Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 692 - 699)

WEDNESDAY 23 NOVEMBER 2005

Mr Allan Bremner, Ms Patricia Galvin and Mr Pa«dhraic O« Ciardha

  Q692  Chairman: We are very grateful to you for coming in. I think you know what we are doing in terms of this inquiry; we are now on to stage two and we are looking at particular aspects of the BBC's work—and that is our remit—which we really did not have the time to go into in the same detail, and obviously we are looking very much at regions and we are looking at Northern Ireland in that general area. I think the most useful way of beginning would be if you could not only introduce yourselves but also actually say what you do and what your organisation is. Mr Bremner, we met you last night, and we have a vague idea.

Mr Bremner: Like my employers! As you probably know, ITV is now a consolidated organisation consisting of the former English ITV companies and the Welsh ITV Company. Three ITV companies remain outside that single company. You have Scottish Television and you have UTV and the Channel Islands. In terms of our position, if you like, in ITV we are effectively an affiliate. We have come to the very obvious conclusion that we do not wield any power with the network centre, but obviously we depend on the programmes which we purchase from the network centre. We represent about 2.5 per cent of the population served by ITV. We are a successful company inasmuch as there is a considerable appetite for television in Northern Ireland and we are, as a result, able to sustain one of the highest shares of viewing in the ITV matrix. We are now a diversified company; we have our own Internet company, we have a telephony company, we own six radio stations in the Republic of Ireland and ten days ago we started our new radio service here in Belfast, which serves the Greater Belfast area. We also own 17 radio stations in England, one of which is a network, the talkSPORT network. In terms of local programmes, I would argue that we have a very diverse range of local programmes; we do news, current affairs, documentary, entertainment, religious programmes, children's animations, sports and community programmes. As I was trying to articulate last night, I think that we are relatively different in that if you look at this week I suspect that we are the only ITV company that does a story on investment in Londonderry at eight o'clock at night. And tonight, for example, we start the first of four half hours on the problem of race in Northern Ireland. I hope that is a helpful synopsis.

  Q693  Chairman: Just tell me about ownership.

  Mr Bremner: We have no significant corporate ownership at all; we are a company owned by a diverse range of small shareholders that are in both the island of Ireland and Great Britain.

  Q694  Chairman: There is no chief shareholder?

  Mr Bremner: No.

  Q695  Chairman: There is no one who owns 15 per cent, 20 per cent?

  Mr Bremner: No.

  Q696  Lord Maxton: Advertising?

  Mr Bremner: Advertising is going through a difficult period at the moment. We do not sometimes feel that chill wind as much as English ITV companies would do because 50 per cent of our revenue comes from the island of Ireland. ITV had a bad year in 2005. They are headed for what looks like their worse ever year for 2006. We think that we will break even whereas the network will be considerably down on its income.

  Q697  Chairman: Patricia Galvin, tell us about you.

  Ms Galvin: Thank you, Chairman. Firstly, may I send apologies from Cathal Goan, our Director General, who very much wanted to be here but unfortunately could not? I will try to answer any questions that you may have and will be happy to provide any further information in written submissions. RTÉ is Ireland's public service broadcaster and that consists of two television channels and four radio channels. It is a dual-funded broadcaster that is currently funded more or less 50-50 through the licence fee and advertising funding. Most recently, really in the last ten years or so, has become more freely available in the north. There was some spill-over over in the years from the Clermont Carn transmitter site, but thanks to the concerted efforts of the Good Friday Belfast Agreement greater efforts were made to try and make the signal of the RTÉ services available in the north. I think analogue terrestrial coverage is at about 40, 45 per cent currently. Earlier this year RTÉ became available on Sky Satellite service here, which is currently reaching about 200,000 television subscription owners, and we are also available on NTL Digital in the north. The premise for RTÉ as a public service broadcaster is that we have a statutory mandate, a remit that is defined in broadcasting legislation. It is a broad remit, not dissimilar to that of the BBC's, though obviously we are funded also partly commercially. There are two other significant commitments. One is that most recently there was what one might call a top-slicing of the licence fee, so five per cent of the licence fee overall funding is now put to one side and that is to encourage and foster development of the independent production sector. Also we have a commitment in legislation—I think it is 28 million—to commit to the independent production sector. At the moment RTÉ nearly doubles that commitment.

  Q698  Chairman: We will perhaps come on to some of those things in a moment.

  Ms Galvin: I suppose the last point is that while our services are available in the north we are not commercially active in the north; there is no commercial revenue. We clear the rights, we make whatever provisions are necessary to make the services available in the north, but we are not extracting commercial revenue from that. I work in the area of regulatory affairs, by the way.

  Q699  Chairman: Thank you. And TG4?

  Mr O« Ciardha: My name is Pa«dhraic O« Ciardha; I am the Deputy Chief Executive of TG Ceathair, TG4. Shorthand for this Committee's purposes, we are the equivalent Irish language service to S4C, without the funding. That is to say, we are a dedicated Irish language service channel set up nine years ago, funded directly by the Exchequer to the tune of 23 million Euros a year, currently, current funding. We also receive, similar to the BBC, an hour a day programming from RTÉ, under whose corporate umbrella we currently sit, but there is a government proposal to make us totally independent. Like S4C and Channel 4 we are a publisher/broadcaster and most of our programming is sourced in the independent production sector. We are, like RTÉ, receivable here in Northern Ireland and have been since the beginning, but the signing of the Belfast Agreement contains two specific provisions: one in which the UK Government commits to trying to extend our receivable signal here in the north; and secondly, there is a provision in that Agreement whereby the British government commits to trying to give financial encouragement to local Irish language production. The reception commitment has taken the form of there being a strengthening of our signal from the Republic; a local transmitter here under this mountain became operational last spring, almost at the same time as we, along with RTÉ, became available to Sky subscribers, here on encrypted satellite. The financial supports take the form of an Irish Language Broadcast Fund, which was set up and announced earlier this year, which is a fund available for local production in Irish here in Northern Ireland, currently administered by the Northern Ireland Film and Television Commission. That is what we do.


 
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