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Monday, 12 December 2011

Freedom of Information request for names of folk awards judges denied

I received a letter from Rachel Hallett in the BBC's Freedom of Information department late on Friday. This attachment came with it (it's in four pieces).

In reply I sent this.

A few minutes later I received this from Rachel Hallett.

So, in essence, the list of the names of the judges is a secret and this is not the first attempt that has been made to retrieve it from the BBC, Smooth Operations and UBC Media. Also someone somewhere believes (1) that the way Smooth Operations organises the awards legally qualifies as "art" and (2) that not releasing the names of the judges serves the best interests of someone.

I would like to know who that is please?

This secrecy does nothing to enhance confidence in either the process or the outcome of the BBC Radio Two Folk Awards. In fact, it does the opposite. It also appears to be the opposite of how the BBC's own rules say an awards ceremony paid for by the licence fee and taxpayers' money should be conducted.

What on earth is going on?

I ask John Leonard at Smooth Operations, Fergus Dudley, whose responsibility it is to make sure that the awards are properly conducted, and the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, whether this is the correct use of the Freedom of Information act?

So far John Leonard has said that releasing the names of the judges may result in the judges wrongly using their positions to get free CDs. To which I ask: how does marketing usually work in his experience? Is he saying that Mike Harding pays for every CD he plays on his Radio Two folk show, which is produced by Smooth Operations? And has no one at Smooth Operations heard of Sound Cloud?

His second point was that releasing the names of the judges would make them subject to lobbying by "big business".

The two companies he went on to mention in this context were Topic and Proper. But nine out of thirteen of last year's winners work for one or the other, so how's that working out?

When I originally asked for a list of the judges of the BBC Radio Two Folk Awards it was because I thought it might make an interesting blog post and that lovers of folk music might be curious to see something from backstage at the most powerful marketing tool on the folk scene at the moment.

However, the intransigence of all concerned is making me wonder whether there may, after all, be more here than meets the eye? It always struck me that there's a lot of moaning about them by people you'd expect to be enthusiastic about a folk fest. And now I begin to understand why...

After all, the thirty per cent correlation - I got around to counting - between Alan Bearman's client list and this year's nominees doesn't look good.

I would have thought that for the integrity of his awards ceremony John Leonard would like to prove that it's all above board by giving us more clues about how these decisions are made and perhaps opening it up to people who don't know any of the judges personally by publishing their names? This would allow bands who don't have a manager or PR with friends among the folk awards judges - and let's face it, since the judges' identities are a secret, knowing who they are would properly make you an insider - to send a free download to someone who might be interested? The awards would almost certainly become of wider interest as a result.

Releasing the names of the folk awards judges would be doing folk music a service.

I will, of course, submit the request to the information commissioner.

But in the mean time, over to you John Leonard.

* Previous blogs on this subject, with the first one at the top

* Read the next post about the folk awards

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  1. Don't you just hate people who say:

    "I told you so".


  2. Hi Marjory. I was hoping you'd email me on Were you the last person to submit this FoI request?

  3. I have no idea whether I was the first or the last. Certainly I have done it.

    I wish you luck in your request - but - you may care to note that the Scottish Folk Awards do not have this problem! And they are sponsored in part by the BBC (Alba).


  4. Could you drop me an email please?

  5. I really can't get worked up about this issue, but I have to say that your response is *brilliant*!


  6. If I was a 'name 'folk music show presenter, right about now I would start putting a little distance between myself and certain of my business associates.

    While for anyone in the vicinity, the smell must be terrible, I suppose you can get used to anything after a while...almost like it wasn't there.

  7. Forget it dear, you're never going to win one.


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