Orange Order: BBC snub to NI’s top cultural event of the year defies logic

The Orange Order has accused the BBC of “snubbing” the unionist and Protestant community at large by scaling back its coverage of the Twelfth of July.

Rumours had been spreading on Thursday night that such a move may be on the cards, but yesterday morning the BBC confirmed that the speculation was indeed true.

Its plan is for an end to its live coverage of the parades, whilst continuing to produce a pre-recorded show giving the highlights of the day, slated to be one hour long.

This has led to a ferocious reaction from some unionist quarters, given the scale of the annual spectacle and the BBC’s long-running use of live coverage, ultimately dating back to before the Troubles.

The July 12 parade of 1960 passes BBC Broadcasting House as it makes its way down the Dublin Road in Belfast

In a statement yesterday, the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland voiced “immense disappointment”, saying the decision had come “without meaningful discussion or consultation”.

The Order said it had been made aware in advance that such a move may be in the pipeline, and that Grand Secretary Rev Mervyn Gibson and DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson had met with Adam Smyth, interim director of BBC Northern Ireland, to urge him to maintain the coverage.

It said: “The BBC is a public broadcasting service and to cancel live coverage of the Twelfth of July – the biggest cultural event in Northern Ireland with tens of thousands taking part, and hundreds of thousands more watching at 18 host venues, defies logic.

“We pointed out many people cannot attend Twelfth of July parades for a range of reasons.

“Many are housebound due to illness or old age, while others are in nursing homes – they are the people who will be impacted most by this decision.

“It is hard to accept this as anything other than a further snub to the wider Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist Community and our culture.”

The BBC first began providing live coverage of the Twelfth of July back in 1960.

Back then the BBC’s new outside broadcast unit began its coverage of the Twelfth in Belfast at 11.45am, in a broadcast scheduled to last an hour, alternating between Bedford Street in the city centre and the demonstration field at Finaghy to the south.

The TV news at 6pm had scenes from elsewhere in the Province, and later in the evening there was a 15-minute report which covered from two other provincial demonstrations, while on BBC radio there was a 20-minute ‘Twelfth’ programme starting at 1.15pm.

Turning to the modern day, the BBC’s online archive of its recent Twelfth coverage goes back to 2007.

Almost all the shows are unavailable to watch, but the basic details of what they involved are still listed there.

What this reveals is that in 2007 and 2008, the BBC’s coverage amounted to a 30 minute show broadcast at 11am on the Twelfth.

In 2009 this was increased to one hour, again starting at 11am.

Then in 2010, 2011, and 2012, it was increased again to be a 75 minute show at 11am each day.

And from 2013 onwards, the BBC broadcast a 75 minute live show from 11am, followed by a 30 minute round-up at roughly 10.30pm that night.

Obviously, due to Covid there was no coverage in 2020, and in 2021 the BBC coverage amounted to a one-hour show, shown at 10.30pm.