‘Future of BBC is uncertain and Twelfth coverage cuts only damage it further’ – unionist politicians react to BBC ending its live feeds of the parades

The BBC’s latest decision on how it covers loyal order parades only serves to undermine its credibility at a time when its future is uncertain.

By Adam Kula
Friday, 10th June 2022, 4:07 pm
Updated Friday, 10th June 2022, 4:32 pm

That was the message from DUP MP Gregory Campbell today, as political reaction to the decision to scrap live Twelfth coverage came thick and fast.

Mr Campbell also noted that the move came less than a fortnight after the corporation faced tough questions over its coverage of the Northern Ireland centenary parade on May 28 – probably the biggest event of any kind to have taken place in Northern Ireland in at least a decade.

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Marchers during the Northern Ireland centenary parade from Stormont towards City Hall in Belfast, to commemorate the creation of Northern Ireland. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

The application to the Parades Commission had stated that 131 bands and 25,000 participants participated in the march, and the PSNI estimated there were about 100,000 spectators along the route.

The BBC said it had “detailed reports about the Orange Order’s centennial parade on BBC Newsline on May 28 and 30 [and] this was complemented by related coverage on the BBC News NI website and on BBC Radio Ulster”.

Many argued that confining it largely to news bulletins was inadequate, and News Letter editor Ben Lowry had demanded to know why the BBC did not allot at least a half-hour show to the spectacle.

GREGORY CAMPBELL:

East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell asserted that the Twelfth is “the single largest cultural event which takes place in Northern Ireland each year” - and noted that this latest announcement comes on the heels of claims that the BBC under-played the massive centenary parade on May 28.

“The BBC’s coverage of the recent parade celebrating the centenary of Northern Ireland was little short of pitiful,” he said.

“They managed to provide lower output than GB News with one full-time employee in Northern Ireland.

“The BBC has a multitude of outlets and huge resources at its disposal, so the only obvious reason for this was a lack of will to cover a significant event.

“A decision to axe live coverage of the 12th of July parade coming so soon after that is more than just unfortunate.

“It is a clear signal from BBC Northern Ireland of how much it cares about reflecting a hugely important event for a very significant section of our population. “The BBC nationally is in a period of transition with huge questions being asked about its future.

“Ultimately, it is decisions taken by the BBC itself however which create the greatest damage to what used to be one of our most important national institutions.”

THE UUP REACTS:

Ulster Unionist MLA John Stewart, a member of the Orange Order, called on the BBC to reverse the decision - particularly given that it lets the infirm and housebound view parades which they cannot get to in person.

“The programme which the BBC is discontinuing is also very well made,” he said.

“Not only does it contain live coverage of the Twelfth itself, but it’s also very educational with pre-recorded pieces about the history and background to the Twelfth, and those participating in it.

“To decide to drop it is totally irrational.”

Meanwhile a statement issued independently by UUP south Down councillor Alan Lewis said the move merely “opens opportunities for other broadcasters such as Sky or GB News” to fill the role the BBC has vacated.

He said: “The BBC have again reflected the opinion of many: that they are blind to the Orange tradition and are actively seeking to cleanse the airwaves [of them] by limiting coverage of these parades.

“I believe an opportunity now exists for Orange leaders to open discussions with other broadcasters, those who recognise the huge potential that a live broadcast would have.”

And a further statement from Tom Elliott, the recently-returned UUP MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, said: “I note the significant annual coverage that the BBC provide to other cultural activities.

“I will be asking the BBC to provide a comparison of the hours coverage delivered by them for a range of activities, groups and organisations.”

JIM ALLISTER:

TUV leader Jim Allister meanwhile said: “A few weekends ago we had the spectacular centenary parade which, in the eyes of the BBC, merited a couple of minutes on the news programmes.

“The same weekend we had a GAA match involving the county team, as I understand it from Co Londonderry, who were successful.

“That was wall-to-wall coverage in a sense... dwarfing anything relating to the centenary parade.

“So I think there’s a living illustration of where the bias lies corporately in terms of the coverage.”

Stephen Nolan called this an “outrageous attack on those people that need to make fine judgements within the BBC”.

He also said that the BBC “cannot win in a divided society” when it comes to balancing its coverage.