Morrison Mounts Stout Defence of BBC ALBA

The chair of one half of the Gaelic language TV channel, BBC ALBA, has mounted a stout defence of the service following a news story last week which claimed that making room for a Gaelic channel on digital TV would mean dropping a number of BBC radio stations from the TV remote control menu.

The remit of MG Alba (the operating name of Seirbheis nam Meadhanan Gàidhlig or Gaelic Media Service), under the Communications Act 2003, is to ensure that high-quality television programmes in Gaelic are made available in Scotland. It is a partner in BBC ALBA with BBC Scotland.

In its story – by political reporter, Alan Roden – the Scottish Daily Mail claimed that the Scottish Government’s cultural minister, Fiona Hyslop, wanted the £14 million BBC ALBA service to be shown on Freeview, as it is currently only available to households with satellite TV.

But in a letter published in the paper yesterday, former journalist, Alasdair Morrison, says the proposals in the Mail's story to broadcast BBC ALBA on Freeview did not reflect a number of important facts.

MG ALBA is based in Stornoway, in the Western Isles. Funded by the Scottish Government and regulated by Ofcom, it works with producers to promote development, training and the use of Gaelic as the working language of the Gaelic production sector.

A former Labour MSP, who worked for nine years for the BBC as a radio and television journalist, Morrison wrote: “Virtually everyone will have access to all radio stations through a variety of platforms should the proposals go ahead. All stations will continue to be available on FM/AM or DAB radio frequencies, where the overwhelming majority of people listen to radio. The radio stations will also continue to be accessed on Sky TV, cable or through the internet.

“BBC Alba appeals to a substantial number of viewers despite less than 50 per cent of households currently being able to access the channel.

“It should be remembered that Freeview is a TV platform and the roll-out of DAB radio services was designed to create a widely available platform for digital radio services.

“The performance of BBC Alba has been widely praised by politicians in the Scottish and Westminster parliaments as well as the BBC Trust and continues to provide a comprehensive range of programmes that is attractive to both Gaelic and non-Gaelic speaking audiences.”

Roden’s story claimed: …” making space for the little watched channel would involve taking 13 of the BBC's network radio stations off air in Scotland during Alba’s broadcasting hours.

“The stations affected would include Radio 1, 2 and 4 and Radio 5 live, as well as Radio Scotland football commentaries and 6 Music.

“Bizarrely, the plan would also black out BBC Radio Nan Gaidheal – the broadcaster's Gaelic radio service.

“The BBC Trust, which will make the final decision, is concerned about the effect such a move would have on the ‘universality' of the service the broadcaster offers.”

Roden pointed out that all satellite, digital and cable TV services include dozens of digital radio stations with their home packages, which can be listened to through television sets.

“For many families, it is both a cheaper option than buying a DAB radio and also ensures that living rooms are less cluttered.”

He claimed that BBC Alba is watched by only about 35,000 Gaelic speakers from a total of 92,000 people with some ability in the language – less than 38 per cent.

“With a total of 220,000 viewers, it costs 29.4p per viewer per hour, compared with 6.8p for BBC1 and 7.5p for BBC2.”

The BBC Trust launched a consultation on BBC ALBA’s future last year, which closed in January this year. But it has delayed making a decision until a separate strategic review of the BBC is published – due later this year.