Declaration of advisory role for David Willets MP & BBC Newsnight Chris Cook's Conflict of Interest Register

The request was refused by British Broadcasting Corporation.

Dear British Broadcasting Corporation,

In February 2014, Chris Cook joined BBC Newsnight from the Financial Times.

Prior to the FT (where Cook was leader writer with a focus on education), numerous publications cite the fact Cook acted as an advisor to Conservative MP David Willets, (whose remit included University/ Education).

On social media, Christopher Cook has denied claims he worked an as advisor to the MP, stating he assisted Willets write a book: 'The Pinch' between 2006-08. https://twitter.com/Gian_TCatt/status/68...

Shortly after Chris Cook joined Newsnight (early February 2014), David Willets was invited to appear on BBC Newsnight (29 February), focussing on University tuition fees, reforms and privatisation of the UK student loan book (i.e. potentially the subject of Cooks former research and advisory role for David Willets).

QUESTIONS:

1. Did Chris Cook declare, when joining the BBC, that he had worked as an advisor (paid or unpaid) to David Willets, and had been in the employ of the Conservative Party?

2. How have the BBC ensured impartiality for licence fee payers, and managed a potential conflict of interest arising from a former advisor to David Willets on education policy, reporting objectively on education policy formation by the same MP as Government Minister?

3. Please confirm if a) Chris Cook contributed towards background research, and or organisation of David Willets Newsnight February 2014 appearance?, and/or b) declared a conflict of interest in doing so?

4. Please provide the earliest conflict of interest form submitted by Chris Cook in 2013/14

5. Please provide Chris Cook's relevant conflict of interest form for the period February 15-29 2014.

6. Please provide the most recent conflict of interest form submitted by Chris Cook.

Yours faithfully,

Joel M Benjamin

FOI Enquiries, British Broadcasting Corporation

Dear Joel M Benjamin

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 29 December 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 RFI20152209.

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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FOI Enquiries, British Broadcasting Corporation

1 Attachment

Dear Mr. Benjamin,

 

Thank you for your recent request for information. Please find the
response attached.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

The Information Policy and Compliance Team

 

BBC Information Policy and Compliance

BC2A4, Broadcast Centre

201 Wood Lane

London W12 7TP, UK

 

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

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

 

 

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Joel M Benjamin left an annotation ()

Guidelines for the online conduct of BBC staff http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/editoria...

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 'Declaration of advisory role for David Willets MP & BBC Newsnight Chris Cook's Conflict of Interest Register'.

In refusing to disclose this information, the BBC has not confirmed if it holds the relevant information requested (namely, Chris Cook's conflict of interest disclosure form).

The BBC is within its rights to "neither confirm, nor deny" it holds this information, yet has not done so.

I concede questions 2 and 3 are "for the purposes of journalism" and are therefore exempt from disclosure.

However, questions 1, 4, 5 and 6 relate to the requirements placed upon individuals employed by the BBC to fully disclose actual or potential conflicts of interest, independent of journalistic research or output.

Chris Cook's online behaviour, namely a series of tweets with Harry Leslie Smith @HarrysLastStand could be perceived to breach BBC guidelines for acceptable online communication by BBC staff.

Harry is openly a Labour supporter, and speaks out against neoliberal economics, and market solutions, notions Chris openly advocates.

In a series of repeated tweets, Chris cast public doubts regarding the origin of tweets from Harry's account, even when the user confirmed it was them tweeting, not an aide, as claimed (un-evidenced) by Chris.

Continued and aggressive online conduct, from a BBC employee, could be perceived to be party political in nature, as Chris was seeking to undermine a Labour party supporter who speaks out against neoliberal free market, notions which Chris, (a Conservative) is known to support.

Independent academic analysis of BBC output across multiple platforms by Professor Mike Berry has shown BBC output to be heavily skewed in favour of neoliberal, pro-business policies, promoted by Conservative politicians. http://theconversation.com/hard-evidence...

This brings me to the Conflict of Interest Disclosure forms, and the need for all BBC staff to act in ways which are, and are viewed to be, impartial.

Relevant ICO guidance confirms there is a legitimate public interest in transparency of the Registered Interests of Public Officials or those whose roles are funded by public expenditure, and that transparency and disclosure in such matters "fosters trust in public authorities."

https://ico.org.uk/media/for-organisatio...

Release of relevant Disclosure Forms would satisfy public concerns that Cook may have failed to disclose actual or potential conflicts of interest, meaning the BBC could not actively manage said conflicts, if they remained unknown.

It is important to clarify that it is the prior employment history and financial interests of the individual that are relevant to public disclosure here, not the individuals personally held, and entirely legitimate political beliefs.

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

Yours faithfully,

Joel M Benjamin

FOI Enquiries, British Broadcasting Corporation

Dear Mr Benjamin,

Thank you for your email which we received on 16 January 2016, regarding the response to your FOI request, reference RFI20152209.

We note you are unhappy with the response you received. As explained in our original reply, the BBC does not offer an internal review when the information requested is not covered by the Act.  Therefore, 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/.

I am sorry we cannot be of more assistance to you on this occasion.

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]

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