Friday, 10 March 2017

Balance in the BBC

This week has passed very quickly.  I have started to clear up constituency cases as the first step in closing down my constituency office.  However that will take some time.

Alongside that I have spent two days in Armagh at a workshop for the Commission on Flags, Identity Culture and Tradition.  Over the past few months the Commission has held public meetings and sectoral meetings across Northern Ireland to hear as many views as possible.  Because of other commitments I was only able to attend the consultation event in the Spectrum Centre but if the other events were as frank and forthright as that one it was a very useful process.  The next stage for the Commission is to collate and consider the issues that have been raised but there will be another nine months of work before a final report is produced.

As well as interviews for both BBC and UTV on language issues, I have taken part in several radio programmes including Nolan, Talkback and the other Nolan radio programme on Five Live.  I also have a television programme lined up for Monday night and continue to write a weekly column in the Belfast Telegraph.

The BBC is a 'public service broadcaster', paid for by the public, and has particular responsibilities as regards fairness and balance.  I took the opportunity to highlight that issue of balance, especially in regard to commentators and contributors.  It seems to be that too often it is the same people on the same programmes, time after time after time.  Simply relying on a handful of journalists and academics, who comprise the current 'commentariat', does not provide the necessary balance.  Even this morning a journalist from a unionist background highlighted to me some more examples of the imbalance and others have done the same.

For that reason I welcomed the opportunities of the past week and next week.  However there is need for a comprehensive review by the BBC and others of how they select their contributors and commentators, not just as regards political balance but other balances as well.

If we are to build a shared and better future in Northern Ireland, then the broadcast media have a role to play and this is an issue they need to address.

It is something I plan to return to in the Belfast Telegraph next week.

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