Celebrities protest letter 15th July 2015

A Willmore made this Freedom of Information request to British Broadcasting Corporation

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

The request was partially successful.

Dear British Broadcasting Corporation,

I read with interest this article from the Daily Mail newspaper following the publication on 15th July of an open letter to the Prime Minister from a number of so-called celebrities: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-...

A similar piece appeared in The Times: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/media...

The Daily Mail article states "Michael Palin revealed today the BBC's £327,800-a-year TV boss Danny Cohen secretly helped to organise a letter of support signed by 29 celebrities. The comedian and presenter, 72, admitted that the corporation's director of television lobbied him to sign it because he was 'worried the BBC would become smaller'.". It goes on to say "Last night Annie Nightingale, 75, Radio 1's longest-serving presenter, also revealed that she had been asked to sign the letter by her boss, Radio 1 controller Ben Cooper."

Under the transparency afforded me by the Freedom Of Information Act please provide me with a list of all persons who were asked by Mr Cohen, Mr Cooper or anybody else to sign the letter including, of course, those who chose not to sign it. Please also provide copies of any emails or other documents generated by Mr Cohen (specifically) in connection with the letter.

Yours faithfully,

Mr A Willmore

FOI Enquiries, British Broadcasting Corporation

Dear Mr A Willmore

Thank you for your request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, as detailed in your email below. Your request was received on 16 July 2015. We will deal with your request as promptly as possible, and at the latest within 20 working days. If you have any queries about your request, please contact us at the address below.

The reference number for your request is RFI20151198.

Kind regards

The Information Policy & Compliance Team

BBC Freedom of Information
BC2 B6, Broadcast Centre
201 Wood Lane
London W12 7TP

www.bbc.co.uk/foi
Email: [BBC request email]

Tel: 020 8008 2882

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Dear FOI Enquiries,

I note that 20 working days have now passed since I made this information request and I would be grateful for an indication of when you may able to respond. Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Mr A Willmore

FOI Enquiries, British Broadcasting Corporation

Dear Mr Wilmore,

Please accept our apologies for the delay in providing you with a response to your request. We are still working on your request, but have been delayed by some relevant individuals being away on leave. We hope to be in a position to provide you with a response within the next couple of weeks.

Regards

Information Rights

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Dear FOI Enquiries,

Many thanks for letting me know.

Yours sincerely,

Mr A Willmore

Dear FOI Enquiries,

It is now two weeks since you told me that you "hope to be in a position to provide you with a response within the next couple of weeks". Could you tell me of your progress in this respect, please?

Yours sincerely,

Mr A Willmore

Dear British Broadcasting Corporation,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of British Broadcasting Corporation's handling of my FOI request 'Celebrities protest letter 15th July 2015'.

I note that three weeks have now passed since I was told "We hope to be in a position to provide you with a response within the next couple of weeks" and, despite my prompting a week ago, I have yet to receive either a response to my original information request or an explanation for the continuing delay. Please conduct an internal review of my request.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/c...

Yours faithfully,

Mr A Willmore

FOI Enquiries, British Broadcasting Corporation

Dear A Willmore

We have received your request for an internal review regarding 'Celebrities protest letter' which we received on 10th September 2015.

We will deal with the review as promptly as possible and, at the latest, within 20 working days. If you have any queries please contact us at the address below.

The reference number for your internal review is IR2015067

Yours sincerely

The Information Policy and Compliance Team

BBC Information Policy and Compliance
BC2A4, Broadcast Centre
201 Wood Lane
London W12 7TP, UK

Website: www.bbc.co.uk/foi
Email: mailto:[BBC request email]
Tel: 020 8008 2882

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FOI Enquiries, British Broadcasting Corporation

2 Attachments

Dear Mr Wilmore,

 

Please find attached the response to your request for information,
reference RFI20151198.

 

Yours sincerely

 

BBC Information Policy and Compliance

Room BC2 A4

Broadcast Centre

White City

London

W12 7TS

UK

 

Website: [1]www.bbc.co.uk/foi

Email: [2]mailto:[BBC request email]

 

[3]Description: Description: \\BBCFS2025\UserData$\myrien01\Documents\My
Pictures\BBC.png

 

References

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1. file:///tmp/www.bbc.co.uk/foi
2. mailto:[BBC request email]

Dear FOI Enquiries,

Thank you for your partial reply to my FOI request, which only covered the second part of said request.

However, I am still waiting for a response to both the first part of my request (the list of "celebrities" asked to sign the letter) and for a response to my internal review after you failed to respond within the statutory time frame. I look forward to hearing from you on both matters within the next few days.

Yours sincerely,

Mr A Willmore

A Willmore left an annotation ()

Anybody know how to do a bulk email deletion? Perhaps I should ask Danny Cohen...

Dear FOI Enquiries,

I note that 20 working days have now passed since you informed me "We will deal with the review as promptly as possible and, at the latest, within 20 working days.". Please advise by return when I can expect to receive the result of said review.

Yours sincerely,

Mr A Willmore

FOI Enquiries, British Broadcasting Corporation

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Willmore

Please find attached the internal review decision relating to your request designated RFI20151198. We apologise that, due to an oversight, this was not sent to you within the 20 day guideline.

Yours sincerely

BBC Information Policy and Compliance
Room BC2 A5
Broadcast Centre
White City
London
W12 7TS
UK

Website: www.bbc.co.uk/foi
Email: [BBC request email]

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A Willmore left an annotation ()

This FOI request has been passed to the ICO for advice on what to do next, if anything.

Dear British Broadcasting Corporation,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request another internal review of British Broadcasting Corporation's handling of my FOI request 'Celebrities protest letter 15th July 2015'.

In your response to my initial information request you stated: "Searches have been conducted of both Mr Cohen’s and Mr Cooper’s records and nothing relevant to your request has been found. ". I'm sorry but that is not an acceptable response. You will note that in my original request I asked "all persons who were asked by Mr Cohen, Mr Cooper or anybody else to sign the letter". Note my mention of "anybody else" but your response only dealt with Messrs Cohen and Cooper, and nobody else. Perhaps you would be good enough to confirm that Messrs Cohen and Cooper were entirely responsible for the letter and nobody else was involved?

The fact that several well-respected people employed as talent by the BBC have said publicly that they were contacted in relation to the letter by Messrs Cohen and/or Cooper creates a worrying disparity between the two sides of the story. I find it hard to believe that Messrs Cohen and Cooper have not left some record somewhere of their communication about asking Annie Nightingale to sign the letter. Similarly, there must surely be a record of Michael Palin meeting with Mr Cohen, or an email or telephone conversation between the two gentlemen. Find this information and you may be able to find more that will then enable you to provide the list I requested.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/c...

Yours faithfully,

Mr A Willmore

A Willmore left an annotation ()

My sincere thanks go to the ICO for their assistance and advice.

Peter Jones left an annotation ()

"People employed as talent by the BBC"... that's the funniest thing I've read all day!

FOI Enquiries, British Broadcasting Corporation

Dear Mr Wilmore,

We have received your request for an internal review relating toRFI20151198. The information you requested relates celebrity letters in support of the BBC.  Your request for an internal review was received 28 October 2015.  We shall deal with the review as promptly as possible and, at the latest, within 20 working days.  If you have any queries please contact us at the address below.

The reference number for your internal review is IR2015087

BBC Information Policy and Compliance    
BC2B6, Broadcast Centre
201 Wood Lane,
London, W12 7TP

Website: www.bbc.co.uk/foi/
Email: [BBC request email]
Tel: 020 8008 2883
Fax: 020 8008 2398

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Dear FOI Enquiries,

A recent article in the Daily Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/media/11... has come to my attention that refers to last July's celebrity letter. This article contains two comments of interest and relevance to my FOI request:

"He (Lord Hall) said he would not be carrying out an internal investigation into the activities of Mr Cohen, or any other member of staff, adding: “I was content for the staff of the BBC to make the case for the organisation they are proud to work for, and also to approach people they know across the industry to do likewise.”"

"He (Jesse Norman MP) added: “Instead, it appears that senior BBC employees organized and may have drawn up a letter, and that they tried to do so covertly. In doing so, they presumably used BBC time and resources, funded by the taxpayer; they contacted prominent people on their own initiative to sign the letter; the people approached included at least one BBC employee, who may have felt a degree of coercion to sign; and the organizers of the letter falsely denied any involvement until it was made public.”"

Yours sincerely,

Mr A Willmore

FOI Enquiries, British Broadcasting Corporation

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Willmore

 

Please find attached the internal review decision relating to your request
RFI20151198. This review also deals with your more recent correspondence
and this will not be dealt with in a separate review.

 

Regards

 

BBC Information Rights

BC2 A5, Broadcast Centre

201 Wood Lane

London W12 7TP

 

[1]www.bbc.co.uk/foi

Email: [2][BBC request email]

 

 

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References

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3. http://www.bbc.co.uk/

A Willmore left an annotation ()

An internal review completed in 24 hours! Whatever next?

A Willmore left an annotation ()

I received a response from the ICO concerning this FOI request and it is obvious that they have worked very hard trying to obtain the information I requested, and I am very grateful to them for that, but alas it was to no avail. Their response to me includes the following:

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In its submission to the Commissioner, the BBC first told the Commissioner that Mr Danny Cohen is no longer employed by the BBC. To answer the Commissioner’s questions, the BBC based its response on information Mr Cohen confirmed before he left the BBC, and from information BBC staff who have taken over his responsibilities have provided.

The BBC says that appropriate staff conducted a thorough and reasonable search for the information you have requested. It has told the Commissioner that the individuals that it asked to search for information were those most likely to retrieve any relevant information: namely Mr Cohen, Mr Cooper and its Press Office.

When it received your request, the BBC says that its Information Rights team sent an email to its Press Office and the offices of Mr Cohen and Mr Cooper. The email requested that a search be carried out by the individual and their respective office for the information. Any information retrieved was to be sent to the Information Rights team. The BBC says it asked its Press Office to conduct a search because of the nature of your request and published news articles at the time.

Mr Cooper confirmed that he had searched for electronically held information on his work computer and his work phone as these locations would be the only places likely to retrieve any relevant information. Likewise, the Press Office searched its press enquiries database.

While the BBC was processing its response to your request and its internal review response, Mr Cohen was employed by the BBC. The BBC understands that Mr Cohen’s personal assistant undertook electronic searches. Following the searches Mr Cohen confirmed to the Information Rights team that he did not hold the requested information.

The BBC has referred to the Commissioner’s guidance which says that information held in private accounts will only be subject to the Act if it relates to the official business of the public authority. The BBC says that it has no reason to suspect that information within the scope of your request may be held on privately owned computers or in private email accounts. The BBC has therefore submitted that it would not have been reasonable to extend the scope of a search to personal computers, mobile phones or private emails.

Mr Cooper has confirmed that he conducted his search using terms such as ‘celebrities’ and ‘letter’ and variations on those themes. He has also confirmed that he searched for information received from Mr Cohen and searched items by date.

As mentioned, the search for related information was carried out by Mr Cohen’s personal assistant at that time. Although unable to confirm what search terms were used, given the passage of time, the BBC says that those who hold responsibility for Mr Cohen’s role have confirmed that, following the initial search for information, there were no emails in Mr Cohen’s BBC inbox relating to the subject of your request.

In answering the Commissioner’s question about whether any recorded information within the scope of your request was ever deleted or destroyed, the BBC provided a comprehensive explanation on the process of deleting electronic data.

It has told the Commissioner that limited recorded information potentially relevant to the request had been held but was ‘double-deleted’ prior to receiving your request. By ‘double-deleted’ the BBC means that, in line with its retention policy, staff had deleted from their inbox(es) any emails in which information had been held, and these emails had then been moved to its central ‘dumpster’ folder from where emails are permanently deleted from the system; usually after seven days although it can be fewer days when servers are running low on disk space.

The BBC has confirmed that the double-deletion occurred before the date of your request.

The BBC is correct when it says that information that has been deleted in this way is deemed not to be held and is therefore not subject to the FOIA.

Your request was for a list of people who were asked by Mr Cohen, Mr Cooper, or anybody else, to sign a particular letter and for any emails or other documents generated by Mr Cohen in connection with this letter. Having considered the BBC’s submission, I am prepared to accept that, on the balance of probabilities, the BBC does not hold the information you have requested.

The BBC has acknowledged that it breached section 10 and has apologised to you for this. I can produce a decision notice to this affect. However, it may be of interest to you to know that we routinely monitor all public authorities’ performance against section 10 and take appropriate action against those authorities that we find consistently breach the 20 working day deadline.

Regarding the internal review, it does appear that the BBC provided a review of its non-response to your request, and to its response to your request, within the recommended timescale of 20 workings days (and no longer than 40 working days).

Therefore, based on the likelihood that we could not require the BBC to take any further steps, I would be minded to close your complaint at this stage.
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This all smacks of a cover-up to me but if they don't have the information then they don't have the information, I guess. However, I note with interest that emails sent to the "central dumpster" were deleted "usually after seven days although it can be fewer days when servers are running low on disk space". I can only assume that they must have been very low on disk space as the letter appeared in the press on 15th July, my request was sent in on the 16th and the BBC acknowledged receipt on the 17th - somewhat less than seven days!

Perhaps I should assume that in order to save valuable disk space any electronic records were frantically deleted on or around the 17th, and before their FOI people could start digging. Frankly, in Cohen's or Cooper's position I could understand why they might do that. But I am not, thankfully.

At the very least the BBC could have said that Michael Palin and Annie Nightingale alone were asked to sign the letter, but to say they do not have any information at all beggars belief. It is as though they are suggesting that Palin and Nightingale were making it up.

It appears to me to be an attempt to cover up something that the BBC hoped would support it but actually only served to make them look like self-centred idiots.

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