Examination of Witnesses (Questions 760
WEDNESDAY 23 NOVEMBER 2005
Mr Allan Bremner, Ms Patricia Galvin and Mr Pa«dhraic
Q760 Lord Maxton:
Eircom is your telephone company?
Ms Galvin: BT equivalent. I suppose they are
in the position where, short of any obligatory obligationthey
have a very healthy ISDN business, that is doing quite nicely.
Pushing the higher end, DSL is still a bit of a struggle, and
I think they are talking about it and they have plans, within
three to five years, to reach over half of the homes with the
equivalent of one megabyte. That is quite good. But, that said,
if there were further investment it could go a lot faster. We
are still not absolutely clearthe government has announced
its intention to launch a pilot for DTT early next year. All going
well that should run for one or two years; all going well they
would hope to launch a DTT platform. Who knows what will happen
in the broadband market? As I say, if there are investors it may
well be that we could have IPTV sooner than digital terrestrial.
As a public service broadcaster our belief is that we want to
produce public service content that is accessible and available
on all major platforms. So we broadcast to mobile, IPTV, DTT and
of course availability on digital, cable and satellite. We are
watching and monitoring for availability and excellence to all
of those platforms. Which comes first, there is still a little
to play for there.
Mr O« Ciardha: The person that designed
Ireland gave us many mountains and valleys and not all of them
are commercially viable propositions for television delivery,
and I think that is very important to state here, that whatever
platform or combination of platforms is arrived at universal service
is wonderful if you live in the Midlands where one transmitter
reaches 45 per cent of the population, but some of us come from
parts where it takes two transmitters to get it into the valley.
Secondly, I just want to echo the fact that the Ofcom ReviewI
do not know if it is permissible to mention the Ofcom Review in
this contextspecifically said that consideration should
be given in the UK switchover in this part of the world to extending
our service of our own channel. It is a specific proposal by Ofcom.
Q761 Lord Maxton:
You say that but of course even in remote areas people tend to
have telephones, presumably.
Mr O« Ciardha: They certainly do.
Q762 Lord Maxton:
And certainly the higher bands of ADSL provide broadband down
that telephone line. Going back a little bit, can I ask about
the switchover to using terrestrial digital, which means there
is going to be an increased signal from different parts of the
United Kingdom, Scotland and from Wales, and is that going to
mean that people in the south will be able to get BBC and other
channels much more easily than they can at the present time, and
will that affect you?
Ms Galvin: Certainly the switchover in the north
and also in parts of England and Wales a little bit earlier, in
2009, will have a significant impact on the availability of particularly
the BBC's signals through analogue spill-over, which they have
traditionally received. I think it is about 16 per cent of the
television viewing population enjoy Irish terrestrial services
and the multi-terrestrial, as we call it, the spill-over channels.
So there will be significant impact there. If there is not a free
to air digital platform for Northern Ireland to go to then they
will have no other choice but to go to Pay TV, cable or satellite
in order to continue to receive the UK channels that they have
been accustomed to. The other more important issue, I suppose,
is that with switchover, particularly in the north, there are
going to be issues about interference, about degradation of the
signal, about spill-over of the signal either way, but as part
of the World Radio Conference, RRC06, next year, there have been
very active bilaterals between the UK and Ireland for a number
of years now on teasing out and agreeing basically the frequency
plan and power level of either side of the border, to make sure
that any interference is minimised. So that is ongoing. I think
also through the Broadcasters' Group there is quite a bit of discussion
about what can be done to alleviate any unnecessary interruption,
but also how could we perhaps capitalise on this and make sure
that, for example, capacities can be found on platforms in both
communities to make sure that the choice of channels is extended
rather than lessened.
Q763 Lord Maxton:
Have you had discussions with Freeview actually to get on to their
Ms Galvin: The issue to date is, yes, we very
much like the idea of being available on it. The difficulty is
also the signal being available in the UK and the cost of clearing
the rights for a territory the size of the UK for a broadcaster
from Ireland. If greater capacity is released after the RR06 negotiations,
under the care of Ofcom some of that spectrum may well be re-released
for broadcast purposes. There may well be opportunities for both
digital radio and digital terrestrial television. Our broadcasting
legislation to date, albeit the DTT platform did not take off
at the time, but there are provisions in the legislation also
to allocate some capacity for UK services to be available on a
digital platform in the north. So we hope that there might be
opportunities for a similar reciprocal arrangement, all being
Mr O« Ciardha: It should be emphasised,
the Republic has 1.4 million TV homes. We do not have, as yet,
an indigenous digital platform of any kind. The second figure
is that over half of the 1.4 million homes have already signed
up to a non-national delivery means, whether it is subscription
satellite or digital cable. So the clock is ticking for the Republic
and we as a nation need to make some very quick decisions, and
hopefully they will be decisions that would be compatible with
the shared television experience we have had for the last 40 years.
Q764 Lord Maxton:
Can I come to you on that, Mr Bremner, the same issue? Because
it seems to me in the multi-channel and then into what I term
now the multi-choice world of television, your advertising revenue
is likely to be hit, is it not?
Mr Bremner: Yes, and I think that is one of
the reasons that encouraged us to diversify in the way that we
did. In terms of broadband provision Northern Ireland is about
98 per cent provided for, and we have to look very carefully at
a new generation as very technologically literate, not watching
television as it were, communally on a settee, but as a single
viewer looking at his or her television with a handheld device,
being able to bring a whole lot of different media across to that
device. That is one of the reasons, as I was saying, that we diversified.
On the subject of digital switchover, we arguedand I think
Ofcom accepted thatthat it would be particularly injurious
if the analogue service was switched off in Northern Ireland when
the analogue service in the south was still going strong, because
we were worried that with the switchover to digitaland
there are still nearly 45 per cent of people who do not have digitalwe
were concerned that some of our analogue viewers might then look
to the channels that were coming from the south.
The last questions, on religious programmes. I think the ITV evidence
said that the BBC should basically be the leading broadcaster
of religious and faith programmes. Would that be your view, Mr
Bremner? Are we simply stating that this is inevitable, that because
of the very nature of a company like Ulster TV you are not going
to get very much advertisingor possibly not very much advertising,
and where do you put it in any event?to support religious
Mr Bremner: Our position is not that of ITV's,
Chairman, at all. We would see our schedule as deficient if it
did not have some religious programmes in it. But I do have to
say that over the last five or six years we have set aside the
morning worships that we used to do; we used to do six of those
a year. Interestingly enough, if they were strong enough services
or they were dealing with something that people were very, very
interested in we would move it to two o'clock on a Sunday afternoon.
We set that aside because we think that that is adequately provided
by other channels and what we now do is we make religious factual
programmes, and we expect them to punch their weight. We show
them at half past seven on a Tuesday, and they do punch their
weight and that is why they will stay and one of the reasons why
we would want to keep them in the schedule. Interestingly enough,
in a series called Journeysand we have just shown
our second seriesI counted the number of faiths that were
represented in that series, which exceeded just under a dozen.
So it is a popular programme, it is in peak, it does show that
there are diverse faiths in our community, and I think it would
be negligent if we did not have it in our schedule.
That is very interesting. What kind of programme is it?
Mr Bremner: We do themes. For example, in the
first series the first programme was about birth, so there were
three human interest stories on a theme in each programme. The
first one was about a man, his joy at having his first child.
The second one was a young woman, a devoted Christian, but had
had three children, two of which had significant disabilities.
And the third one was a woman who had been unable to conceive
and when she conceived her child had died. Then we asked religious
commentators to say what perspective could these bring in the
very testing experiences in two of the subjects there. People
watched it and they watched it when we repeated it. So we feel
strongly that any subject can be done on commercial television
if you have it produced interestingly. If we are doing a programme,
as we are, about a charitable project in South Africawe
will be showing that at Christmasit has to get people to
watch it and, like any teacher, any lecturer, you should be able
to interest your audience.
And you do it on issues which might be controversial.
Mr Bremner: Yes.
Birth control, for example.
Mr Bremner: Yes.
What do you feel about this, Mr O« Ciardha?
Mr O« Ciardha: Our own channel does not
do what, not in any disparaging sense I call event coverage; we
do not do religious services. But we do carry in our documentary,
particularly in our documentary strands both newly made content
about matters religious and spiritual, and interestingly enough
one of the disciplines of having no money and in trying to not
use just the American and English-made documentaries we have a
significant stream of documentaries which are re-voiced from other
languages. One consistent theme running through those is a French-made
programme on world religions, which unfailingly gets us very good
ratings and particularly active feedback from the audiences. As
Allan says in another context, it is not just about the figures.
But religion is a very important theme in our programming, but
because RTÉ, as Patricia will confirm, does religious services
very consistently on both radio and television we do not feel
that we would be adding any value or extending the choice. But
it is important.
RTÉ do just what has been described?
Ms Galvin: Indeed, and I suppose the only issue
there is that RTÉ has to constantly assess and to check
in to make sure that it is still reflecting the society in which
it is broadcasting, and it is becoming an increasingly fast changing,
growing and much more multi-cultural and secular society, and
to make sure that we are getting that balance right.
Q771 Lord Maxton:
Do you represent the secular aspect?
Ms Galvin: I think increasingly so, yes, over
the last couple of years a lot more programming has been introduced
to address that. I think we are still trying to find that right
balance as Ireland is changing faster than we can keep up.
But you would actually show the different faiths?
Ms Galvin: Yes.
Q773 Lord Maxton:
Is there a religious question in your census?
Ms Galvin: Yes.
Q774 Lord Maxton:
What does it show?
Mr Bremner: An almost vertical drop certainly
in the Christian faiths.
Q775 Lord Maxton:
Mr Bremner: Non-believer would probably be at
30 per cent now and non-practising would certainly be much higher,
I suppose. It used to be that non-believer and non-practising
were less than 10 per cent, but I think we are probably moving
towards at half and half.
Chairman: It is interesting, is it not,
that you have figures like that and yet Mr Bremner is saying that
you can put on interestingwhich I suspect is the pointprogrammes
on religion at 7.30 on an evening, which is peak viewing time,
and get good audiences for it.
Q776 Lord Maxton:
I do not see the argument for that because I might watch a programme
if I thought it was interesting even though I have no religious
point of view.
Mr O« Ciardha: That would be our experience
as well. The fact that people do not attend a religious meeting
once a week, certainly in the Republic of Ireland, in our audience,
does not translate into a lack of interest in matters spiritual,
or in formal examining of other religious faiths about their benefits
and their downsides.
Mr Bremner, you intend to continue with these programmes?
Mr Bremner: Yes, Chairman.
We have to remind ourselves that we are looking at the BBC, however
fascinating everybody is, but how do you rate the BBC's coverage
of these things? I know none of you want to comment on the BBC,
et cetera, but do you think that they cover religion well?
Q779 Mr Bremner:
I cannot answer that question, simply because I am not familiar
with the output. When I look at network television and I look
at local television it seems that in terms of its frequency it
is reducing, but no, I simply do not know the content.
Then we will call that a day. Are there any other points that
my colleagues want to ask and make? Any additional points we have
Mr O« Ciardha: Thank you for having us.
Chairman: Thank you very much for coming. What
you have said is very interesting and perhaps if there are any
other factual points we could write to you? Thank you so much