within this category is currently available from the BBC and will continue to be so. If this is the type of information you are looking for, you can check whether it is available on the BBC’s website bbc.co.uk or contact BBC Audience Services.

The Act does apply to all of the other information we hold about the management and running of the BBC.

The BBC

The BBC’s aim is to enrich people’s lives with great programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain. It broadcasts radio and television programmes on analogue and digital services in the UK. It delivers interactive services across the web, television and mobile devices. The BBC’s online service is one of Europe’s most widely visited content sites. Around the world, international multimedia broadcaster BBC World Service delivers a wide range of language and regional services on radio, TV, online and via wireless handheld devices, together with BBC World News, the commercially-funded international news and information television channel.

The BBC’s remit as a public service broadcaster is defined in the BBC Charter and Agreement. It is the responsibility of the BBC Trust (the sovereign body within the BBC) to ensure that the organisation delivers against this remit by setting key objectives, approving strategy and policy, and monitoring and assessing performance. The Trustees also safeguard the BBC’s independence and ensure the Corporation is accountable to its audiences and to Parliament.

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5 responses to “BBC rejects ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ Freedom of Information request

  1. Pingback: Freedom of Information request – RFI20160158 (BBC Panorama ‘Saving Syria’s Children’) | Philosophers Stone

  2. Pingback: Freedom of Information request – RFI20160158 (BBC Panorama ‘Saving Syria’s Children’) | Alternative News Network

  3. Pingback: Saving Syria’s Children: Tribunal Upholds BBC’s Rejection of “Freedom of Information” Request | Counter Information

  4. Pingback: Saving Syria’s Children: Tribunal upholds BBC’s rejection of FOI request - Political Bias

  5. Pingback: BBC Panorama As Propaganda? Controversy over Saving Syria’s Children | Tim Hayward

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