26/01/2010

Broadcasters Are 'Failing NI', Says Report

There is broad support today to the damning conclusions of this morning's Northern Ireland Affairs Committee report 'TV Broadcasting in Northern Ireland'.

Pact, the trade body for independent producers, has welcomed the report which it said signalled an all round failure to promote broadcasting in NI, as exemplified by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's (DCMS) choice of the title 'Digital Britain' for its white paper on the coming digital revolution.

Pact Chief Executive John McVay said that the dearth of commissioning by the public service broadcasters, BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Five, of locally made television programming in the region represents a huge loss for both Northern Ireland and UK viewers.

"While the BBC's commitment to increase production from Northern Ireland is positive, it doesn't go far enough.

"What's more, it should not be left to the BBC alone to boost production in Northern Ireland.

"What we need is an attitudinal shift where commissioners in London from all the public service broadcasters actually spend time in Northern Ireland to build relationships with producers and really see the wealth of talent and opportunities that it offers," he insisted.

The senior figure's comments came after the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee said that public service broadcasters and the DCMS are failing Northern Ireland.

"The UK's major television companies have failed to portray the ordinary life, beauties, history and culture of Northern Ireland to the rest of the country," said the MPs in a report published on Tuesday.

They said that the BBC, Channel Four and other public service broadcasters "have neglected their obligations to Northern Ireland, leaving it comparatively invisible on screens across the water in Great Britain".
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Northern Ireland Affairs Committee Chairman Sir Patrick Cormack MP said: "While award-winning programmes and films about the Troubles are important and often of the highest quality, we are concerned that the everyday life of Northern Ireland, the beauties of its countryside and the glories of its history and culture play next to no part in the programmes that those who live in the other parts of the United Kingdom see."

One of the damning statistics quoted in today's report is that, in total Northern Ireland accounted for only 16 hours of network programming in 2007—less than one minute of network programming per 1,000 head of population, and lower than any other region of the UK.

The report quotes Peter Johnson, Director of the BBC in Northern Ireland, who accepted that NI had not received sufficient attention in the past, and said - given that 3% of the UK population live there - historically the position has been that not enough of the BBC's output has been made in Northern Ireland.

"It has typically varied between half a per cent and 1% of the overall mix," he admitted.

However, the paper also highlighted that the BBC has announced a commitment to increase its network programming from outside London to 50%, including at least 17% from the nations.

Although no specific target has been set for Northern Ireland, it is expected that at least 3% will be from Northern Ireland by 2016 and it is estimated that this will put an extra £30 million into the NI production sector.

The hard-hitting report concludes that as the BBC retains primacy, "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".

Among other recommendations was that people in Northern Ireland should continue to receive RTE after digital switchover.

It called on the UK government to ensure that its discussions with the government of the Republic of Ireland guarantee that there is no loss of service to people in NI.

It also called for a guarantee of funding for the Irish Language Broadcasting Fund beyond March 2011.

(BmcC/GK)

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