Examination of Witnesses (Questions 620
WEDNESDAY 23 NOVEMBER 2005
Professor Fabian Monds, Ms Anna Carragher, Mr Pat
Loughrey and Reverend Rick Hill
Obviously as I listened this morning one could hear the traditional
political divides. Do you have any figures on how the religious
affiliations, if I can put it that way, break down?
Ms Carragher: The religious affiliation of BBC
Northern Ireland's workforce is profiled on a regular basis in
accordance with the requirements of our Equal Opportunities legislation.
BBC Northern Ireland's monitoring returns to the Equality Commission
include freelance and contract staff in addition to those employed
on permanent contracts and this means that the figures can look
somewhat higher than those quoted for our full-time equivalent
head count. The breakdown is 409 Protestant, 335 Catholic and
122 non-determined. That is a much higher proportion in non-determined
than would be the case for most employers in Northern Ireland,
which is largely due to the fact that we would employ more people
who have come from other parts of the country. The breakdown,
to give you percentages, from the Equality Commissions Monitoring
Report No 14 Published in November 2004, is that excluding those
whose religious or community background is non-determined, the
composition of BBC Northern Ireland's workforce is 55% Protestant,
45% Roman Catholic.
That would also apply up and down the scale? For example, the
number of producers, would that roughly be the same percentage?
Ms Carragher: It would roughly be the same percentage,
and there would be some individual variations.
That is a dramatic difference between now and where we were in,
say, the 1960s when I first came to Ulster.
Ms Carragher: Yes.
What would have been the position then?
Ms Carragher: I do not have the exact figures
and I can get back to you with them, but from memory they were
roughly 90 per cent10 per cent.
So that has been the revolution which has taken place inside.
Ms Carragher: Yes.
My last question in introduction, the main challenge that you
find, is it balance? You have a very politically aware local population
who feel very strongly about various issues, so keeping the balance
there must be quite difficult, even more difficult than in some
parts of the rest of the United Kingdom.
Ms Carragher: It is undoubtedly a challenge
and a challenge in that there are far more political parties here
than there are in the UK as a whole. Five larger parties and then
when you go to smaller parties up to 11 or 12, and within those
parties there are different wings as well, so you are balancing
within parties in a greater number of parties with a very politically
aware audience. So that is undoubtedly a challenge.
Do you have surveys which can show whether the BBC is accepted
as being fair and balanced?
Ms Carragher: Yes, we do. We carry out continual
surveys. The last figures I was looking at on this, the number
of people who felt that our output was biased was 18 per cent,
which assumes that 82 per cent are satisfied with the impartiality
of our coverage, or certainly do not feel we are biased. The levels
of satisfaction with the service is very high; it is 78 per cent
showing that they are satisfied.
Is there any difference between Northern Ireland and other parts
of the United Kingdom in satisfaction surveys?
Mr Loughrey: There are approval indices, Chairman,
across the UK. What Anna is quoting is a specific survey about
Northern Ireland, so there are not benchmarks necessarily for
that survey. But if you would like to see the approval indices
I am sure we can send them to you subsequently.
Q628 Lord Maxton:
In this highly political world the Broadcasting Council must have
a very important role to play, much more perhaps important than
Broadcasting Councils elsewhere, would that be right?
Professor Monds: The Broadcasting Council of
Northern Ireland has all the same responsibilities that the Welsh
and Scottish Broadcasting Councils have and the priority is to
provide communications to management and to the Board of Governors
on the way in which, in our case, BBC Northern Ireland is delivering
an appropriate mix of programmes and is spending its budget appropriately,
in our view, across the programme genres. But it is true that
in Northern Ireland we have a somewhat more complex environment,
not just because of the community and political considerations
and history but also we have a somewhat unique broadcasting environment,
in that Northern Ireland has for some time been a multi-channel
analogue terrestrial environment with RTÉ transmitting
to approximately 50 per cent of the population of Northern Ireland,
and that is now available on D-Sat as well. So BBC Northern Ireland
has a particular challenge to cope with that competition. I should
have said at the beginning, Chairman, how pleased we are that
you have chosen to bring the Committee to Northern Ireland and
we are grateful for this opportunity of communication on that
Q629 Lord Maxton:
When you are recruiting to the Counciland maybe this is
in part a question to Reverend Hill as welldo you try to
reflect the political religious divides in Northern Ireland? If
I can be quite direct with you, do you feel that when you are
on that Council you are representing the Presbyterian Church,
or do you think you are on there as an individual representing
the people of Northern Ireland?
Professor Monds: If I could start and then Reverend
Hill to come in. Just to outline the process, which is that the
Lord Nolan principles are applied. We use external assessors and
advertising and the invitation for applications is completely
open. In deciding on individuals to join the Council, yes, attention
is paid to the mix, but this cannot be a crude head count on a
religious basis or indeed on an urban basis; the individuals'
abilities, interests and backgrounds are all relevant. One thing
we pay attention to is geography, in the sense that if we get
a distribution of individuals across Northern Ireland that helps
to ensure some degree of correlation with the proportional community
distribution. But we have been very successful, I think, in getting
balance and representation. We worry about such things as rural
versus urban, the business community representation and the like.
But you asked the Reverend Hill a direct question, so over to
Reverend Hill: If I could comment and say that
I believe the Broadcasting Council's role is to be listening and
responding to the audience, to assist the BBC in understanding
the local audience. Am I a representative of the Presbyterian
Church in Ireland? I am not. I am first and foremost a licence
payer who is an advocate for other licence payers. Of course I
bring to that some skills and interests that would clearly be
influenced by my own employment background and by my previous
background as a physicist and the fact that I have been building
computers since I was 16 years old, so I have a technology interest
as well. I know from the mix in the Council that we have a diverse
range of skills, interests, cultural backgrounds, sporting backgrounds,
and actually I think that the Council is greater than the sum
of its parts because of that eclectic mixture that we have. In
its recruitment materials the BBC state that the Council's membership
should reflect the diversity of the BBC's audience in Northern
Ireland and should, consistent with the principle of appointment
on merit, include people with different skills, interests, areas
of expertise and backgrounds. The process is independently audited,
it is publicly advertised, it is wide open and transparent. Details
of all this are on our website, which seems to attract 10,000
to 12,000 people a month viewing it, so you can check that there
for yourself and see that. Baroness Onora O'Neill said in her
Reith Lectures in 2002 that "real accountability involves
substantive and knowledgeable independent judgment of an institution's
work by people who have sufficient time and experience to assess
the evidence and report on it". I think that is what you
have in the Councils.
Q630 Lord Maxton:
Could I ask one last question on this? It is not clearand
we did not actually recommend it ourselveswhether or not
there will be governors from the nations on the Board of Governors
in the future. What is your view on that?
Professor Monds: Chairman, the BBC's response
to the Green Paper was to argue quite explicitly for national
representation on the new Trust, and I think that the arguments
are strong for each of the nations and indeed it is proposed that
the English National Forum, which does not have constitutional
status at the moment, should be treated in the same way as the
Broadcasting Councils. But I think that the track record of communicationand
I would emphasise communication rather than representationfrom
National Governors in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has
been helpful. The relationship through the Broadcasting Councils
with listeners and viewers in the nations is effective; there
is obvious scope for improvement, but my personal view is that
Northern Ireland deserves and requires representation at that
Q631 Lord Maxton:
If the devolved government is restored in Northern Ireland do
you think they should have a role in the selection of that governor,
in the sense that that would be a better way of ensuring accountability
and so on?
Professor Monds: The experience we have had
in Scotland and Wales has been that the national governors have
been able to represent the Board of Governors to the Assembly
and the Parliament as required, and I think that gives a good
level of accountability.
You have used the word a number of times, "representative"
on the Board. All best corporate governance rules these days are
that once you are on the Board your loyalty is to the Board. Are
you there as the representative simply to stand up for the interests
of Northern Ireland?
Professor Monds: Certainly not. In fact, with
regard to my particular interests, I have all the responsibilities,
as all the national governors have, of any governor for oversight
and the regulatory powers and responsibilities that all the governors
have. I do carry a full workload of responsibilities within the
Board of Governors. I have a particular interest in digital roll-out,
and am charged with helping to monitor that objective. No, I think
the present Charter is very clear on the way in which national
governors are appointed, that they are full governors, and their
relationship with the Broadcasting Council. I think I used the
term "representation" in a broad sense in that Northern
Ireland would retain, as would Scotland and Wales, the same level
of visibility and profile within the United Kingdom arrangements.
If a decision came before you that pointed to extra resources
going to Manchester you would not actually feel that you had to
argue the case for Northern Ireland at every Board meeting?
Professor Monds: It is never as simple as that.
The out of London strategy has involved not just the move to Manchester
but the distribution of resources right across the BBC. So I think
what national governors bring to the debate is a knowledge and
awareness of the situation in their own nations, but that is to
contribute to the discussions, not to lobby in any sense for particular
And you never lobby?
Professor Monds: Not in that sense, no.
In what sense do you lobby?
Professor Monds: I have used the term "communication",
I think it is important that information is available and the
special circumstances of Northern Ireland need to be reflected.
Reverend Hill: Can I comment on that and give
you an example. At our public meetingsand we have had 22
public meetings of the Council in the last financial yearone
of the recurring themes that emerged from local licence payers
was that digital radio coverage in Northern Ireland was extremely
poor and that many people who had bought these devices on the
understanding that they would work discovered they did not; there
was only about 43 per cent coverage. The Council were very exercised
by this and concerned. We met with management in London in relation
to this. We were not wholly content with how that was proceeding.
With our report to the governors and through our national governor
we were able to have this raised at the Board of Governors and
eventually three new transmitters were built in Northern Ireland
to serve the audience. I think that demonstrates that there is
a reporting path there where a nation's representation in the
broader sense is important. Our Council has stated in an appendix
to the BBC's Green Paper response that nations' representation
on the BBC Trust is an important expression of the representative
principle, and will be critical and important to the work of the
Board's ability in understanding the UK's diversity. I think that
does matter from that point of view. So representation in the
broadest sense does matter to the Council and they have stated
it, and that arises out of 22 public meetings, four breakfast
meetings with people specifically on the topic of the Green Paper,
as well as A Sky full of Voices radio talks, at which the
audience was a public audience and we had 70,000 listeners. If
you look at the DCMS website and the submissions in relation to
this you will find that all of the main churches have said that
this is an important principle. So we are listening to the audience
and reflecting that view back to you.
Q636 Lord Peston:
Could I come in on that because I think all of this raises very
deep questions, but it was Reverend Hill's remark about digital.
I live in East Anglia and I am pretty sure that the population
of East Anglia is larger than that of Northern Ireland, but we
have no representation in the sense that you are talking about
at all, and our digital coverage is not good enough. One of the
reasons why some of us query the whole nations' approach to this
is the fact that each part of England is as big as any of the
nations, and there seems to be no way of doing in parts of England
what you do as part of the nations. I am not opposed entirely
to the nations but I bristle a little when I hear about representation
in the broad sense because I then say, "What about me?"
Professor Monds: Yes, there is quite a substantial
network of local advisory councils and the English National Forum.
Q637 Lord Peston:
It is not the same thing.
Professor Monds: It is not the same and I did
say a while back that efforts do need to be made and arrangements
do need to be made to improve on that. The present Board of Governors
is making considerable efforts in terms of accountability events.
I would say that in terms of best practice here in Northern Ireland,
as Reverend Hill has indicated, we have been pretty active in
getting out and about and meeting with people. To be frank, the
Board of Governors as a body in a UK sense has not been quite
as visible in those terms. Tonight we have a public accountability
event in Glasgow, and we have had one in London and there will
be a series of these. But I think you are quite right there, that
accountability needs to be very, very visible and the appropriate
arrangements made across the United Kingdom. That does not, in
my mind, negate the arguments for representation.
Mr Loughrey: You do have in the Regional Advisory
Council, which is part of a stratum of accountability known as
the English National Forum, where the various Regional Advisory
Councils in England and the local Advisory Councils for local
radio come together, a member of the Board of Governors with special
responsibility for English regions, Ranjit Sondhi. What we are
proposing in Building Public Value is that there is equity of
status between the English National Forum and the Broadcasting
Councils and therefore we create a Broadcasting Council for England.
It is difficult to explain why that has not existed to start withit
was an artefact of past arrangementsbut we are alert to
your concern, and I think it is a very valid one.
Q638 Lord Peston:
Can I take this on more generally into the complaints and feedback
area? First of all, in terms of your own experience is complaining
a major Northern Ireland activity?
Professor Monds: I see this from two points
of view. One, I happen to be and have been for a few years a member
of the Governors' Programme Complaints Committee, so in the last
year we have had a radical review and rearrangement of the complaints
processes, through the Editorial Complaints Unit in the BBC and
to the referral and handling of complaints by the Governors' Programme
Complaints Committee. I think that we now have a very powerful,
coherent and accessible system which can be accessed through the
Web as well as by other means. So in a UK-wide sense we have the
complaints process well in hand, I believe, and it is working
well. In Northern Ireland, the Broadcasting Council sees each
month a report on complaints that have been logged with BBC Information.
I do not seehaving the opportunity to see the patterns
UK-wide and in Northern Irelanda huge difference, I may
say. Perhaps there is a preparedness to lift the telephone or
dash off an email or a text, but that rarely translates into a
formal complaint. There are, of course, exceptions; the Jerry
Springer The Opera show precipitated a very large number of
written complaints, but we understand why that happened.
Before or after?
Professor Monds: Principally before but some