NI Centennial parade coverage row: BBC’s ‘gross misjudgment’ to be raised with Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries

The DUP said last night it will speak to the Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries about why the BBC warranted only a few minutes of television to the Northern Ireland Centennial parade that attracted some 125,000 people.

East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said the party will be raising the issue with the minister who has been an outspoken critic of some BBC news and current affairs coverage, and who has questioned the long-term validity of the licence fee.

Mr Campbell said: “My colleague Deborah Erskine has rightly raised the BBC’s poor coverage of Saturday’s centenary parade. The number of events in Northern Ireland or indeed anywhere in the United Kingdom on Saturday with 125,000 people attending would have been fairly low. It was a gross misjudgment of the BBC planners that national coverage of the event was unavailable.”

He continued: “It is incredible that GB News with one permanent reporter in Northern Ireland was able to provide live reporting whilst our national broadcaster, collecting approximately £100 million in annual licence fee payments in Northern Ireland, was unable to even provide a streaming service on their website.

Saturday’s parade brought 125,000 people onto the streets of Belfast to celebrate Northern Ireland’s centenary

“We will be raising this matter with the culture secretary in due course in the context of her review on the impartiality and the effectiveness of the BBC reflecting the population.”

Fermanagh/South Tyrone MLA Ms Erskine pointed out that Irish public service broadcaster RTE gave as much, if not more, coverage of the event.

She said she hoped BBC Northern Ireland had secured much more footage to provide a fuller report on the day.

Ms Erskine, who raised the complaint about BBC NI coverage with the corporation at the start of this week, has written back to the interim head of News and Current Affairs.

In her response the DUP MLA said: “Of course I am very aware of the excellent podcast series by Declan Harvey and Tara Mills charting some very thoughtful contributions about Northern Ireland’s birth.

“I was however, focusing solely on the coverage of the Grand Lodge of Ireland’s event.”

She continued: “You speak of detailed coverage on May 28 and 30 – can you elaborate?

“Was this on radio, television or what, in terms of airtime, what was the time allocated to the event?

“Will there be further coverage of the event? These answers would be most helpful to me in replying to my constituents.”

Ms Erskine said: “The BBC reply is weak. Of course the BBC in 2021 commissioned special programmes to cover the centenary year but my letter was not about that. My question focused on an event with 125,000 people participating and the national BBC was absent while the local BBC took a minimalist approach. It is quite incredible that the BBC reply doesn’t even seem to grasp that point.”

She added: “The BBC should hold their hands up and accept that they dropped the ball unless there is some special catch-up programme that I am unaware of.

“Saturday’s event with 125,000 people probably reached more people than many of the BBC NI programmes.”

TUV East Antrim representative Norman Boyd said: “The BBC was happy to give wall to wall coverage to a service last year which supposedly marked the centenary while barely managing the words Northern Ireland, and one of their headlines after the event was given over to the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh lamenting the supposed evils of Northern Ireland ever being created.

“The massive display on Saturday merited nothing more than a couple of minutes on the evening news – no attempt to do justice to the colour, music and pageantry of the day or attempt to reflect on why so many people love our country.

“It was a shameful dereliction of duty particularly when one remembers there have been many people who because of age or infirmity couldn’t make it to Belfast who would have loved to have been there.”

Saturday’s Centennial celebrations took place in a “happy family atmosphere” according to PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne who praised the Orange Order leadership for their “considerate planning of the event”.

Despite having 500 officers on duty throughout the route of the parade the PSNI reported no major incidents.

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