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Friday, 25 November 2011

The BBC folk awards and a freedom of information request

The story so far...

After the announcement of the nominees for next year's folk awards, I was wondering why the identities of the judges are not publicly known and wrote a blog post about it.

I thought there might be some interest in this - everyone loves a mystery - but wasn't really prepared for how much.

The level of curiosity from folkies was especially thought-provoking because everyone involved in running the awards said that the names of the judges are not in any way intended to be a secret.

So I asked for a list.

In particular I asked for a list from John Leonard at Smooth Operations and from Fergus Dudley at the BBC, whose job it is to oversee the contracted-in services of Smooth Operations, which is part of UBC Media. And I was surprised at how complicated the request appeared to be to those most directly concerned. The implication was that instead of shining a light on the awards it would open a can of worms.

Interesting, eh?

So I wrote something else, inviting folkies - or anyone really - to make a practical contribution to the inquiry if they wanted to, reasoning that it would be useful to demonstrate to the BBC and Smooth Operations that I wasn't some lone online lunatic hell-bent on, you know, finding stuff out. Thanks to everyone who bothered to email Fergus Dudley, among others, to let him know you were watching and interested. He's at if you'd still like to get in touch.

So far I haven't managed to find the whole list of names, although there's been a steady trickle of people ringing and emailing to say that they're judges, wondering whether I'd like to talk to them about it and being encouraging.

In fact, it's been a brilliant week from that point of view. The 15-20 people who got in touch directly all suggested that there were a great many more who'd be interested in the outcome. Phil Widdows over at Folkcast wrote a great open email on the subject to Mike Harding, who presents Smooth Operations' folk show, which I urge you to read. And in response Harding started his own blog, which can only be a good thing.

So, what to do next?

I know, I know... If only there were some way of getting hold of information that everyone says is intended to be in the public domain but isn't. Some mechanism intended to hold institutions paid for by public money to account.


Fortunately, the Freedom of Information Act 2000 exists exactly for situations like this. So this morning I asked the Freedom of Information department at the BBC whether it would be able to tell me who the judges of the BBC Radio Two Folk Awards are by supplying a list.

While I was writing this post about it I received a formulaic reply from the BBC

So there you go. With any luck there'll be an answer within 20 working days, which is four weeks. It's no big deal, the world will not end: the BBC actually has a department for this.

So I ask Fergus Dudley, John Leonard and everyone else who's been weirdly fearful about what happens next: what's the big deal?

This is how it's supposed to work.

* Next post about the folk awards

* If you'd be interested in receiving posts from this blog directly into your Facebook news feed,  you could *like* its Facebook page.


  1. if they are identified everyone could see just how credible - or otherwise - the awards are. If they are shown to be respected experts in the field it would add to the reputation of the awards. If they are shown to be of dubious qualification then it will do the opposite. So what are they afraid of?

  2. The BBC will tell you it is part of their programme making policy and therefore nothing to do with any FoI request. Programme making is specifically excluded.

    You will then go to the FOI commissioner -who will tell you they are correct.

    You must be a new girl.

  3. Have you tried this or something similar before, Marjorie?

  4. Sorry for the ie instead of the y.

  5. Marjory, Could you email me at please?


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