BBC dissembles to avoid FOI response re DH meetings

Some weeks ago, I requested the following information from the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act :

1) Dates & times of any meetings or telephone conversations between BBC executives  
and/or editorial staff and representatives of the Department of Health and the Department 
for Work & Pensions since 1 July 2011. 

2) Names of the personnel involved in such meetings/conversations. 
3) Copies of any emails received by the BBC from the two named departments or any entity  
acting on their behalf during the same period

I want this information because I suspect undue influence by the government on the BBC’s coverage of key issues – in particular, of the damage being done to the NHS, to the morale of its staff and to its ability to care for patients, under the lamentable Health and Social Care Act 2012. Well, I say ‘suspect’ – but given the evidence in the complete absence of coverage, it’s a lot more than a suspicion – it’s clear the BBC has been suborned by an unscrupulous government into collaborating in keeping the British public in ignorance of what constitutes once of the biggest thefts in history. The FOI request was an attempt to uncover the ‘smoking gun’.

I’ve written before about the BBC’s responses to complaints about its coverage of the NHS, which would be laughable if the issues weren’t so serious. Well, it turns out that they reserve a special level of disingenuousness for FOI responses. The BBC refused my request on the grounds that it would take more than 2.5 days to answer, this being the time-limit based on a ‘reasonable cost’ according to the FOI Act. Fair enough, you might think – except for the way that they calculated this ‘excessive time’:

“in order to ensure we fully comply with this part of your request and determine if relevant information is held, each member of  BBC staff would need to conduct a search of their email correspondence. The BBC employs over twenty thousand people; therefore, even allowing a minimum estimate of just one minute for each member of staff to complete their individual search means that this search alone would require over 
300 hours.”

Yes, you read that right. Now, compare that answer with my request for information regarding contact between BBC executives and editorial staff and the Department of Health. The BBC employs over 20,000 people – cleaners, canteen staff, reporters, technicians, electricians, presenters, carpenters, set designers and a host of other functions. None of them were included in my request, which was absolutely clear about the personnel to be included in the response. I don’t know the number of executives and editorial staff likely to have contact with the DH, but it’s not going to be more than a couple of hundred – allowing plenty of time for the information to be gathered within the cost parameters set by the FOI Act.

I’ve requested a review of the request and answer on this basis, but it may take another month to get a response. The BBC suggested I submit a request limited to the Executive Board – I’ve done this, too, but that feels like I’m being steered away from some area the BBC finds problematic or embarrassing, so I want an answer to my original request, based on a reasonable interpretation of the staff involved.

We’ll see what response I get to the request for review. But for the BBC to be taking such a ludicrous tack to avoid answering my very clear request certainly suggests that there has been inappropriate contact between our national broadcaster and a Dept of Health which is busy stripping down and selling off the NHS of which the UK people are justly proud.

This is entirely in character for Lansley’s Health Dept, which has been colluding with the South-West NHS pay cartel and approving its plans to cut pay even while Lansley has been claiming not to see or approve the need for any pay reductions. Whatever the outcome on my FOI request to the BBC, it’s very clear that the Health Secretary and his team can’t be trusted to organise the proverbial brewery binge, let alone to run one of the greatest institutions in our country.


  1. Sounds about right. The main people needed to be checked are the basic News Editorial guys. There can only be a handful of them. A lot less than hundreds. But I doubt they’ll ever give an honest answer, cos it’s obvious they have a Government hand firmly up their butts.

  2. Mark Thompson, Director-General

    Mark Thompson is Chief Executive and editor-in-chief of the BBC, appointed by the BBC Trust.

    Helen Boaden, Director, BBC News

    Helen Boaden has overall editorial and managerial responsibility for UK-wide and global news and current affairs on radio, television and online.

    George Entwistle, Director, Vision

    George is the Director for BBC Vision, in charge of one of the world’s leading multimedia content groups, commissioning, producing and broadcasting across BBC television and the web.

    Tim Davie, Director, Audio & Music

    Tim Davie is the Director of BBC Audio & Music and a member of the BBC’s Executive Board.

    Ralph Rivera, Director, Future Media

    Ralph Rivera holds overall responsibility for the BBC’s interactive services, BBC Online and BBC Red Button.

    Caroline Thomson, Chief Operating Officer

    Caroline Thomson has responsibility for the BBC’s policy, legal, strategy and distribution functions and responsibility for all the BBC’s major infrastructure projects

    Zarin Patel, Chief Financial Officer

    Zarin Patel has overall responsibility for the BBC’s financial management and control.

  3. Lynsey Tweddle Head of the Executive Unit (secretary)
    Christina Roski Business Manager, Executive Unit
    Jessica Cecil Head of the Director-General’s Office
    Chris Waiting Chief Adviser to the Chief Operating Officer
    Beverley Tew Director, Finance, Procurement and Revenue Mgmt (item 2)
    Karen Wightman Partner, KPMG (item 2)
    Scott Cormack Partner, KPMG (item 2)
    John Bennett Audit Manager, KPMG (item 2)
    Richard Thomas Chief Operating Officer, Global News (item 2)
    Peter Horrocks Director, Global News (item 2)
    John Smith CEO, BBC Worldwide (items 4-5)
    John Tate Group Director, Strategic Operations (items 4-5 and 7)
    Rebecca Hoyle Head of Business and Distribution Strategy (items 4-5)
    Charlie Villar Director of Corporate Finance (items 4-5)
    Richard Dawkins Controller, Strategy, News and Audio & Music (item 6)
    Mark Bunting Head of Strategy and Policy (item 6)
    Alix Pryde Director, Distribution (item 7)
    James Heath Controller, Policy (item 7)
    Justin Bairamian Interim Director, Marketing and Audiences (item 8)
    Sally Davis

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