Examination of Witnesses (Questions 700
WEDNESDAY 23 NOVEMBER 2005
Mr Allan Bremner, Ms Patricia Galvin and Mr Pa«dhraic
Thank you very much indeed. How do your audience figures compare
with the BBC? How do yours in Ulster Television?
Mr Bremner: My understanding, Chairman, is that
we have a peak time share of 33 per cent, 34 per cent. I am only
talking at this stage about BBC Northern Ireland, the first channel,
and my understanding is that their share would be about 24 per
cent. That is peak time. Then if you looked at morning and afternoon
the BBC would have a clear lead in both those day parts.
But at peak time you have a clear lead, do you?
Mr Bremner: We have, yes.
What about audience figures elsewhere? What do RTÉ and
Ms Galvin: For example, in the Republic of Ireland
RTÉ's share would be on average about 40 per cent35
per cent, 40 per cent. We do not have any accurate data as yet
in terms of audience share in the north. We have recently joined
the Bar Panel but the data is not yet refined enough to be able
to provide any accurate data.
Mr O« Ciardha: In the Republic our peak
time share would be about three and a half per cent. Again, like
RTÉ we only have anecdotal ideas of the reception. The
level of interest anecdotally is very strong in Northern Ireland
but we do not have firm data.
That will come, will it, in due course?
Mr O« Ciardha: Yes, it will, although we
will have to be careful, as I think Anna Carragher said this morning,
and we will probably hear again, given that there are very complex
rights here. So to have the information available and not make
commercial use of it or not being accused of making commercial
use of it for Northern Ireland would be a difficult act.
Are there any particular unique demands placed on broadcasters
operating in Northern Ireland, that you find?
Mr Bremner: I think the context in which all
of us operate is quite obviously a unique context. I feel very
strongly that first and foremost we have to provide an impartial
and fair news service. I think most people would agree that if
you look at the newspapers in Northern Ireland they are declared,
inasmuch as I think you could easily identify, some papers find
themselves at the Orange end of the spectrum and others who would
find themselves at the Green end of the spectrum. And I use that
only as a matter of shorthand. So I think television has a unique
place to play in its provision of news. I also feel stronglyand
I know that the BBC and ourselves share thisthat current
affairs has an important role to play. We live in a state where
there have been considerable ebbs and flows about how the institutions
of state conduct themselves. So do I feel very strongly that investigative
current affairs is something which the BBC and UTV would commit
themselves to. I have to say that it is self-evident also in TG4
and RTÉ, but in the north I think it is absolutely no accident
that both BBC Northern Ireland and UTV have won Royal Television
awards, national awards for the quality of their current affairs.
Thirdly, I think that in general programmes we have a very real
challenge to show the diversity of this particular society. We
are not merely Unionists or Nationalists and in general programmes
I think we have to recognise that, and also celebrate the talents
that we have in this community and not castigate ourselves for
Looking at the BBC and BBC Northern Ireland, they obviously also
provide a very comprehensive service, but are there gaps in it?
When you look from the outside do you feel that there are things
the BBC could be doing that they are not doing?
Mr Bremner: I feel very stronglyand I
am not simply saying this because I am herethat we have
in Northern Ireland a BBC service, both on radio and television,
which is fully committed to serving Northern Ireland. I think
that both of us would probably say that sometimes we find ourselves
scheduling against each other when it might be better if we were
scheduling in a complementary fashion, but that is not always
manageable. I see no deficit at the moment in BBC services.
What do you feel on either of the points, Ms Galvin?
Ms Galvin: I suppose on the challenges and the
issues of being present in the north, the ability of a broadcaster
to be able to fairly and impartially reflect the events in Northern
Ireland is a challenge, and I would agree that in many respects
it raises the standard and the benchmark for journalism, particularly
in the area of current affairs and editorial standards. An interesting
dilemma, as it was for RTÉ over the years, was that we
had a Section 31 list of organisations that could not be covered
on television or on radio, and I think that made it very difficult
over those years up until 1994from about 1971 to 1994to
cover and to truly reflect the events in the north, given that
there was this ban on certain organisations not being mentioned
and not being interviewed on air. That has now changed. I think
we are also looking forward to an era where, with technological
developments, with digital eventually and with broadband TV, we
can give a little bit more in-depth coverage with the opportunity
for updates in years to come and will be able to give a little
bit more in-depth coverage and reflect that.
And gaps in the BBC?
Ms Galvin: Not for us to say, I think. There
is nothing that we would observe, but given that we operate under
a mandate in a different jurisdiction it is not for us to say.
Q709 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
In the Republic is the BBC picked up?
Ms Galvin: Yes, it is; for many decades actually
because of the power of the analogue signalwe call it spill-overthere
has been a quite healthy reception of the BBC's channels and also
UTV's channels and ITV's channels as well. Also the BBC is now
available on cable and satellite platforms and so, yes, it has
a very healthy presence, and I suppose in that sense we have a
competitive dynamic in that sense.
Let me bring in TG4 and then throw it open.
Mr O« Ciardha: I was about to make that
point. It is very important to bear in mind that the first television
in the Republic was UK television, and it is very much seen as
being a sine qua non of any television reception
platform in the Republic, that it will bring to you UTV and BBC
Northern Ireland. We have had Members of Parliament or Da«il
elected on the specific issue of trying to bring better reception
of international, that is to say UK television. It is an absolutely
crucial part of the television mix. Again, like Patricia, I am
not here to point up gaps in a colleague broadcaster in another
jurisdiction but I do, as an Irish language broadcaster, see the
huge challenge for the BBC in servicing the real expectation of
the Irish language community here, to have provided to them by
the public service broadcaster here the same level or an equivalent
level of service as they see happening in Wales, where the BBC
provides programming to S4C and whatever happens with Scots Gaelic.
So I am not expressing a personal view there, but I do know from
membership of things like the Celtic Film and Television Festival
that Irish language users in this community do have a real expectation
and do have, I think, a growing appreciation of the challenge
that that does place on the BBC with its restricted airtime. So
perhaps innovative and thinking outside the box needs to be brought
in there because more and more Ireland is becoming an all-Ireland
television landscape, we do cooperate on so many things. I think
going forward there is a willingness and a need to think about
more creative ways of servicing those expectations.
My last question and then I will bring in others. How is the quality
of the BBC, the impartiality of that BBC actually seen in the
Republic? How do viewers look at it? Do they look at it as reliable,
as unbiased, or do they look at it as rather putting a particular
point of view?
Ms Galvin: I would say absolutely seen as an
essential, I suppose, component. We have an expression where we
describe the UTV, the BBC channels and the Irish terrestrial channels
as being the "meat and two veg" for viewing in the home,
and it is often the package that cable and satellite operators
will promote in order to sell their basic package maybe as well
as additional channels. I think Irish viewers have been so accustomed
to multi-channel viewing because of the spill-over from many decades,
as I mentioned, that there is an expectation that it is an essential
part of the mix, the range of viewing that you are going to have
in the home. So I would see it as being part of their viewing
But an "essential part of the mix" is not quite the
same as actually saying that that is an organisation which is
providing a totally impartial and fair portrait of what is taking
Ms Galvin: I suppose it depends on a viewer's
sense of what is taking place, where and what events there are.
Clearly there are Irish terrestrial channels that can spend a
little more time telling stories about ourselves to the viewers,
and clearly the BBC's remit is one primarily for a different audienceit
is for the UK licence fee payers essentially. But given those
small variations in terms of impartiality and fairness I do not
think they are different.
Mr O« Ciardha: I would echo that, with
the exception obviously when England are playing Ireland at rugby,
then obviously we know which channel to watch! The BBC is held
in extremely high regard throughout Ireland, with obvious certain
exceptionspeople from a particular political perspective
may take a different view. It is seen very much as being the benchmark
for UK broadcasting, yes.
Q713 Lord Maxton:
This comes to the point. Do you do an Ulster News, as opposed
to you only doing it when Ulster is part of, if you see what I
mean, something that affects the south? Do you actually do an
actual Ulster opt out of any sort? No?
Ms Galvin: We do not have the technical functionality
really for that yet. Clearly it is an essential part of the news
story telling on a regular basis and, as I mentioned earlier,
hopefully with all going well with digital free to air signal
in the north, if there is the opportunity for RTÉ to be
able to extend its services via digitalwe are a little
bit limited at the moment with analogueit will make it
a little more easy to have the opt outs.
Q714 Lord Maxton:
Presumably that is the same?
Mr O« Ciardha: Yes, it is, but I think
it is also important that our coverage of Northern Ireland is
not just of the obvious political. Economic and sports storiesparticularly
for us, sports storiesand drama and entertainment, we do
not see a border in that sense. Stories are covered, documentaries
are made, dramas are produced irrespective of their origin. So
there is no anti-Ulster bias.
Q715 Lord Maxton:
No, I am not saying there is an anti one, but obviously you are
both based elsewhere.
Mr O« Ciardha: Yes, and funded by it.
Q716 Lord Maxton:
And funded elsewhere. Could I therefore ask it the other way around?
Mr Bremner, do you have any specific coverage from elsewhere rather
than just doing an Ulster News and only where it affects Ulster?
Mr Bremner: There is a difficulty in the sense
that under our Ofcom licence what we have to do is to service
the community in Northern Ireland, and not to prioritise the community
in the south. But by definition what happens in the Republic quite
properly is part of our news agenda, and we have a reporter and
a crew in Dublin to cover that. In terms of political coverage
it is a considerable matrix if you have Dublin, Washington, Belfast
and London all contributing to the news of the day.
Q717 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
In our first report we recommended that the BBC should work with
other companies to created share centres of regional excellence.
Can I ask Mr Bremner first, does that happen here? Do you share
your resources? Also, do you think that is a good idea?
Mr Bremner: In many ways I suspect that the
levels of cooperation between the BBC and UTV are exceptional.
This shared effort probably does not qualify as a centre of excellence.
I think possibly we are the only BBC and ITV companies that share
some of our sports contracts. At production level we quite often
share each other's technical resources. When things were bad we
would agree that if we were burnt out of UTV we would be allowed
to broadcast from here and vice versa. One of the things that
is also unique to Ireland is that all of the broadcasters sit
on a group called Broadcasters of Ireland Group, and that again
is a unique forum for cooperating broadcasters. Two years ago
we did a short series of films on the subject of home; and all
the broadcasters in Ireland contributed films and then all the
broadcasters could show the films. So you had what I think is
a unique arrangement where on UTV you have a short film made by
RTÉ or TG Ceathair. On BBC you had a short film made by
UTV. So I would have thought that there is a broad perception
that we are quite a cooperative bunch. I think there are considerable
problems for us being able to contribute to a centre of excellence
because we do not get a single penny from the ITV network for
any of our activities. So to a certain extent our operation is
structurally different and operates in a different fashion to
that of the BBC.
Q718 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
What would RTÉ think about that, particularly considering,
as you were saying, the digital future?
Ms Galvin: Certainly to date, in so far as it
makes economic sense and it makes sense in terms of quality and
coverage, there is terrific cooperation in terms of shared facilities,
et cetera, as has been the case historically. The status of RTÉ
in the north at the moment is such that I suppose it is primarily
motivated by the spiritual diversity and purism to make these
services available in the north for no additional commercial gain.
There may be an opportunity in the future, again with availability
on platforms, and if there is an opportunity to extend the spirit
of the Good Friday Agreement in the digital area, if and when
we have a digital terrestrial platform in the Republic of Ireland
as well, there is an opportunity for reciprocity which could change
the dynamic and possibly even the effort and the focus that can
go into making the service available and a dedicated service for
the community of Northern Ireland.
Q719 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
I was interested you said that historically you have shared facilities
with them. In what sense?
Ms Galvin: For example, initially when RTÉ
started to cover more stories and to be present in the north the
BBC would have had an infrastructure and there would have been
opportunities to have shared circuits and a lot of technical sharing
and facilities sharing.