Critics of the BBC are a persistent bunch. A freedom of information request by The Guardian’s MediaGuardian found that the broadcaster spent more than $1.1 million between 2007 and 2011 on lawyers working to defend its journalism. The issue central to the high price tag of legal fees is the BBC’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Lord Chris Patten, who recently assumed the role of chairman of the BBC Trust, hopes to avoid further legal expenditure in a time of austerity for the broadcaster by improving the complaints process. As it currently stands, lodging a complaint with the BBC is a congested, complex process, criticized for lacking transparency. One barrister who placed a complaint over an Israel-related issue said the BBC’s process is constructed in a way that makes it extremely difficult for complaints to succeed.
The BBC is facing a 20 percent budget cut over the next four years, and unpredictable shots to the budget, like expensive external legal advice hired specifically to handle complaints about Israel coverage, are a seemingly easy way to trim the fat. One of the priciest cases thus far has been that of the broadcaster’s nondisclosure of the 2004 Balen report on its Middle East coverage. The House of Lords has ruled that the report will not be made public, but the four-year fight to try and change that has cost the BBC approximately $360,000.