Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 615 - 619)


Professor Fabian Monds, Ms Anna Carragher, Mr Pat Loughrey and Reverend Rick Hill

  Q615  Chairman: Good morning. I was going to say thank you very much for coming but what I should be saying is thank you very much for allowing us to come here and take evidence in your own office. You know the background so I will not labour that; it is that we have completed our first report and we are now looking at areas which we did not have quite enough time to do. One of those comes under the category of regional broadcasting, but it goes wider than that. Could you say what BBC Northern Ireland's main goals in both television and radio actually are?

Ms Carragher: Chairman, in the main the overall goal is to ensure that the BBC has a whole portfolio of programmes and services that meets the needs of audiences within Northern Ireland. The essential main way in which we do that is the provision of local services within Northern Ireland, local television programmes which cover a range of genres, provision of dedicated radio service in Radio Ulster and Radio Foyle and our online services. We also ensure that the networks meet the needs of BBC audiences, and this is done in a variety of ways because obviously I am concerned to ensure that the UK is fully represented and that the tastes of the UK are fully met. So, for example, we have a very young population in Northern Ireland. Radio Ulster is a very, very successful radio service that provides for a slightly older population, therefore Radio Ulster/Foyle works very closely with Radio 1 to ensure that Radio 1 meets the needs and tastes of the younger audience. In television programmes we were very conscious that programmes like EastEnders, although it is a most successful BBC1 programme in Northern Ireland, nonetheless, compared with the performance in particularly the south of England, performs less well here as against Coronation Street or Emmerdale which, our residents being northern and industrial, northern and rural, therefore meets the taste of audiences here more closely. One finds, for example, that a programme like Cutting It or Clocking Off, which is covering the north of England, has a greater resonance with the local audience than something like My Family, which is deeply popular in the south of England but does not have a particular resonance within Northern Ireland. So that is the overall view. Turning then briefly to the local output and local services, I think it will come as no surprise to any of you that, as is the case everywhere in the BBC, but very particularly in this society, the provision of an accurate and impartial news service is an absolute paramount responsibility across radio, television and indeed online. Exploration of life in Northern Ireland through a whole range of single programmes, chat shows and series are very important, as is reflecting the cultural diversity of Northern Ireland. We have very distinctive tastes in things like music, in sports and, ironically, in what one might not first think of, like humour, for example. And obviously languages. We have an incredibly important role and possibly one which other parts of the UK may wish to emulate, in a conflicted society being a space where people can meet and debate and discuss, where stories can be told and where views can be aired. I think in a post-conflict society, a society that has the legacy of The Troubles, we are increasingly conscious that one of the things that people want to be able to do is to tell their story and have their voice heard, and that is a very, very important role we have.

  Q616  Chairman: You are—I was going to say a veteran—someone who has worked on a number of programmes like Question Time and the Today programme. If I was sitting here, as I was this morning, would I be listening to Today from London or would I be listening to Today from Belfast, a completely different programme?

  Ms Carragher: You have a choice of listening to either depending where you went on your radio dial. Good Morning Ulster is the local programme which runs from 6.30 to 9 o'clock and provides a comprehensive local national and international news service, a news service which is obviously going to be tailored to particular tastes in Northern Ireland. Therefore, for example, this morning our main story was the Review of Public Administration, which may have been a footnote in the Today programme but obviously is a very, very important political development for people within Northern Ireland.

  Q617  Chairman: Yes, I heard that. How many in Northern Ireland would listen to that and how many would listen to John Humphrys and co. in London?

  Ms Carragher: The vast majority of people would listen to Good Morning Ulster. That is a reflection of the fact of a number of things. First of all, Radio Ulster is one of the most—and I think is the most successful station which is run, not just by the BBC in the UK. It has a very, very large audience share of 31%, which is extremely high indeed. Northern Ireland is a very news hungry society. For the Today programme, the audience share in Northern Ireland is much smaller at around 5.6%.

  Chairman: Would it be fair to say that they take their style, judging from the interviews I was hearing, from the Today programme? Or perhaps it was the other way, I do not know!

  Q618  Lord Maxton: Could I link into television on that because in Scotland, where I come from, of course, there are those who seek the BBC to do what is called the Scottish Six, in other words they do the total news on television at six o'clock because they think that the six to half past six news is certainly English centralised if not London centralised. Are there people in Northern Ireland saying, "We should have an Ulster Six"?

  Ms Carragher: No, not particularly. We have an issue with the under performance of the six o'clock, which is partly due to scheduling issues in that the local news on Ulster Television runs at six o'clock and people do tend to go to that for local news.

  Mr Loughrey: There was not the same lobby in Northern Ireland for a different arrangement of news between six and seven.

  Q619  Chairman: How many do you employ in BBC Northern Ireland?

  Ms Carragher: Seven hundred and thirty-two.

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