Examination of Witnesses (Questions 660
WEDNESDAY 23 NOVEMBER 2005
Professor Fabian Monds, Ms Anna Carragher, Mr Pat
Loughrey and Reverend Rick Hill
Q660 Lord Peston:
Speaking as someone who under no circumstancesa tiny oppressed
minoritywould ever watch EastEnders, and we are
a small oppressed minority, surely one of the great benefits for
public service broadcasters is that they can take a responsibility
for the cultural heritage and languages. But the question I am
pushing you on is, do you do that in terms of need, saying, "It
is our duty" in BBC Northern Ireland, "to make sure
that we foster the language because that is part of the heritage
and national identity," and you are now always designated
as nations, a fortiori, or do you wait for others to pressure
you to say, "Why are you not doing that?" That is why
I made the needs-wishes distinction. As a university teacher it
never occurred to me ever to ask what the students wanted, I knew
what they had to have. I felt that was my duty.
Mr Loughrey: I think the truth of language provision
here in Northern Ireland is of a very slow start. For the first
decades of our existence we made scant, if any, provision or recognition
that the Irish language even existed on our airwaves. It was because
of the deep cultural and political division in Northern Ireland
that that was the case, and it is not something of which we are
particularly proud Over recent years with all due diligence we
have been trying to address and to create some provision initially
on radio and now increasingly on television to make good that
Q661 Lord Maxton:
How many actual Gaelic speakers are there in Northern Ireland?
In Scotland it is under 60,000, and I would hate to think what
the cost per head of providing Gaelic services are.
Ms Carragher: In the 2001 census I think that
167,490 people indicated that they had some knowledge of Irish
and of that number approximately 75,000 are estimated as being
fluent in the language. It is the third most widely taught language
in schools in Northern Ireland.
Q662 Lord Maxton:
What is your budget in terms of providing your Gaelic services?
Ms Carragher: Our current budget for Irish is
£350,000 in the production of televisionthat was 2004/2005;
and £240,000 for radio. So it is a relatively modest provision.
Q663 Lord Peston:
I would approve of that.
Mr Loughrey: I am sure you will meet others
in the course of the morning who have less approval, but this
is a moot issue in the constant debate, as you know, in Wales
and in Scotland. I think the BBC has an absolute obligation to
reflect the diversity of the languages in the United Kingdom.
At the core of that cultural diversity is language.
Q664 Lord Peston:
I have one last question down here which I do not understand so
I am going to read it out and hope you understand the question.
This is following the Ofcom statement. How do you react to Ofcom's
suggestion that you ought to foster an enhanced relationship with
TG4 to increase Irish language broadcasting? That is the question;
I hope you have written down the answer!
Ms Carragher: TG Ceathair, TG4, is the Irish
language broadcaster, which is based in Galway in the Republic
of Ireland, and which the Agreement signed in Belfast on Good
Friday did actually ask both governments to place its availability
within Northern Ireland, which has been, in our case, partly due
to transmitter modification. So it is now available more widely
within Northern Ireland. It is certainly something in which we
talk very frequently with TG Ceathair; we have done co-productions
with them and we are currently both of us accessing the Irish
Language Production Fund, which the government set up, and we
have reciprocal transmission arrangements for programmes for which
both of us are accessing funding. As we go ahead, particularly
as we go into the digital world, I think the partnership with
TG Ceathair is something we would be very interested in exploring
with them as a mechanism of delivering Irish language programmes
to the Irish language audience in Northern Ireland, and as a mechanism
for ensuring that the Irish speaking audience in the Republic
of Ireland is also aware of some of the issues surrounding Northern
Ireland as well. I think there is a lot of work to be done and
this is a journey. I think there is work to be done in terms of
what the arrangement might be, what the regulatory framework is
going to be, what the funding arrangements might be. I think there
are a number of issues to be involved in. I also think that as
we go ahead towards the digital world that the notion of delivery
of all kinds of services, including languages services, through
the milieu of television channels, will become increasingly irrelevant
in a sense, and that as we have broadband delivery as a way of
broadcasting it may be a better way of delivering services to
those audiences in connection with the online provision that Pat
mentioned to you earlier, in a way which is actually not going
to deprive the monoglot English speaking audience of services
as well. I think we need to be adept and careful of that. And
Northern Ireland, by the way, is 100 per cent broadband enabled
and we have already worked on broadband pilots. So I think we
are quite well placed to do that. As we go ahead we need to be
imaginative and innovative as to how we deliver those services.
Q665 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
That leads very nicely to what I wanted to ask you about, which
is the role of independent production in Northern Ireland. Is
there a strong independent production sector here and does the
BBC work efficiently with it, and are you prepared for what is
required of you by the introduction of the WAP?
Ms Carragher: Let me give you a few facts on
the strength of the sector first. We currently have 70 independents
from Northern Ireland registered in our commissioning system and
28 registered from the Republic of Ireland. However, if you look
at PACT membership there are 16 members of PACT, but I think it
gives you the picture which is that a lot of those 70 Northern
Ireland companies will be quite small enterprises, very often
one or two people.
Did you say 70?
Ms Carragher: 70, seventy, who registered in
our commissioning system, but only 16 are actually members of
PACT. So that will give you a view that it is not a particularly
strong, large sector, in which this is a small place and it is
only ourselves and UTV and to a much lesser extent Channel 4,
who are commissioning programmes from the sector. We do work very,
very closely with the independent sector and we do have good relations
with them. We currently commission 35 per cent of our qualifying
output from the independent sector in hours and that is just over
30 per cent in money. So we have a good relationship with them.
The expertise is mainly in factual programmes. We are looking
at ways to build expertise in other genre and the two areas we
are particularly interested in are entertainment. We have a very
strong partnership with a number of companies who make entertainment
programmes and we have been successful this year in delivering
network entertainment programmes, What Kids Really Think,
which has recently gone out on a Saturday evening. Just for
Laughs. We are also promoting drama and working with the RTÉ
and a co-production in developing drama expertise where there
is less strength in drama, and that along with current affairs
is one of our centres of excellence. So we are keen to build on
Q667 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
You mentioned that you deal with a production company based in
the south. You said earlier that you wanted a channel where the
UK was fully represented and tastefully met. Do you ever deal
with independent production companies based in England and Scotland?
Ms Carragher: Yes, we do, absolutely; we do
indeed. We have dealt with a number of companies, one company
in particular based in Scotland for local programmes. I do see
that we have to nurture the sector in Northern Ireland, that is
the primary economic and cultural driver, but we have worked for
local programmes with companies in Scotland and our drama department
has worked very closely with companies in Scotland, England and
occasionally the Republic to deliver drama to the networks as
well. So, yes, we do.
Q668 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
You also mentionedand we all fully accept that things are
going to change massively with digital switchoverand you
have talked about the important role that the BBC plays here in
the ongoing and unfolding story of Northern Ireland. Do you have
concerns about a proliferation of channels and how that will affect
the role you are talking about that the BBC plays here?
Ms Carragher: In terms of the independent sector?
Q669 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
No, I am talking about digital switchover and the proliferation
Ms Carragher: I think as the channels proliferate
that the television channels, particularly the public service
television channel, which is actually rooted in the community
that is nurturing the voice of the community and the economic
development of the community, actually has a stronger role to
play, as we go forward.
Mr Loughrey: Local programmes, if they are single
genre, are more resistant to share decline than elsewhere. Back
to the earlier point, I guess that their distinctiveness is more
Q670 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
In our last report we recommended shared centres of regional excellence.
Does the BBC in Northern Ireland share its resources with other
regional production companies, or could you do more in that area?
Ms Carragher: I am sure we could always do more
in these things, I am sure that is absolutely the case. But we
do routinely pool resources with other broadcasters and we work
closely with RTÉ, with Sky and UTV, particularly for coverage
of any major events, where we absolutely pool resources. We have
also worked with RTÉ in the past on sports coverage and
pooled resources for that. In drama, where our resource is very
much for our staff, we do a huge amount of staff sharing between
independent companies and other production sectors, sending people
to work on productions in London and Scotland. The same with entertainment,
in particular when we have an expertise in entertainment, and
we are looking forward in particular to the building of Pacific
Quay, with that very large studio facility there, where we will
be able to share resources much more closely with BBC Scotland.
Mr Loughrey: As we discussed in Manchester yesterdayand
I know you will be hearing from UTV laterwe are constantly
open to means of putting more of our resources and monies on air
rather than sitting in studios. So we are very, very open to negotiating
the best possible maximisation in this very small place. As it
happens, we have both created new studies, albeit in the BBC's
case a drive-in and relatively low cost studio at around the same
time. I think if UTV and ourselves were thinking of creating two
separate studios it would be very unlikely to proceed. We have
inherited something from the last decade. I doubt if we would
recreate it, but I will leave that to my colleague.
Q671 Lord Maxton:
Are you going into any joint production with RTÉ? It seems
to me to be sensible in the digital world.
Ms Carragher: We have some co-productions with
RTÉ, as I mentioned earlier a major drama co-production.
We are of course competitors in a sense and we broadcast within
the same territory; the audience is able to access both BBC programmes
and RTÉ programmes. So there are issues around transmission
times and rights, et cetera. But these are conversations that
we do have, and we do undertake co-productions.
Q672 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
We talk here today about celebrating diversity within the nations,
but also there is the fact of bringing the nations to the whole
country, and in his evidence to our Committee Mark Thompson said
that the BBC's focus has been quite a heavily national one, based
in Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast. How can the BBC decentralise
in the nations?
Mr Loughrey: This is slightly less of a problem
in Northern Ireland, given the scale, I have to say. But, here
too, of the numbers of staff that Anna has said, 700 odd, for
me an unacceptably large number of those people sit in this building
day in day out talking to each other and connecting with the outside
world on the telephone or on the PC. I think the contemporary
technology gives us a degree of dexterity, of mobility that we
should see and hear more on air. We should be more accessible
to our audience; we should be more engaged with communities from
Newry to Crossmaglen, Ballynune and Ballymena. There are lots
of fascinating interesting stories and fascinating interesting
characters that only of late have we allowed to tell their stories
on air, and I think that is a growing trend. In terms of the strategic
plans to go forward to secure that local television is at the
heart of it, where in Northern Ireland there will be an on demand
television news service for the first time for the west of Northern
Ireland, and allowing that kind of Belfast dominance to be offset.
Ms Carragher: And a strong presence in the northwest
will be Radio Foyle and an opt out service in Enniskillen. As
Pat acknowledges we have changed a great deal in the last few
years in terms of having journalists who are living in the community,
in Newry, in Coleraine and out of the Belfast area, and feeding
back into the communities.
Q673 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
You have mentioned Scotland and Wales. In England you hardly get
a Scottish story. On Newsnight you have the opt out and
there is a real sense that with devolution bits of the country
have been cut off from each other.
Mr Loughrey: I think that is a very real concern.
I sit on the BBC Journalism Board and we discuss it often there.
Peter Horrocks has been recently appointed head of television
news and he has very exciting plans with Mark Byford, Deputy Director
General to make BBC News 24 a different and more
vigorous service. It is happily now outperforming Sky on a consistent
basis for the first time. All of us believe that it could be and
should be more inclusive of the great news gathering strength
we have across the UK, so that that could be made available to
the whole United Kingdom on a far more regular basis. I think
you will see over the months aheadand we are perfectly
happy to be scrutinised on this basisa significant change
in the agenda and style of News 24 and it will be seen
not as a secondary service within the BBC but as a primary service
with continuous news provision, given that the lives we lead is
at the core of what we do, not as somewhat further down the food
Q674 Lord Maxton:
Will there be opt out? Will there be a BC 24 for Scotland, in
Mr Loughrey: That is a very interesting question.
That is actually being discussed as we speak. We first of all
have to discover whether or not the transmitters will allow us
to opt out News 24 across to different platforms. Secondly,
I have a little caution that opt outs lead to
Q675 Lord Maxton:
I am not necessarily in favour of them.
Mr Loughrey: I am ambivalent myself but we are
modelling and discussing precisely at this time about that. I
think what Lady Bonham-Carter is leading us to is the integration
in the normal news agenda rather than silos.
Just going back to what you replied to Lady Bonham-Carter, is
there a tendencyI mean not just here but in other parts
of the UKfor newsrooms and journalists and organisations
just to talk to each other? That was rather the impression that
Mr Loughrey: I am on very subjective territory
here, but happily it is not just myself. I think if you read Andrew
Marr's book and memoirs of his experiences in the print media,
and a colleague, a friend of mine who is currently editor of the
Yorkshire Post, who said that our problem is "air
conditioned journalism". Andrew Marr, as I recall, described
the cult personality as a product of news driven by press release
and the personal computer. I think the heritage of a chap in Mac
walking the streets finding out what is going on and recording
it, the wealth of colourful news and incidents and events, has
diminished. The story content in all news across the United Kingdom
and across Europe has been changed by technology and not necessarily
enhanced. What we are very keen to reverse is that depth of choice
that editors of programmes have at their disposal to broaden the
ratings. If we are discussing matters of health we have strength
on the ground to provide unique insights into health provision
in every corner of the United Kingdom, not just one little corner,
and I think that you will see the BBC, especially in News 24,
flexing that journalistic muscle to a greater extent than before
and getting out of the domination of the press release.
Professor Monds: Chairman, if I could add to
that? I think there are some important issues here and we find
always at our public accountability events an appetite for localness
and for projection of local interests on a broader scale. If I
could just observe the movement of journalists, I think that BBC
Northern Ireland has been a remarkably powerful training ground
for journalists who have then brought those skills to the wider
United Kingdom, and it is very gratifying that BBC Northern Ireland
will be a centre of excellence for news and current affairs, and
I think that is complementary to what Pat has been saying.
To some extent we all sign up for localness and all that in every
part of the United Kingdom, but to some extentand the same
too with newspapersit is a function of economics, is it
not? If you have 50 reporters you can do more of what you are
saying than if you have 20 reporters. So there are cost implications.
Mr Loughrey: There are, and this is a broader
thesis. The economy of television was founded on a scarcity model,
a scarcity of very expensive resources, television studios and
of camera kits which were enormously expensive, up to £100,000
for a kit, and the scarcity of airtime. But the economy is still
managed on the basis of scarcity. The kit is infinitely cheaper
and able to deliver at a very high professional standard. Airtime
in the digital world is relatively plentiful and I am not sure
that our thinking or strategic planning until very recently took
account of that remarkable change in the prism in the economy
of broadcasting. That is why we in nations and regions are so
vigorously supporting the story telling skills of members of the
audiences as well, the citizen journalists. It is pity that Lady
Howe is not here because that is a very rich vein of enthusiasm
for it. As well as employing our own staff more dexterously and
more regularly and using that very mobile kit to gather more effectively
there are many, many other sources of input to what we do.
It is a very interesting thesis. We all remember the days when
we were interviewed and about seven people turned up, one with
sound, one with light and goodness knows what else.
Mr Loughrey: I remember Lady Thatcher being
particularly impressed by that.
Chairman: Yes, it did make her feel very
Q679 Lord Maxton:
I have to say that my experience of that is that if you were interviewed
by someone from the continent there were far fewer of them than
there were from the BBC.
Reverend Hill: Could I comment and say that
the Council has certainly welcomed correspondents connected with
different regions in Northern Ireland and the increase in PDP,
one person with a camera who is also a journalist producing the
entire thing. I have people out in my community where, for all
the wrong reasons it was news there this summer, but people on
the ground telling their stories, talking to people, and I think
there seems to be a trend towards more localness. This summer
the Milk Cup football match, an international youth game in Coleraine,
had a broadband site so that you could watch the matches and see
the interviews all on broadband. So it brought home the importance
of not just thinking in terms of DTT or satellite but also the
broader range of platforms in terms of getting that localness