Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the Ulster-Scots Heritage Council

BROADCASTING PROVISION FOR REGIONAL AND MINORITY LANGUAGES IN THE UK

THE MEDIA IS THE THIRD MOST IMPORTANT MEANS FOR TRANSMITTING LANGUAGE AFTER THE HOME AND THE SCHOOL

Background

    —  UK Government ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority languages on 27 March 2001.

    —  Ulster-Scots was included under the Part II provisions along with Scots, Manx and Cornish.

    —  There is no census information on the number of Ulster-Scots speakers; no question was included in the 2001 Census.

    —  Ulster-Scots is a living community language. Estimated numbers between 35,000-100,000 native speakers who acquire the language through inter-generational transmission. Only Scots and Welsh have larger populations of native speakers.

    —  Ulster-Scots is important as a heritage language, 29 per cent of the population (490,000) consider Ulster-Scots is important to them. (McCann Erickson Survey, February 2000)

Existing Broadcasting Provision

    —  Existing provision is inadequate.

    —  There is no dedicated radio station or TV station for Ulster-Scots.

    —  In 2005 BBC Radio Ulster will broadcast 10.5 hours of Ulster-Scots programming. This will provide occasional programmes not regular programmes.

    —  It is 52.5 minutes per month or 12.07 minutes per week and not of all of it is language related.

    —  There are no other Ulster-Scots language programmes from other broadcasting sources.

The Audience

  There is a healthy audience for Ulster-Scots broadcasting, a demand that is not being satisfied.

    —  The Nicht o Ulster-Scots broadcast on Saturday night in 1999-2000 had the third highest viewing figures on BBC2 that year (120,000 viewers according to BBC Annual report) behind the Celtic v Rangers match with 180,000 and a Country Times programme with 122,000 viewers.

    —  The Burns Night programme in 2004 had very high viewing figures but there are no figures for this in the public domain.

    —  The two programmes on the Eagle's Wing, one a history documentary and the other a televised stage musical, had very high viewing figures but the detail is not in the public domain.

Problems

    —  The obligations of the European Charter in relation to Ulster-Scots and media access are not being met.

    —  There are inequalities in how BBC Northern Ireland deals with the two minority languages communities that would be deemed illegal under Northern Ireland's equality legislation if they were carried out by any other public body subject to. Ulster-Scots is treated less favourably. The disparity in annual programme time is 25:1 (260:10.5 hours).

    —  At the heart of the Belfast Agreement are the principles of inclusion, tolerance, equality and respect. There is inequality in how BBC Northern Ireland generally reflects the major identities in Northern Ireland in programming. Identity is reflected in culture, history language, traditions and ethnicity. The inequality is reflected in how BBC Northern Ireland covers major traditions, language, folk/traditional music and history.

    —  Language programmes made by BBC Northern Ireland and by BBC Scotland are not shared. Programmes made in Scotland of interest to the Ulster-Scots community are not re-transmitted in Northern Ireland. BBC Scotland can be difficult to receive Northern Ireland.

    —  There is no presence or representation of the Ulster-Scots community in either the BBC's production staff or on any of their key committees and bodies. This lack of representation is perceived by the community as the reason for the 25:1 disparity in treatment.

Proposals

  The Heritage Council asks that the BBC's Royal Charter should address the above issues as follows:

    —  Mainstream the obligations of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages (ECRML) where they relate to broadcasting into the BBC's Royal Charter. This should be a part of the mainstreaming into the Royal Charter of the various human rights conventions ratified by the UK as they affect broadcasting.

    —  A minimum level of provision requirement should be written into the Royal Charter for the six UK indigenous languages protected by the ECRML. Provision should not be on an occasional basis but on a regular basis with a reasonable time slot. The Heritage Council suggests a minimum provision of 30 minutes per day.

    —  Recognise that each nation and region has its own distinctive situation. In Northern Ireland the Royal Charter should require the BBC to sign up to equality legislation, Section 75, so that Equality Impact Assessment becomes a part of the working culture of BBC Northern Ireland.

    —  The programme schedule should reflect the plurality of the listeners and viewers. In Northern Ireland the identities of the licence paying listeners and viewers should be respected and reflected in programming taking account of the culture, language, history, traditions and ethnicity of each group.

    —  At the heart of the Belfast Agreement are the principles of inclusion, tolerance, equality and respect. The BBC's Royal Charter should require that the two RML communities, Irish and Ulster-Scots, be equally represented within the various structures, committees and bodies of BBC Northern Ireland.

    —  The language community should make language programmes for the language community and provision should be made for the training of appropriate people in production.

    —  The BBC should share programmes between the nations and the regions basis where this is appropriate ie between Scotland and Northern Ireland to allow Scots and Ulster-Scots language programmes to be re-transmitted or have shared transmissions within the two areas. The BBC Scotland signal to Northern Ireland should be strengthened.

November 2005



 
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