British Broadcasting Corporation Room BC2 A4 Broadcast Centre White City Wood Lane London W12 7TP
Telephone 020 8008 2882 Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr J Osborne
14 July 2017
Dear Mr Osborne Freedom of Information request - RFI20170915
Thank you for your request to the BBC of 25th June 2017 seeking under the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 (the Act) the following information in relation to the June 2017 UK
General Election: “ How many complaints the BBC received regarding left/right bias during the 2017 general
election, separated for left/right bias accusations:”
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 the Act
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 activities1,
including information relating to the subject of editorial complaints. The BBC’s
independence and impartiality would be at risk through disclosure of information on
editorial complaints, which is discussed in detail below.
The BBC has chosen not to volunteer information relating to the subject of editorial
complaints for several very good reasons, chief amongst them being a desire to maintain our
independence and impartiality. In this particular case, the BBC is concerned to preserve the
integrity of the independent review process for editorial complaints.
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
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.
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.”
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, as well as the seeking of an
independent view of criticism in order to undertake this review process. This is an
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 content of individual criticisms were available for public scrutiny on a regular basis
then programme makers would be under even greater pressure to respond to lobbies or
vocal individuals than they are already. They might be reluctant to make changes that
reflect the views in the complaints in that they could be accused of “caving in to pressure”
and other viewers would make judgements about the apparent impartiality of the
programme. Conversely, if their judgement was to ignore the complaints, as they believed
them to be invalid or outweighed by other factors, they will be accused of ignoring public
opinion, without the opportunity to explain the reasons for their editorial judgement. The
BBC also believes that publication could lead to a tit-for-tat escalation of complaints,
particularly from lobbying groups or political parties, as opponents competed with each
other in terms of volume and strength of a complaint to the BBC.
I hope that this provides you with some understanding of why this is an important concern
for the BBC.
In addition, I can advise, outside the scope of the Act that the BBC proactively publishes
public responses to recent issues of audience concern which have caused a significant
number of complaints, or to any significant issue raised by complaints received. The BBC
also publishes quarterly archived reports covering the main themes in all complaints
received. In addition, information about second-stage complaints, i.e. those considered by
the Editorial Complaints Unit, is published at the following site: http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/reports.shtml.
Information about the third stage of the complaints process, i.e. those considered by the
ESC, is published at the following site: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/appeals/editorial_appeal_findings.html
Finally, 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. 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 telephone 0303 123 1113 (local rate) or visit their website at www.ico.org.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.
Freedom of Information
From January 2005 the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act) 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'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