John Walker firstname.lastname@example.org
February 20th, 2009
Dear Mr Walker Freedom of Information request – RFI20090171
Thank you for your request of January 26th under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 making the following request
for information about a Susan Watts report on Newsnight on January 20th:
1. Why did the BBC splice that tape in such an extraordinary way?
2. Please supply copies of all correspondence relating to the making of this particular piece.
3. How many complaints has the BBC had about the manipulation that went on in this piece?
4. Please supply a copy of the final report of any investigation into this manipulation of the news.
The BBC is not obliged to provide you with the information you requested as we believe it is not covered by the
Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“the Act”). However we are happy to explain that the report was one part of a 50
minute programme exploring the start of the Obama presidency from various angles. We edited sections of the
speech to reflect the elements in it that referred to science as a way to give people an impression or montage of what
Obama said about science in his inauguration speech. This was signposted to audiences with fades between each point.
It in no way altered the meaning or misrepresented what the President was saying. The piece then went on to explore
the challenges facing the President in this area.
The BBC and the other public service broadcasters are covered by the Act only in respect of information held for
purposes “other than those of journalism, art or literature” (see Schedule I, Part VI of the Act). This means that we
are not obliged to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or is closely associated with
these creative activities.
In relation to your request for the number of complaints the BBC has received about this item I should also explain
that, whilst the information is not any event covered by the Act, the BBC has also chosen not to volunteer
information relating to audience feedback for several very good reasons, chief amongst them being a desire to
maintain our independence and impartiality.
link to page 2
You may not be aware that one of the main policy drivers behind 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.
The Information Commissioner’s Office has recognised the importance of Schedule 1 of the Act in protecting the
independence of the media, stating that:
“It is the Commissioner’s view that the ultimate purpose of the derogation (Schedule 1) is to protect
journalistic, artistic and literary integrity by carving out a creative and journalistic space for programme
makers to produce programmes free from the interference and scrutiny of the public.”1
The BBC agrees that we have the right to protect our journalistic and editorial independence by maintaining just such
a private space in which to produce our content. This extends to the sifting and review of praise and criticism from
audiences, which is important part of the BBC’s process of creating and improving programmes. Despite the BBC’s
obligation to be independent and impartial, many bodies, groups and individuals attempt to influence our output. This
pressure takes many forms and has to be resisted by programme makers across the BBC.
If the BBC and other public broadcasters were obliged to disclose audience feedback, this would damage our
independence by impeding the ability of the programme maker to weigh complaints, praise and other comments
alongside other elements of feedback on a programme as would his/her ability to come to their own journalistic
judgement without public scrutiny.
I hope this provides you with some understanding of why this is an important concern for the BBC.
For your information, the ICO has agreed with the BBC’s interpretation that information pertaining to audience
feedback falls outside the scope of the Act, stating that:
‘…fundamental y the complaints are about, and intended to influence, content. Despite other applications
complaints information is intrinsically linked with the creative purposes for which the BBC was established.’
If you are not satisfied with this response you have the right to appeal to the Information Commissioner. The
contact details are: Information Commissioner's Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF,
telephone 01625 545 700 or see www.informationcommissioner.gov.uk
Head of Editorial Compliance, BBC News
1 ICO Reference: FAC0070848