27/01/2010

UTV Welcomes NI Affairs Committee Call

Regional broadcaster, UTV has welcomed yesterday's Northern Ireland Affairs Committee report on Television Broadcasting in Northern Ireland.

It called on the Government to set up a fund for non-news programming for NI.

Michael Wilson, Managing Director, UTV Television said: "We are hugely supportive of the establishment of a fund to boost non-news production to increase the breadth and depth of programming for local viewers.

"We put this to the committee last year as a witness to this inquiry and are delighted that our views have been taken onboard."

He added: "Such a fund - which we estimate should be in the region of £3million - would not only support the development of the independent production sector here, but would strengthen the skill base in both programming and craft roles to assist local producers to compete for more network programming ensuring better portrayal of Northern Ireland on a national level."

The report which criticised the UK's major television companies for failing to portray Northern Ireland to the rest of the country, praised UTV's performance stating: "UTV has the biggest audience share of any local news provider in the UK demonstrating a clear demand for output produced in Northern Ireland."

In relation to calls for an Independently Funded News Consortia (IFNC) pilot project in Northern Ireland, the committee stated: "UTV remains a news provider of a very high standard.
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"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."

Michael Wilson responded: "We welcome these very positive comments about our local programming by the committee.

"UTV invests close to £10million a year on public service programming producing the most watched regional news in the whole of the UK - UTV Live at 6. In addition, earlier this year we introduced a new late night news and current affairs programme UTV Live Tonight which is proving hugely popular with viewers and opinion makers alike. Our commitment to public service broadcasting and quality news and current affairs has never been stronger."

The committee also raised concerns about the availability of RTE channels in Northern Ireland following digital switchover in 2012 and urged the government to ensure that its discussions with the Irish government guarantee that there is no loss of service or amenity to the people of Northern Ireland.

Wilson concluded: "However any agreement reached between the two governments should not just focus on the availability of RTE in Northern Ireland, but should include all terrestrial broadcasters on the island to ensure BBC NI and UTV have reciprocal arrangements in the Republic of Ireland.

"UTV has written to the relevant regulators and government departments in both countries about this very issue to ensure an inclusive approach to the island of Ireland for all viewers," he said.

See: Broadcasters Are 'Failing NI', Says Report

(BMcN)

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