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Devolved Governments call for change at BBC

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Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín has joined with her counterparts from Scotland and Wales to call on the BBC to ensure it properly represents all jurisdictions, regions and communities.

The Ministers agreed that the Westminster Government must honour its agreed obligation to the devolved administrations on charter renewal, and that they will work together to ensure the process of BBC Charter renewal reflects and prioritises their shared interests.

DCAL Minister Carál Ní Chuilín, Scotland’s Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop and Welsh Deputy Minister for Culture Ken Skates questioned Rhys Evans, Head of Strategy and Digital, BBC Cymru Wales, Peter Johnston, Director, BBC NI and Ken McQuarrie, Director, BBC Scotland, about the future of the BBC by videoconference. Secretary of the BBC, Phil Harrold, also participated in the videoconference.

The Ministers made clear they expect more from the BBC on issues including representation, governance, commissioning of local content, funding and broadcasting in Scots Gaelic, Welsh and Irish.

And they renewed their pledge to work together to:

  • hold the Westminster Government and the BBC to account for the continued delivery of the public service broadcasting principles on which the BBC was founded
  • continue to ensure each devolved administration is guaranteed a formal, consultative role in developing reviewing and agreeing the new BBC Charter
  • ensure the Westminster Government and BBC provide for a truly representative service to all the jurisdictions, regions and communities
  • ensure the BBC’s clear obligation to provide services for all of its communities, is fully met in relation to English and indigenous language broadcasting
  • push the BBC to take a more representative approach to commissioning, talent development and production from and for all the jurisdictions and regions.

After the meeting, Minister Ní Chuilín said: “I believe that the three jurisdictions have many areas of common interest and have jointly made a strong case for change to the BBC. For too long there has been underrepresentation in BBC broadcasting in the north of Ireland for those who consider themselves to be of Irish nationality and, just as importantly, those who speak Irish and who have the right to see and hear content in Irish. Furthermore, I agree with my counterparts in Scotland and Wales that the BBC in each area must commission more locally made and focussed content, and that the broadcaster must put in place more accountable and fit-for-purpose governance systems, which include adequate and fair representation from each jurisdiction.

“I hope that the BBC has taken on board our concerns, which reflect the views of the people we represent, and will take appropriate action to address them.

Scotland’s Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “There is a growing consensus for substantial change to the way the BBC operates, as last week’s report from the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Culture Committee shows.

“It’s time for the BBC to be empowered and resourced to be bold and creative for Scotland, and for all parts of these islands.

“What is clear from our meeting is that there are many areas of consensus. Any new governance structure for the BBC must deliver improved accountability and transparency. With proper representation from the nations and regions, this can be easily achieved by capitalising on the skills and talents of the men and women of our nations.”

Wales’ Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Ken Skates said: “Since devolution we have seen a significant change in the way the nations and regions of the UK operate and as a result the needs of the people that live there, yet there has been no evaluation or assessment of how public service broadcasters have responded to these changes.

“We are all in agreement that a full review on the BBC’s public purposes is needed as a matter of urgency and should form the bases of a new Charter ‘contract’. We need a clear definition of what Wales needs and what the BBC has a duty to deliver in the decade ahead, both to audiences in Wales and about Wales to audiences across the UK and the rest of the world.

“We also fully expect that any new governance arrangements for the BBC will deliver improved accountability to all the nations and regions of the UK. It is vital that Wales and the other devolved nations are appropriately represented on whatever new governance structure is put in place. Any changes to the governance or regulatory arrangements of the BBC must fully reflect the reality of devolved government in the UK. The three nations have had trustees on every iteration of the BBC board structure since they were introduced in 1952. We would strongly oppose any move to do away with this geographic representation.”

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