Don’t Read All About It :Robinson’s Boozing Expenses are a State Secret

Nick Robinson was on the Today show and has a blog up this morning about the progress of openness campaigners in finding out about MP’s expenses. Ironically Guido was just about to blog about his progress in trying to find out about Nick’s own expenses. The BBC reckons it would be unfair for us to know how much Nick Robinson spends on boozing with politicians. Guido thinks it unfair that British TV viewers have to pay for it against their will. Why pay the licence fee if they won’t tell you what they spend it on?

Mr Guido Fawkes
March 20, 2008

Dear Mr Fawkes

RFI20080192 – Freedom of Information request

Thank you for your email of 26 February 2008 requesting a full, itemised account of the expenses of the BBC’s Political Editor, Nick Robinson, and in particular any itemised receipts for Shepherds, Le Caprice and The Atrium restaurants. The reference number for your request is RFI20080192.

Your request falls outside the scope of the Freedom of Information Act because the BBC and the other public service broadcasters are covered by the Act only in respect of information held for purposes “other than those of journalism, art or literature” (see Schedule I, Part VI of the Act). We are not therefore obliged 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.

The BBC considers that this includes information about the costs involved in creating its output, including expenses incurred during this process. Information which is not subject to disclosure under the Act because of Schedule I might otherwise be exempt from disclosure because of the application of other provisions of the Act. The BBC notes the recent decision notice of the Information Commissioner (ref. FS50085710): in that case the Commissioner considered that payments (including expenses) made to talent did fall within the scope of the Act. However, the Commissioner decided that the information was exempt from disclosure under section 40(2) of the Act as he felt that the payment information constituted personal data and that its disclosure would breach the first data protection principle in the Data Protection Act, being ‘fair and lawful processing’. The Commissioner considered that the individuals in that case had a reasonable expectation that their personal data would not be disclosed and it would therefore be unfair to do so.

The BBC does not agree with the Commissioner’s decision on the scope of the Act and reserves its position on the matter; however, the BBC onsiders that in the event of a similar finding by the Commissioner in this case, the information you have requested would also be exempt under the Act under section 40(2) as the information constitutes personal data and disclosure would breach the First Principle (fair and lawful processing). The expenses claimed by this individual do not relate to the performance of a public function which involves spending public money or taking influential policy decisions. The individual involved would not expect the type of information requested to be disclosed to third parties, and therefore to do so would be unfair.

Yours sincerely,

Stephanie Harris
Head of Editorial
Compliance, BBC News

So just remember this evasion next time Nick gets on his high horse about expenses and public money. Of course Nick could voluntarily publish his expenses, exactly how much booze does it take to loosen Damian McBride’s tongue?
UPDATE : Guido’s further thoughts on this are here.



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