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Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: 04 December 2008

Review of Public-Service Broadcasting

4 December 2008

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Barry McElduff (Chairperson)
Mr Dominic Bradley
Mr Francie Brolly
The Lord Browne
Mr Kieran McCarthy
Mr Raymond McCartney
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Pat Ramsey
Mr Ken Robinson
Mr Jim Shannon

The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):
The Committee will now consider its response to the Ofcom public-service broadcasting review. I refer members to the Ultach Trust’s responses to the Ofcom consultation, which is included in the members’ packs. Also included is Mr McCausland’s submission on the Ofcom consultation. Furthermore, the draft response prepared by the Committee Clerk, which is based on the Hansard report of the meeting of 20 November 2008 in the Senate Chamber and the debate in the House on Monday 24 November 2008, is also included.

Are members content with the draft response?

Mr McCausland:
I suggest that the Committee should amplify its response to the review about the promotion of indigenous languages. At present, we have submitted only a short paragraph. The next paragraph refers to the Irish Language Broadcast Fund (ILBF) as a model, but that is in the context of a fund for public-service broadcasting.

I expressed concern last week when Denis Wolinski was before the Committee, and my concerns are also expressed in my submission. The Ofcom report states that:

“Many within the Ulster Scots community believe that a sense of Ulster Scots identity is as likely to be based on an association with music, heritage, and other cultural factors as with language and that broadcasting should reflect this, and not only capture Ulster Scots language.”

I have no sense of why that it is contained in that document, because the same is true — as I pointed out — of the Irish language. Many feel that they are Irish and can express that through the playing of Gaelic football, Irish classical music or something —

Mr Brolly:
They can also play soccer.

Mr McCausland:
Yes, but their sense of cultural Irishness could be expressed in that manner. Therefore, why has Ofcom said that solely about Ulster Scots, but not about anything else? I think that they are trying to conflate the figures for broadcasting culture and language, so that they can claim that they have met their language obligations because they have broadcast cultural programmes. In fact, when the BBC last submitted a report for the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages four years ago, it did just that — its figures for the amount of Ulster Scots broadcasting were inclusive of footage of pipe bands and flute bands. There was not a scrap of language in those programmes.

I want to suggest an amendment, which will require the approval of the Committee, and will have to cover both languages. I know that we were hoping to have something in writing for today, but could we insert a sentence which states that there should be appropriate and adequate provision of indigenous language broadcasting for both languages? It should not be quantified, because there will be different opinions on that, but it should call for adequate and appropriate provision. The second point should be that language and culture should not be conflated, but that the linguistic diversity and the cultural diversity of Northern Ireland should be reflected in broadcasting. Thirdly, it should state that the different indigenous languages and indigenous cultures should be appropriately reflected — as the BBC is required to do under its own charter. Finally, it is obvious that there should be appropriate funding streams to enable that to happen.

Mr P Ramsey:
I do not particularly mind members producing and tabling amendments to a document, but I would like a better opportunity to discuss it. I am prepared to accept his amendment, subject to the Committee ratifying it next week.

Mr McCausland:
The problem is that today is the last day that we can do it.

Mr P Ramsey:
Members have been aware of that and have had the opportunity to provide the Committee Clerk with an amendment to be discussed. The opportunity was there, and the member was fit enough to table his own paper — I am not sure whether that is his paper or his party’s paper.

Mr McCausland:
It is not a party paper; it was circulated by Ulster-Scots groups, and I have also put my name to it.

Mr P Ramsey:
I do not think that it is a reasonable time to introduce such an extensive amendment and expect the Committee to ratify it now.

Mr McCausland:
Would it be in order if it was written down and circulated so that people could read it for themselves, and we could then take a decision on it at the end of this meeting?

The Chairperson:
I think that that is appropriate. If a member wishes us to consider an amendment, we will do so if it is circulated in writing.

Mr P Ramsey:
Someone should provide the text of it.

Mr McCausland:
I will write it down and get copies of it.

Mr P Ramsey:
That is fine.

The Chairperson:
Are members satisfied with the response to the consultation, subject to the proposed amendment, which we will deal with later in the meeting?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:
Nelson’s proposed amendment is being circulated.

Mr McCausland:
The first sentence is a broad statement that there should be appropriate and adequate provision for both minority languages. Secondly, there should be appropriate and adequate representation of cultural traditions. Those cultural traditions may include Gaelic football, pipe band contests and traditional music programmes.

Thirdly, language-based broadcasts may be set in a cultural context. One Irish-language programme contains people speaking in Irish, but the programme is basically about traditional music. Language and cultural broadcasting should not be conflated. In other words, it is fine for a pipe band contest to be broadcast with commentary in Ulster Scots, but if the entire programme is broadcast in English, it is not an Ulster-Scots language programme, but an Ulster-Scots cultural programme. The two must not be confused, particularly when considering the issues around the charter.

Funding streams are needed to do those things. I hope that those are broad principles that are not too specific, and that such principles could not cause any problems.

Mr McElduff:
We have to sign off on our response to the consultation. Nelson has proposed an amendment.

Mr McCarthy:
There is nothing that could be objected to, so the amendment should be added.

The Chairperson:
Are members content with the amendment?

Members indicated assent

The Chairperson:
Our submission will go forward, and, although we wanted a lengthier deadline, we will meet the deadline. Members can make their own submissions to the consultation. Nelson, if you were so inclined, you could enlarge on your amendment in a submission to the consultation. I have written to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport about the Assembly’s request to extend the consultation deadline for a further three months. I have requested a response by Friday 12 December.

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