Monday, December 21, 2009

FOIAing BBC's Files on
'Execute Gays?' Debacle

(A BBC web page last week, before the broadcaster removed it from public view.)

A couple of idiots at the British Broadcasting Corporation last week, in the interest of stirring up debate and attracting eyeballs to their web site, asked the following provocative question: Should homosexuals face execution?

The BBC posed this query in relation to Uganda's debate over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, that could mandate executions for gay people in the African nation. After receiving widespread condemnation at home and abroad, executives at the BBC removed the question, made a lame explanation about wishing to create a spirited debate, and offered an apology.

But the controversy piqued my curiosity about internal BBC communications leading to the question being asked in the first place, so I filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all records related to the debacle. Believe it or not, the UK's FOIA applies to the BBC, something I only recently became aware of.

While there are exemptions allowing the BBC to withhold certain files, I don't believe any exemption applies in this case, because we're not talking about a news story or something that jeopardizes British national security. Still, I would not have been surprised if the BBC replied and rejected my FOIA, so I'm very pleased to say the initial response states my request is being process.

Of course, that doesn't mean they'll attempt to dismiss the FOIA in the future, but it's worth a shot, filing the request to learn what sort of behind-the-scenes thinking went into the BBC's decision to ask the nasty question in the first place. I just want to know everything I can find out about this respected and influential global media outlet thinking in 2009 that it's legitimate to ask about executing homosexuals.

Here's the text of the reply from the BBC today:

Thank you for your request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, as detailed in your email below. Your request was received on 19th December, 2009. We will deal with your request as promptly as possible, and at the latest within 20 working days. If you have any queries about your request, please contact us at the address below.

The reference number for your request is RFI20091723.

Kind regards
The Information Policy & Compliance Team

I hope to have some files from the BBC to share in early 2010, and bring a little more transparency to this terrible controversy.

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