Television Broadcasting in Northern Ireland

The BBC spots the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee report on “Television Broadcasting in Northern Ireland”.From the report’s conclusions and recommendations

1. We recommend that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport takes more care to include Northern Ireland in its future thinking and documentation on UK-wide broadcasting. (Paragraph 8)

2. We recommend that the Minister for Creative Industries visits Northern Ireland as soon as possible, and thereafter, at least once a year subsequently to become fully acquainted with the broadcast environment there. As long as broadcasting in Northern Ireland remains the responsibility of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, we recommend that that Department attempts, at the very least, to build some confidence in Northern Ireland that it is properly and fully aware of its responsibilities. (Paragraph 9)

3. We attach fundamental importance to the continuity of service and we therefore urge the UK Government to ensure that its discussions with the Government of the Republic of Ireland guarantee that there is no loss of service or amenity to the people of Northern Ireland. We ask for definitive assurance on this point before the end of this Parliament. (Paragraph 12)

4. We welcome the BBC’s commitment to raise its level of production in Northern Ireland to a level broadly proportionate to Northern Ireland’s population share of the UK. We note that it intends to do so by 2016, but strongly urge the BBC to make every effort to reach 3% of production from Northern Ireland more rapidly than that and to treat the 3% target not as a ‘ceiling’, but as a minimum. (Paragraph 18)

5. We recommend that the Government urge Ofcom to monitor levels of production from Northern Ireland by the BBC and Channel 4 to ensure that their targets, as public service broadcasters, are met as speedily as is practicable and without negative impacts on the quality of production. (Paragraph 21)

6. We strongly recommend that the Government ask the BBC seriously and urgently to consider locating a programme commissioner permanently within Northern Ireland with the express mandate of improving and increasing production from the Province. (Paragraph 25)

7. We recommend that the Government seek to engage with broadcasters and producers so as more accurately to reflect life as it is in Northern Ireland in a way that is understandable throughout the rest of the UK. We recommend that the Government encourage the BBC and Channel 4 to use programmes made within the province for UK-wide broadcasting to address the lack of portrayal and to help ensure the people throughout the rest of the UK have a clearer perception of Northern Ireland – its people, its geography and wildlife, history and culture; and of its history and culture in times before “the Troubles”. (Paragraph 30)

8. We recommend that given the strength, popularity and reach of UTV as a competitor to the BBC in Northern Ireland at present, an IFNC should be introduced only once the lessons of the pilots in Scotland, Wales and an English region have been learned. We note that those three areas have been chosen for pilots because continued news provision is under significant immediate threat in each, whereas this is not at present the case in Northern Ireland. We therefore recommend that the Government consult with Ofcom and broadcasters in Northern Ireland after the pilots to fully assess the suitability of INFCs within the province, taking into account its current unique position within the UK in terms of its news provision. (Paragraph 46)

9. We recommend that the Government assess the non-news based needs of Northern Ireland, and also actively and urgently consider devolving to the Northern Ireland Assembly the administration of funding for local, non-news programming possibly to include drama, children’s content and current affairs in Northern Ireland. (Paragraph 50)

10. We recommend that, given its legal obligations under the Belfast Agreement, the UK Government prioritise the guarantee of funding for the Irish Broadcasting Fund beyond March 2011. (Paragraph 57)

11. We recommend that the Government fully assess minority language provision, particularly the provision of Ulster Scots, in Northern Ireland and ensure that it is meeting its obligations as stated in the Belfast Agreement and the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. (Paragraph 60)

12. This short inquiry has clearly demonstrated that Northern Ireland is culturally neglected by the BBC, Channel 4 and those who commission television programmes within the UK and by those with ministerial responsibilities in the UK Government. Concerted efforts need urgently to be directed towards eradicating that neglect. (Paragraph 61)

13. UTV has the biggest audience share of any local news provider in the UK, demonstrating a clear demand for output produced in Northern Ireland. Further to satisfy that demand, we greatly welcome the emergence of a number of small independent companies within Northern Ireland. (Paragraph 62)

14. An independently funded news consortium pilot may not be an immediate priority, but we repeat that the portrayal of Northern Ireland throughout the rest of the UK and beyond is poor. It is also crucial that a fund for non-news provision, to be administered by the Northern Ireland Assembly, should be provided by the Government. (Paragraph 63) [added emphasis]

15. Of all the public service broadcasters, it is the BBC that retains primacy. We believe that it has not adequately discharged its responsibilities in Northern Ireland, and we repeat our call for a commissioner for programming to be based in Belfast. (Paragraph 64)

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