Simon cuts Northern Ireland out of the IFNC loop…

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 Ireland’s role in the UK’s 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.

, ,

  • Lord Lucan

    Why did the chair not want him to read the material the committee had produced?

    This guy’s an idiot remember the call me dave fuck my wife video?

  • igor

    Sion and McCausland…what a pair

    But isn’t McCausland missing a trick. If Simon has excluded NI hasn’t he discriminated on grounds of race?

  • Carson’s Cat

    Igor
    “If Simon has excluded NI hasn’t he discriminated on grounds of race?”

    errr.. no.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    re. “but that he wasn’t there when they were ‘dreaming it up’ ”

    Presumably the DUP were not there either – perhaps they should be asking themselves why not?

  • igor

    Carson’s cat

    Why not?

  • jone

    Was NI excluded from IFNC (which in practice looks like it could end up funding existing providers anyway) because UTV, while suffering, is not in the same parlous state as some of the ITV providers in GB?

    It’s little wonder Trevor Birney is getting a bit agitated as BTR need to make a shitload of money in the next two years for him and Ruth O’Reilly to get the maximum £796,000 out of 10 Alps.

  • DCMS didn’t know much about the Data Protection Act either – or Google cache!!

  • Sion’s session was ages ago, back on Wed 4 Nov. This week (Wed 18) was just the Ten Alps and NI session.

  • The Impartial Observer

    Simon is a tw@t of the highest order. He is most famous for a spoof webcast of David Cameron in which he invites people to sleep with his wife,

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6044222.stm

    and for this unintentionally hilarious article he wrote from Labour’s 2007 conference at the height of election speculation;

    http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/conference/2007/09/labour-majority-increase

    Yep, just the sort of guy who will do well at Stormont!

  • willis

    Some highlights from 4/11

    Q140 Mrs Robinson: Can I just ask, first of all, what is the Government’s assessment of the amount and diversity of t.v. news provision within Northern Ireland at the moment?

    Mr Simon: I am told that all the research shows that, as the Chairman was just saying, the UTV news output is the most watched and the most highly esteemed in the UK and remains commercially viable at a time when that is not true in much of the rest of the UK. The BBC is the BBC, as it is all over the world, high-quality public service news broadcasting, and in that respect I think it was the Chief Executive of UTV giving evidence to you quite recently who said, “We’re in pretty good shape,” or something of that ilk, I think.

    Q141 Mrs Robinson: I am pleased at the fact that you recognise how well the UTV is doing in Northern Ireland, and indeed both communities watch the news programmes. Can you tell me why the Government decided not to have an Independently Funded News Consortia pilot in Northern Ireland when it is piloting the idea in Scotland and Wales, which really just gives more weight to the fact that the people of Northern Ireland feel they are being treated very differently?

    Mr Simon: The answer is the answer to the first question. The man from UTV, I think, said that it is not broke so it does not need fixing. The UTV output is the most successful and the best in the country and the IFNC pilots essentially are aimed at addressing a problem in places where news has become economically unsustainable. That is the simple answer. I can understand, from the point of view of the people of Northern Ireland, that when they are getting a pilot in Scotland and Wales it obviously begs the question, “Why not us?” but that is the answer. The answer is that the Welsh and the Scots really need one, they really do. You have got a first-class commercial news service on television in Northern Ireland, which is just not true in –

    Chairman: I think we would all say “Amen” to that.

    I think the people of Yorkshire might be unhappy – but Scotland?

  • willis

    “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.”

    Beyond irony really.