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ABC appeals FOI decision

The ABC has launched a Federal Court appeal against a court ruling that it make available to university researchers thousands of complaints relating to its news coverage of Middle Eastern politics.

The national broadcaster lodged the appeal last Wednesday against the ruling, made by the NSW Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

The Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, part of the University of Technology, Sydney, last year made a freedom of information request for the documents but the ABC turned it down, saying the expense of retrieval, in time and money, was inappropriate.

Academics at the ACIJ wanted the documents as part of a study of alleged bias by ABC journalists. The AAT dismissed the ABC′s argument, noting that it had a staff member dedicated to FOI requests and that the cost of retrieving the documents, about $17,000, was not prohibitive.

A spokeswoman for the ABC said the broadcaster had appealed against the AAT ruling on the grounds that "the tribunal failed to give the words [in the FOI Act] ′in relation to program material′ their full force and effect".

"That′s a technical issue within the Freedom of Information Act where the ABC can claim exemption for documents that relate to program material," the spokeswoman said.

A directions hearing will take place in the Federal Court in Sydney on December 6.

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