Joint Committee on Draft Communications Bill Report


359. Under section 183 of, and Schedule 19 to, the Broadcasting Act 1990 (as amended by section 95 of the Broadcasting Act 1996) provision is made for the operation of the Gaelic Broadcasting Committee or Comataidh Craolaidh Gaidhlig (CCG) which is appointed by the ITC and which administers the Gaelic Broadcasting Fund provided by the Government. Section 184 of the 1990 Act made further provision relating to Gaelic programmes on ITV in Scotland. The resources available to the CCG from the Fund have diminished in real terms since their establishment and stand at £8.9 million in 2001-02.

360. In 1999 the Scottish Office established a Task Force chaired by Alasdair Milne, the former Director-General of the BBC, to examine the future of Gaelic broadcasting. The Milne Task Force proposed the establishment of a Gaelic Broadcasting Authority to oversee the establishment of a Gaelic television service, initially available through digital satellite, as a free-to-air public service. The Task Force Report highlighted the benefits to the Gaelic language and to the economy of Gaelic-speaking areas of Scotland from such a service. In the Communications White Paper the Government undertook to "give careful consideration to the Task Force's recommendations".[692] Although the draft Bill contains no measures relating to Gaelic broadcasting, the accompanying Policy document announced the Government's intention to strengthen the role of the CCG, "in particular by giving it powers to develop a programming strategy in collaboration with the broadcasters and other interests".[693]

361. We received a great deal of evidence both in writing and through our online forum that highlighted the importance of broadcasting to Gaelic-speaking communities in Scotland and the widespread sense of disappointment that the Government did not appear minded to go further down the path towards the establishment of a Gaelic broadcasting service.[694] Highlands and Islands Enterprise noted the likely employment benefits of a dedicated service, particularly for the Western Isles.[695] The Scottish Executive's Ministerial Advisory Group on Gaelic viewed broadcasting as "a vital support service to the future of Gaelic".[696]

362. We asked Huw Jones, Chief Executive of S4C, to reflect on lessons learned from that organisation's experience for the development of Gaelic broadcasting. He told us:

    "I have no doubt that without the existence of the channel, and of course the parallel provision of Radio Cymru by the BBC, that the language would be in a much more parlous condition today … There is growth in the numbers of young people who are speaking it and there is extensive confidence that the language has a future. I am absolutely certain that unless you have mass media which allow people to be creative in modern ways in that language that the language has not got much hope for the future."[697]

—  The CCG's own submissions have set out in detail the provisions it wishes to see to ensure that the strengthened Committee can facilitate an expansion of Gaelic broadcasting, most notably:

  • a removal of the prohibition on CCG commissioning programmes;
  • provision to enable the new CCG to deliver a programme service under licence from OFCOM;
  • freedom to enter contracts for the transmission of a service;
  • provision for direct public funding for the service; and
  • maintenance of existing Gaelic service requirements on broadcasters.[698]

—  If the forthcoming Communications Bill is to be future-proof in the way the Government hopes, we consider that there is a compelling case for ensuring that the relevant provisions facilitate rather than inhibit the future development of a Gaelic television service.

363. We received some written evidence and many contributions to our online forum from people in Northern Ireland about Irish language broadcasting. Contributors pointed to the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in support of their arguments for explicit provision in the Bill for Irish language programming and the establishment of a training and production fund for Irish language television in Northern Ireland.[699]

692   Cm 5010, para 4.4.10. Back

693   Policy Back

694   Ev 523; Ev 452; Ev 544; Ev 485; Ev 513; Ev 485; Memorandum submitted by Board of Trustees Sabhal Mor Ostaig; Ev 463; Memorandum submitted by Kate McKalvie; Memorandum submitted by Ann Morrison; Ev 513; Ev 473; Ev 462. Back

695   Ev 485. Back

696   Memorandum submitted by Ministerial Advisory Group on Gaelic. Back

697   Q 612. Back

698   Ev 482, para 7; Memorandum submitted by CCGBack

699   Padraig Macgiollachomhaill, Marcas Mac Pháidín, Ruairí Ó Bléine, Máire Zepf, Shane MacGowan, Antaine Ó Labhradha, J Christopher Napier, William McCallum, Risteard MacGabhann, Sarah Creaner, Gavin Falconer, Clar Ni Chnaimhsi, Dáithí MacShim, Aoife Ní Scolaí Back

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