Freedom of Information
Internal Review Decision
Lawyer – Legal Workplace and Information Rights
RFI20211490 / IR2021080
06 January 2022
First, we apologise for the delay in processing this internal review.
On 30 September 2021, you requested that the BBC provide the following information under the
Freedom of Information Act 2000 (‘the Act’):
Have any staff working on Newsnight been asked by “management” to delete previously published
tweets; if so why; and what if any sanctions were taken if the original tweets were deemed to run
contrary to the BBCs guidance on social media.
On 26 October 2021, the BBC responded with the following:
The Act does not require us to comply with a request if to do so would exceed the appropriate limit as
set out in the Freedom of Information and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations
2004 (SI 2004/3244). The appropriate limit has been set at £450 (equivalent to two and a half days
work, at an hourly rate of £25). In order to respond in full to your request we estimate that to carry
out this search would take BBC Staff more than two and a half days.
This is because we don’t hold a central record of instances where staff have been reminded of the
guidelines. If held, this information would be held at a local level and with individual managers.
Therefore, under section 12 of the Act, we are refusing to handle the request as it would exceed the
We are mindful of our duty under section 16 of the Act to provide reasonable advice and assistance
to you, and specifically to advise how you might narrow your request so that it complies with the
time limit. However, due to the nature of your request and the records not being held in a readily
accessible and extractable format, we are unable to suggest a way in which to refine your request in
order to obtain the information you are interested in within the cost limit.
As set out in section 6(1)(b)(i ) of the Act, our subsidiaries (including BBC Studioworks Limited, UKTV,
BBC Global News Ltd and BBC Studios Ltd), as wel as the charities BBC Media Action and BBC
Children in Need, are not subject to the Act. As such, information relating to these entities is not
considered in the above response.
On 26 October 2021, you requested an internal review of the BBC’s decision. In particular, you said
that: I am writing to request an internal review of British Broadcasting Corporation's handling of my FOI
request 'Newsnight social media'.
link to page 2 I think this information could be ascertained within the time frame and financial constraints of an
The issues for review
This internal review will consider whether the BBC was correct in engaging section 12 of the FOI Act
in regard to your Request for Information and, if so, whether the BBC acted consistently with its duty
under section 16 of the FOI Act to provide advice and assistance to you. Decision
I consider that the BBC was incorrect in finding that complying with the first aspect of your request
would exceed the appropriate time limit set out in section 12 of the FOI Act. I will not therefore address
On receipt of your request for internal review, I liaised with representatives in News who are in contact
with the BBC Newsnight team. From these discussions I confirm if held, the information you requested
is held for the purposes of ‘art, journalism or literature’. The Act provides that the BBC is not obliged
to disclose this type of information and we will not be disclosing the information on this occasion. Reasoning
While the BBC does not hold central records of decisions to request BBC workers remove tweets
that are determined to amount to breaches of the BBC’s Social Media guidance, I note that your
request was caveated in two ways that mean the time limit exemption would not apply. First, your
request references decisions taken subject to the BBC’s Social Media Guidance which was published
in 2020. Second, your request is limited to a specific programme team in BBC News and Current
As explained above however, if held, the information is journalistic in nature as it goes to decisions
taken about editorial standards.
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”. In Sugar v BBC 1,
the Supreme Court explained that “journalism” primarily means
the BBC’s “output on news and current affairs”, including sport, and that “journalism, art or literature”
covers the whole of the BBC’s output to the public (Lord Walker at paragraph 70). This might include
information about how BBC journalists gather information for programme-making as well as
information about the costs of producing such programming.
In this case, the information that you have requested would be held by senior editorial figures in BBC
News for the purposes of reviewing the standards and quality of BBC journalism. The social media
posts of BBC journalists are considered to fall within the scope of the term ‘journalism’ as evidenced
by the existence of social media guidance that oversees adherence of such BBC social media with
editorial standards. In this way, this information is held by the BBC for purposes that are directly linked
1 Sugar v BBC  1 WLR 439.
link to page 3
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 activities2
. This is an important
way that the BBC and other public service broadcasters can preserve their independence by ensuring
information about matters including editorial decisions about programming and budgets allocated to
such programming, are not subject to undue public scrutiny. It is important that the BBC is an
independent and impartial news organisation.
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. However, the BBC makes a huge range of information available about our programmes and
content on bbc.co.uk. Appeal Rights
If you are not satisfied with the outcome of your internal review, you can 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 https://ico.org.uk/
2 For more information about how the Act applies to the BBC please see the enclosure which fol ows this
letter. Please note that this guidance is not intended to be a comprehensive legal interpretation of how the
Act applies to the BBC.