BBC Faces Israel Bias Suit From Beyond the Grave
The BBC faces a legal challenge over a report on its Israel coverage it refuses to release despite the plaintiff's death.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 8/14/2011, 3:23 PM
The BBC faces a legal challenge from beyond the grave over a report it refuses to release.
According to Sky News, Steven Sugar pursued a one-man legal battle for six years against the BBC in an attempt to force it to disclose an internal assessment off its coverage of the Middle East conflict, which he believed would reveal bias against Israel.
Sugar won an appeal for a full court hearing, but when he died of cancer in January at the age of 61, it appeared the suit was over.
Now his widow, Fiona Paveley, has taken up the fight to reveal the contents of the 20,000-word document and is taking her case to Britain's Supreme Court.
Sugar’s lawyers told Paveley she had standing to represent him and she believes it is her duty to continue his battle.
“I knew immediately that I wasn’t going to abandon it,” Paveley, a clinical psychologist, told the Telegraph in an interview. “It would have almost felt like a betrayal to let all his hard work go to waste. He never gave up, so why should I?”
“Steven thought that reporting should be balanced. As a publicly-funded body, it seems wrong that the BBC is afraid and reluctant to be more transparent," she added.
According to reports, the BBC has spent more than £270,000 on legal fees to prevent the public from seeing the report, written in 2004 by Malcolm Balen, a senior journalist, for Richard Sambrook, then BBC director of news.
But a defeat for the BBC could cost the corporation even more because it could weaken its ability to deny requests made under the Freedom of Information Act.
"If we are not able to pursue our journalism freely and have honest debate and analysis over how we are covering important issues, then how effectively we can serve the public will be diminished," a BBC spokesman told reporters. That is exactly what this suit is trying to accomplish.
Sugar, a solicitor, first asked the BBC to publish the Balen Report in 2005 under the Freedom of Information Act and refused to accept the BBC’s argument that it was outside the Act’s scope.
The corporation successfully argued in the past that the report should not be released because it was held for “the purposes of journalism, art or literature” and, as such, was exempt.
Despite losses at the Information Tribunal, the High Court and the Court of Appeal, his legal team -- who told Sky News they waived their fees so Paveley could continue the suit -- are hopeful of success in the Supreme Court.
A Supreme Court spokesman said the case was significant for Britain's public life.
“This is an interesting case which the Justices have decided raises an issue of general public importance," the spokesman said.
“It will effectively establish the test for what constitutes a document held for journalistic purposes.”