BBC: What YOU spent on our lawyers in Secret Climate 28 debacle
The only UK govt agency with a blanket FOIA exemption
The BBC has revealed the cost to the licence-fee payer of its surreal legal fight to keep a publicly available list from the public. Or at least a small part of the cost we all paid in the affair which became known as "28Gate".
Regular readers will no doubt recall that 28Gate saw the Beeb attempt to keep secret the names of 28 people whom - it said - had convinced Auntie corporately that there was no longer any need to include sceptical viewpoints in its coverage of climate change. These folk were said to include "some of the best scientific experts".
A hefty legal team was deployed to keep the "experts"' identities secret in the face of FOIA requests from blogger Tony Newbery (who represented himself) but in the end the names were discovered on the Wayback Machine, which had archived a webpage listing them all before their names and affiliations could be erased. (Curiously enough, the names had disappeared from the current version of that page - on the website of a green advocacy organisation - shortly after the FOI requests were received by the BBC.) As had been expected the secret 28 included few scientists of any repute, and plenty of green lobbyists and activists.
In response to two further FOI requests, the Corporation has now disclosed that the cost of hiring external help for the one-and-a-half day Information Tribunal hearing last October came to £22,746 including VAT. This breaks down to Kate Gallafent, of Blackstone Chambers who cost £13,875 (plus VAT) and Jonathan Scherbel-Ball, of One Brick Court who cost a paltry £4,780 (plus VAT).
However, it's merely the tip of the iceberg. The BBC says "the majority of Freedom of Information work is carried out in-house within the BBC" and "it does not hold information relating to the cost of in-house work". Four BBC legal staff were present at the Tribunal alongside Gallafent and Scherbel-Ball, in order to fight off a blogger who was representing himself.
The serried BBC lawyers used a derogation, or opt-out, under the Freedom of Information Act that permits the Corporation to withhold information if it is required "for the purposes of journalism" - a clause designed to protect journalists from having to reveal their sources.
It subsequently emerged that the derogation has been broadly applied by the BBC's legal team to withhold information from the public on a wide range of subjects, ranging from social media guidelines, to US income, to web site traffic. Even legal costs in previous FOI cases have been withheld using the "purposes of journalism" derogation. The latest misuse of the derogation sees the BBC refuse to name the judges of the Radio 2 Folk Awards.
This odd saga has another surreal twist.
After the identity of the 28 was unearthed, Newbery wrote to the BBC asking whether it would confirm the authenticity of the "Climate 28" list. The BBC's Caroline Hilditch sniffily replied: "the BBC is not required to disclose any information and will not be commenting on the list you have referred to."
A heroic performance by the BBC legal team, then, from start to finish. ®
The 2007 Bridcut Report for the BBC Trust contained a strong warning for the Corporation. "The BBC has many public purposes of both ambition and merit – but joining campaigns to save the planet is not one of them," wrote Bridcut. "Acceptance of a basic scientific consensus only sharpens the need for hawk-eyed scrutiny of the arguments surrounding both causation and solution."
Some thoughts on how the BBC can belatedly implement the advice can be found here.
It contains a short history of how Auntie's editorial policy developed in the mid-Noughties.
The Register's management sometimes wonder just why the Beeb is so keen to avoid disclosing how much overseas web traffic it gets and how much overseas money it makes. It's interesting to us, as we get a lot of US web traffic and we're keen to make money there too.
We sometimes suspect that if major US media organisations knew how well the Beeb was doing in their home market, they might perhaps bring up the issue of the enormous and (certainly in the context of US market competition) highly unfair British government subsidy enjoyed by the BBC. This could perhaps put something of a crimp in the Beeb's US commercial operations once the relevant US regulators got involved. Other US industries often raise such concerns regarding foreign competitors, after all.
On the other hand it seems entirely reasonable to keep secret the identities of the Folk Awards judges. The consequences of being publicly outed as an expert in folk music could be devastating. - Ed
I enjoy the BBC, I am happy to pay the licence fee because I enjoy the radio, online and TV content.
But they really need to stop behaving like they shouldn't be held to account and the Trust really needs to do more to squash any political agendas that arise within the BBC.
I pay for independence, I don't want them to become biased and certainly dont want anything like the US "news"
And this is surprising how exactly. To be fair to the BBC, it's not just them, but vast numbers of organisations that are playing the climate change game for all its worth. Energy companies do it to persuade governments to give lovely bribes (sorry incentives) for building windfarms, governments use it to justify taxing more and more etc.etc. The BBC is the tip of the iceberg.
Now, I'm not a sceptic. I accept climate change is occuring and has been since the planet was formed. However, I also acknowledge that whether mans input is 1% or 99% makes no difference as we're never going to significantly impact this downwards and change will continue regardless. I prefer to take the rather more pragmatic view of just accepting change is happening and moving with it. Stop trying to fight it and do what has worked for millions of years for our forebears; simply adjust with it. If the sea rises, move inland. If one area can no longer support crops, move to another area etc.etc. Yes, border (a relatively recent invention) are a bit of a problem, but that could be fixed far easier and cheaper than climate change!!
We're never going to dramatically reduce our impact on the climate as even if those who potentially could afford to implement change, the developing world (and some others) who can't, won't simply stop. Also, the developed world in implementing the changes will simply fall victim to the countries who don't and are therefore massively cheaper etc. India, China, Asia (pretty much in general) etc. are not about to do much about it. Brazil ditto etc.
Now, amongst all this is a need to understand the changes more and therefore be able to predict them and therefore implement the changes in good time. However, this is being dramatically impacted by both sides ignoring the other and the purile debates going on, which centre pretty much on name calling and vested interests rather than the actual scientific facts and good scientific discussion. Contrary to those in favour of MMGW, there are some pretty good, highly intelligent people who deny mans impact (to the extend supposed) on pretty good evidence and data. Equally, the reverse is true.
Rather than try and stifle debate, we need to be having a really good, proper scientific debate where data is properly released in full (yep, a reference to a certain Anglian university), analysed by lots of different people and the results discussed sensibly. Then, we can implement the changes necessary, not to try and stop it necessarily, but to adjust with it.
Some great comments! I can understand the need to protect true journalistic sources, but that doesn't include people who help you develop an editorial policy on a topic. The bbc's most valuable asset is its ability (in theory) to be totally independant. The bbc can spill the beans on anybody and anything including itself without fear of advertisers taking their money elsewhere. The beeb can also comission content that adds value to society (wildlife on one etc) rather than having to appeal solely to the lowest common denominator and produce endless trash.
The fact the the bbc feels the need to waste 20k trying to hide a list which is already in the public domain and should be public knowledge anyway, well the saddest thing is it isn't shocking.
There are journalistic sources and there are technical experts. One requires protection and the other the exact opposite. If I proclaim to be an expert in something and am hired on my reputation then it is only right that my reputation be on the line if I am wrong. Thats kind of how a reputation works.
This stinks of somebody in the bbc news having their own agenda and trying to influence the news. Cherry picking a panel of 'experts' and keeping them secret so you can make a story one sided is not journalism, it is propaganda. Carry on down that path and you get Fox news, msnbc and Comical Ali, although perhaps not in that order!