Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 720 - 739)


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

  Q720  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: Studios, editings?

  Ms Galvin: Yes. I think more back office, technical sharing and circuits and things like that, especially rather than duplicating if there was coverage of a live event or something like that. Then there would be an opportunity to share on a quid pro quo basis.

  Q721  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: You would pool?

  Ms Galvin: Exactly, yes.

  Mr O« Ciardha: We have some co-productions that we have made with BBC Northern Ireland, but we probably have as many, if not more, that we have done with BBC Scotland because of the Gaelic-Irish connection, and S4C, obviously. I think going forward though the specific context of Irish language in Northern Ireland and this new mechanism called the Irish Language Broadcast Fund does provide a basis for cooperation. I should also say that co-production is a wonderful thing at a late night dinner, to say, "Why do we not make a drama together?" which is all very well, but when you come to make the drama you have to see whether it services the schedule needs of both partners and whether the action is going to take place in the west of Ireland or the west of Scotland, and sometimes co-production can actually be trickier than corporate co-production and sharing facilities. So we are all in favour of that and I think, as I say, as we go forward because of the digital possibilities, because there is an opportunity, in my own personal view, to create an all Ireland digital platform for all the traditional broadcasters that operate, it could actually find a common platform. But there are legal and rights issues there. There is a huge level of cooperation and a genuine spirit of cooperation between all the broadcasters, north and south, including the BBC.

  Q722  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: Do you think that the BBC produces enough for Northern Ireland? Is there a big enough production basis?

  Mr O« Ciardha: I am very loath to enter into any personal view. I do not pay a BBC licence fee; I am not a citizen of the UK. I enjoy greatly having the reception of BBC Northern Ireland and all the BBCs that are available to me in my home in Dublin on NTL Digital. I can only reflect to you that in the context of the Irish language—and you will hear it, I suspect, more as the day goes on—there is a real expectation from the Irish language community here for increased content creation. How that gets delivered is, I think, a major challenge for the BBC.

  Q723  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: What do you think, Mr Bremner? Do you think that the BBC has a big enough production base here?

  Mr Bremner: I think that is patently the case and I think you can see that both in the commitment to the quality of programmes that they have and the spread of programmes that they have at the moment. We are a little bit anxious that when it actually comes to tallying how many hours we each do that there are different forms of counting, and Ofcom are going to have a look at that again. But I doubt if anybody could dissent from the view that this is an ambitious broadcaster, yes.

  Q724  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: What about the independent sector? Do you think that is sufficiently supported?

  Mr Bremner: I agree with what Anna Carragher said about the independent sector. We also exceed the quota of independent programmes that we have amongst our regional programmes. We have about ten companies working for us presently, and two of those are from the Republic. Interestingly enough, not all the ITV companies have an obligation to do 25 per cent of the regional programmes; some of them stick to the notion that it is 25 per cent of the total schedule, and therefore they do not get that commitment within the regional programmes. We have no formal commitment to do that but we have never ever gone below the quota; this year it is about 28 per cent and next year it is 30 per cent of our qualifying programmes will be made by independents.

  Q725  Chairman: Just a question in passing. Because you are owned by your own shareholders and a mixture of them, you could be taken over at any stage?

  Mr Bremner: That is exactly the case, yes.

  Q726  Chairman: Are there any restrictions on who could take you over?

  Mr Bremner: None.

  Q727  Chairman: So, for example, an American company could take you over?

  Mr Bremner: Absolutely, yes. We have a situation in Ireland where a year ago CanWest, a Canadian company, had a 30 per cent share in UTV and in TV3, the commercial channel in the south, CanWest had 45 per cent. Granada also had 45 per cent in ITV3 and then ten per cent of other shareholders. CanWest exited from UTV last year, that is why I say we have no significant corporate shareholder. But we still have Granada and CanWest substantially based in the south. Speaking frankly, the ITV network is always going to be at the mercy of Granada because of its strength. What we want to be known as is that we are the company who can manage best in Ireland, and not Granada.

  Q728  Chairman: But it could be beyond Granada?

  Mr Bremner: Exactly. As with Channel 5 there is no geographical restriction and they do not even ask people to be fit and proper people to own an ITV company, which they used to.

  Lord Maxton: Whatever that might mean.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. Lord Peston.

  Q729  Lord Peston: At least one of you heard us talking to the BBC this morning about languages. I am still a little lost. RTÉ has the specific language responsibility, that is right, is it not?

  Ms Galvin: That is right, yes.

  Q730  Lord Peston: But TG4 does not have the specific language responsibility?

  Mr O« Ciardha: TG4 is the Irish language retainer.

  Q731  Lord Peston: Do I deduce by that it means the Irish language?

  Mr O« Ciardha: Yes. We do broadcast English language material but the station was established and is enshrined in legislation as being to provide primarily a service in the Irish language.

  Q732  Lord Peston: What we need is a little perspective on scale, if you like. What numbers are we talking about?

  Mr O« Ciardha: To put it into context, we will put to air today and tomorrow more Irish language programming than BBC Northern Ireland will make for the year. We are putting to air about ten hours of Irish language programmes, five hours a day of new material, more or less. Our schedule is 19 hours a day, of which seven hours is Irish language programming, of which approximately half is original, new to air. That figure can vary obviously, depending on seasons. So ours, just like S4C, primarily a Celtic language service with material in other languages to support it. RTÉ would probably output an hour a day across the seasons in addition to the hour a day that they supply to us. As with the BBC and BBC Wales it is obliged by statute to provide S4C with 550 hours a year of Welsh language programming, and the statutory obligation on RTÉ is to provide us with 365 hours a year of Irish language programming.

  Ms Galvin: Since 1961 we have been producing programmes in the Irish language. For our own services and television it is about an hour a day, as Pa«dhraic says, as well as the hour a day to TG Ceathair. Then we have a dedicated Irish language radio channel, Raidió an Gaeltachta.

  Q733  Chairman: So you are doing one hour a day, and you are doing how many hours a day?

  Mr O« Ciardha: About four or five hours a day. Most of ours comes from the independent production sector. As I say, ours is very much modelled on the S4C model.

  Q734  Chairman: How much would the BBC be doing?

  Mr O« Ciardha: I think the figure is something like 10 hours this year.

  Q735  Chairman: So that would be a few minutes a daily rate.

  Mr O« Ciardha: On television.

  Q736  Lord Peston: To take it into an economic domain, does it make sense that all of this is happening separately or should it not all be done jointly in some way? The Ofcom view seems to be that there should be a much closer relationship. I am not clear what Ofcom really had in mind.

  Mr O« Ciardha: I am a native speaker of Irish; it is my native language. I should also point our, perhaps, in passing that it is the native language of, I suspect, more than 20,000 people currently resident in the UK. Somebody pointed out to me once that the greatest urban concentration of Irish language speakers was either in Kilburn or in Govan. I just mention that in passing. The expectation I think is that a public service broadcaster will provide service in the indigenous languages of the community which it is servicing. In the case of the Republic and in the case of Northern Ireland that includes the Irish language, clearly. Whether it is more proper to do that on one dedicated/marginalized service, or whether the public service broadcaster should raise the profile of the language by including it in its own network channels is a debating point. In the case of RTÉ, I think RTÉ has always said, even after the establishment of our channel, that it would wish to include Irish language material in a high scheduling position on its own channels as well as contributing programming to us, and I think that probably would be the shared view in the Republic, that it should not be consigned to one channel.

  Q737  Lord Peston: Patricia, do you agree with that?

  Ms Galvin: I do.

  Q738  Lord Peston: So you are not against cooperation?

  Ms Galvin: No, absolutely. I suppose the spirit is reflected in the Belfast Agreement to foster linguistic diversity and to promote it through whatever means possible. If we have a broad remit and a duty to reflect as much as possible the interests of our society then Irish language has to be a key part of that. So, absolutely, anything that can be done to foster that.

  Mr O« Ciardha: Can I add one small thing? It is important as we go forward and as technology develops and as the huge increase of channels available to us magnifies, providing a service does not necessarily mean providing all programming and television form on one channel. There are many ways of skinning this particular televisual cat.

  Q739  Lord Peston: One question I forgot to ask the BBC. Do the Higher Education institutions in Northern Ireland and in Ireland as a whole have any involvement in what you do? To reveal my ignorance, I do not even have the faintest idea whether, say, in the south they teach it?

  Mr O« Ciardha: Irish is a mandatory subject.

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