Open Letter To The BBC

Dear BBC,

At the beginning of this year I submitted the Freedom of Information Act request to yourselves that is reproduced below together with your response.

I have to say that I was disappointed by your response, in saying that what I had requested was outside the scope of the Act, and that you have no record of the number of MPs that appear on your programmes. I was however interested in your Editorial Guidelines that state that the BBC should not be paying politicians for appearances where they express political views, and for a long time I took that at face value and assumed that you did not, therefore, pay politicians for their appearances on political programmes such as Question Time.

20 January 2014

Dear Mr Wright

Freedom of Information request – RFI 20140024

Thank you for your request to the BBC of 5th January 2014, seeking the following information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000:

“Could you please tell me for the 2012/2013 Financial Year

a) How many serving MPs have appeared in BBC TV programmes (with the exception of live News Broadcasts etc)

b) What was the total sum of money paid to serving MPs for their appearance/contribution to BBC scheduled TV and Radio programmes”

The information you have requested is out of scope of the Act. However, we are happy to explain that we do not keep a record of the numbers of MPs and so would in any case be unable to give you this information. With regard to payments to MPs, you may be interested to read the policy set out in the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines, which set out the principles to which BBC employees should adhere: http://www.bbc.co.uk/editorialguidelines/page/guidelines-politicspractices-interviews#payment-to-mps . These state:

10.4.7

We should not normally pay MPs, or others clearly identified as representing political
parties, for appearances or other contributions to any BBC output in which they are
speaking as a member of their party or expressing political views. They can, where
appropriate, be paid a limited and realistic disturbance fee and/or any reimbursement for
genuine expenses.

10.4.8

They may be paid for contributions to non-political output, where they are appearing on the basis of their expertise outside politics or of their celebrity, and are not taking part as a member of their party or expressing political views. (See Section 10 Politics, Public Policy and Polls: 10.4.4)

Active politicians should not normally be paid for an appearance on, or contribution to, BBC News output. The extent to which a contributor is considered an active politician may be influenced in each case by a combination of factors including, for example, the type of programme or other content, the nature of the contribution, the contributor’s political activity or the capacity in which they appear. Further advice should be sought from Chief Adviser Politics

We hope you find this helpful. Please note that the information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’ Part VI of Schedule 1 to FOIA 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” 1. The BBC is not required by the Act to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities; however, on this occasion we’re happy to provide the above information in response to your request.

Appeal Rights

The BBC does not offer an internal review when the information requested is not covered by the Act. 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 telephone 01625 545 700. http://www.ico.gov.uk

Yours sincerely,

Stephanie Harris

Head of Accountability, BBC News

So, not only do you claim that you could not answer my question as you don’t record that information, but you give enquirers no Right of Appeal, but instead refer them direct to the Information Commissioner.  For your information the information Commissioner’s website (which is now located at https://ico.org.uk/) says this “You should first complain to the authority and ask it to conduct an internal review.” An Internal Review that you don’t offer.  The Information Commissioner won’t act unless one has asked you for an Internal Review, and you state that you don’t conduct Internal Reviews.  Brilliant!!

Getting back to my original request, you state “We should not normally pay MPs, or others clearly identified as representing political parties, for appearances or other contributions to any BBC output in which they are speaking as a member of their party or expressing political views. “  and  “They may be paid for contributions to non-political output, where they are appearing on the basis of their expertise outside politics or of their celebrity, and are not taking part as a member of their party or expressing political views. “

Personally I would regard This Week as a political programme, and includes political views from the participants. 

For your further information, Diane Abbott MP has declared to the  Register of Members’ Interests that she has been paid £700 by the BBC for every time that she has appeared on This Week.  In the most recent version of the 2014/15 Register (8th December 2014) she has declared that the BBC have paid her £700 on 17 separate occasions.  That equals £11,900 paid for by the BBC Trust for services the the Editorial Guidelines would indicate that she not be paid for.

Diane Abbott is not alone in this, other MPs have made similar declarations to the Register.

As I can clearly not rely on an Act of Parliament to obtain the information I require, maybe Ms Stephanie Harris, Head of Accountability, BBC News, could explain this anomaly to me or attempt to answer my original question.  I see no reason whatsoever why this issue should be protected by Journalistic Privilege, I am not requesting any names, not seeking to identify journalists sources, merely attempting to establish how the British Licence Payers’ money is being spent.  Is that too much to ask?

Yours

Alan Wright