Gregory Campbell has attacked the British state-broadcaster, the BBC, for justifying regular refusals to answer questions about its use of public money, by saying that to release details on staff pay, expenses and declarations of interests, would interfere with its pursuit of ‘journalism, art or literature’.
Mr. Campbell described the stance as ‘nonsense’ during a debate to discuss BBC transparency at Westminster on Thursday.
The DUP MP personally requested the debate in order to highlight his “concerns about the lack of transparency in the BBC’s use of public money in Northern Ireland”.
In reference to the broadcaster’s recent publication of details of the combined salaries of “96 stars, as they are called”, whose combined annual wages came to around £30 million, Mr. Campbell said it had been a long time coming.
“It took a decade for the BBC to be dragged to the point of publishing all salaries of more than £150,000 per year,” he said.
The DUP also used the debate to highlight the lesser known use by the BBC of an exemption from the Freedom of Information legislation, which allows it to withhold information that is “held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature’,” even when it’s not immediately apparent the release of the information would interfere with the BBC’s ‘journalism, art or literature’.
Mr. Campbell said he was aware of a request made by one constituent for information on the number of complaints made against BBC radio and television programmes in the North having been knocked back for this reason.
“My constituent received the following reply: ‘The information that you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’
“The BBC is therefore not obliged to provide this information to you and will not be doing so on this occasion’,” Mr. Campbell told MPs.
He added: “That is clearly nonsense. Why would a publicly funded media organisation not be prepared to make public the number of complaints about its programmes from members of the public?”
He said a similar request for information on declarations of interest by BBC staff, was also refused for the same reason.
“That seems to cover everything. When someone does not want to answer questions, they use the cloak of ‘journalism, art or literature’,” claime the East Derry MP.
During the debate, Mr. Campbell argued: “The bottom line here is that the BBC needs to radically alter the way it carries out its business - using our money.”