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The Scottish Government Backs BBC Alba In The Wake Of Tory Budget Cuts

Last November I featured news from Britain on the decision by the Conservative Party government in London to make savage cuts to the public funding of S4C, the Welsh language television channel, and BBC Alba, its Scottish Gaelic equivalent. Now the SNP government in Edinburgh has intervened in the controversy, pledging to meet the fiscal shortfall in BBC Alba’s annual budget by continuing its own contribution to the station’s costs. From the Herald newspaper:

“Chancellor George Osborne announced in November that he would not renew a £1 million-a-year grant from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) ear-marked for BBC Alba.

However Alasdair Allan, the minister for Scotland’s languages, has announced the Scottish Government will provide an additional £1 million to the service…

The extra funding comes on top of core funding for MG ALBA – a public body which works in partnership with BBC Scotland to produce BBC Alba – of £11.8m in 2016/17.

Allan said: “I have no doubt that Gaelic broadcasting adds significant value to important areas of Gaelic development, whether that’s in education, in the community or at home.

“The impact and benefits of MG ALBA are felt across Scotland, and it has an impressive economic impact – this is unique and this funding will enable these areas to increase employment, skills and training…We are committed to creating a sustainable future in the Gaelic language, and to developing broadcasting and media industries in Scotland.”

Stuart Cosgrove, Scottish broadcaster, said that the UK’s Government’s decision to withdraw funding had struck him as “malicious and short sighted”. “My argument is a familiar one that we need to support our indigenous language across the board from television to school provision,” he added.

“There is always a huge backlash against Gaelic language when the debate comes up and at times it feels like monoglot bullying.””

Issues over its funding is a perennial source of insecurity for BBC Alba, and raises once again the question of the metropolitan BBC controlling Scottish language broadcasting. Perhaps a new, and completely separate, public service broadcaster combining the resources of BBC Alba and BBC Radio nan Gàidheal into one corporate entity, funded by diverted domestic licence fee revenues from Scotland and direct investment by MG Alba, would be a more stable and sustainable long-term option? I have long argued that our own separate Irish language television and radio stations, TG4 and RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, should be amalgamated into one broadcasting body, a TRnaG, combining the resources of both to the benefit of both, and the wider Irish-speaking community (with a budget somewhere in the region of €50 million euros a TRnaG would be far better equipped to meet its core remit).

Of course there is an even more obvious solution to Ireland’s broadcasting needs than the one proposed above, though turning RTÉ into TG4 and leaving anglophone broadcasting to the increasingly crowded private market might be a step too far for some.


9 comments on “The Scottish Government Backs BBC Alba In The Wake Of Tory Budget Cuts

  1. Last week, at a lively Gaelic broadcasting conference in Edinburgh on 15th March, attended also by representatives from Wales and Ireland, an MG ALBA Board Member, David Brew (a retired civil servant as I understand) tried to initiate discussion about a subscription based model for BBC Alba. That someone with these views is on the Board of MG ALBA (getting paid handsomely for it) is deeply worrying. David Brew should consider resigning from MG ALBA, if he wishes to continue such a right-wing agenda. Unless of course, he is also advocating subscription services for BBC Scotland, and other English language services.

    At the broadcasting conference, Mr Brew was rightly shot down in flames by author Aonghas Dubh MacNeacail.

    There is some mileage in Sionnach Fionn’s ideas re the anglophone broadcasting market.


    • Terrible idea. A subscription model works in a marketplace where there are high levels of demand among those with high levels of disposable income. That certainly doesn’t exist in relation to Scottish Gaelic speakers, a minority with average income rates at best. That is the purpose of the public service model, fulfilling a need that the private market can’t or won’t fulfil. Odd position for an MG Alba member to take.

      Ireland currently has six national television channels broadcasting in English, and one in Irish. The anglophone channels are two public service (RTÉ 1 and 2) and four private service (TV3, 3e, UTV Ireland and Irish TV). Then there are the northern-based or foreign-based channels with switch-over or targeting of the Irish domestic market, BBC NI 1 and 2, Sky Ireland, etc. In all the country is serviced by some twelve TV channels, all in English. That doesn’t even take into account dozens or hundreds of satellite, cable and internet services.

      I have long believed that RTÉ should cease English language broadcasting and leave that to a well-catered for private market. It should be doing what the rest won’t do – broadcasting in Irish and generating a domestic Irish language TV, film and radio audience and industry through two television channels, three radio stations, a movie-production arm like Film 4 and an online presence.


      • But what keeps private TV channels from broadcasting in Irish?


        • Jānis, costs. The same reason 80%+ of TV3’s programming is non-Irish. It’s simply cheaper, more cost effective and a greater return for the channel’s investors to buy off-the-shelf programming from overseas. A number of countries try to limit this in the private market through regulating domestic production quotas. TV networks try to get around this by claiming the likes of day-time chat shows count towards their domestic quota, or even music video shows broadcast late at night where the VJ speaks in the domestic language, etc. I think there was a case a few years ago where one station claimed that infomercials should count towards the required percentage of domestic output. Some regulators have plugged these loopholes by specifying percentage outputs in drama, news and current affairs, etc.

          Even RTÉ is now broadcasting majority non-Irish shows outside of the 19.00-22.00 peak slot, primarily cheap British imports packaged together at lower purchase rates with scant regard for appropriateness (the BBC for instance will bundle several of its daytime-type shows together and sell them at cost).

          In the first instance Irish language broadcasting can only come through public service stations. That is why, with the private market catering for English language programming in the country through multiple channels, I believe that public funding should go exclusively to Irish language programming, an RTÉ with two TV channels and three radio, combining the budgets presently devoted separately to RTÉ, RnaG and TG4, etc. More bang for our buck in the area it is required. Creating a strong Irish language broadcasting presence would in time generate its own audience and a domestic industry to serve it, creating hundreds of jobs at home.


          • But they could add Irish subtitles to all the content they broadcast. (Or dub them in Irish and offer that as an option – most tvs support that) That’s what all the other European countries do. It costs money to dub and create subtitles in Latvian, but all our private tv channels do it.


            • Indeed they could, or offer the optional dual track or subtitle service that is provided in Catalonia and some other regions/nations. However such things are driven by legislation and there is no interest among our legislators in serving/promoting the Irish language in any manner other than which we have done for the last several decades. Teach Irish in the schools, keep Irish in the schools. Not even the supposed champions of the language like Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin think outside that locked-in paradigm.


          • There’s no interest among the legislators, because there’s no interest among the voting public. People speak the national languages in other countries not because the law says so, but because they want to do it themselves. All the private radio & TV channels that broadcast in the Latvian language far exceed the minimum national language usage standards that are required by law. Why do they do that? Why not just broadcast everything in English or Russian and only provide subtitles that are translated using Google translate?


  2. Raibeart Ruadh

    The piece in the Sunday Herald is a little misleading. This is not new funding to cover the loss of the Westminster cash. The Scottish Govt has been providing an extra £1m on top of core support since 2014. This is confirmation that the extra £1m will continue for another year. Welcome news regardless.


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