The Labour Minister with responsibility for broadcasting, Sion Simon faced a Commons committee (NI Affairs) for the first time on Wednesday. He did not exactly come over as a man who was on top of his brief. And he got gently chided by the chair for having read the material that the committee gathered in Northern Ireland last week (a basic requirement, I would have thought). He ended up admitting at the beginning of the session that Digital Britain was a deficient title for the subject matter of Lord Carter’s recently delivered wide ranging report but that he wasn’t there when they were ‘dreaming it up’ clashed in… UTV and its news output “is unrivaled for its output and reach throughout the UK…” Committee chair, Sir Patrick McCormack asked him “have you watched any?” “No, I haven’t”. (Although it comes out later in a response to Iris Robinson that he’s referring research in terms of audience volumes).
The underlying issue is the IFNC (Independently Funded News Consortium) which is a three year pilot scheme (valued at £3 million per annum by the Culture Minister Nelson McCausland). In effect it would release money to independent producers to come with new projects. It’s to build capacity and experience. In another session, Trevor Birney of Below the Radar (a company with an interest in the way the matter gets resolved) noted:
…the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Nelson McCausland, was due to meet his counterpart at DCMS to discuss Northern Irelands role in the UKs digital revolution. Last night that meeting was cancelled. The Minister, indignant at Northern Ireland once again falling foul to the same Londoncentric attitudes that have caused many of our problems, told DCMS that he will only come to London once this government has a firm proposal on how Northern Ireland is to be included in the pilots to be rolled out across the rest of the UK.
And the reason Nelson’s so miffed? Simon made the announcement, which effectively sets three pilots up in England, Scotland and Wales, but cuts Northern Ireland out of the loop here with even lifting the phone to him.