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MLAs support broadcasting commission for Northern Ireland

18 November 2008

As political support for the campaign to save jobs at UTV grows, a Northern Irish (NI) Assembly minister has supported the creation of a specialist body to investigate broadcasting in the region. Up to 35 jobs are under threat.

Gregory Campbell, Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, has confirmed that he is considering the establishment of a broadcasting commission for Northern Ireland. In the Assembly yesterday, MLAs again expressed concern at Ofcom's proposals to reduce UTV's public service broadcasting obligations.

Pat Ramsey of the SDLP warned the Assembly that the excellence of UTV's current affairs programmes will be devalued because of the reduction in local content. He said now is the time for the establishment of a broadcasting commission to discuss redundancies, broadcasting and communications policy.

Gregory Campbell said the establishment of a commission was under active consideration. David McNarry, Ulster Unionist MLA, said Ofcom's review had given UTV the right to cut its regional news broadcasting by half in order to save money. Stressing the civic role of broadcasting, he said the embedment of peace and normalisation of society in Northern Ireland are closely linked to news and current affairs.

Séamus Dooley, NUJ Irish Secretary, welcomed the strong support for the campaign, which will be stepped up on Thursday when both unions address the Assembly's Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee.

Ofcom and UTV management will also address Thursday's meeting in the latest showdown over the threat to employment and programming at UTV. It follows last week's public consultation meeting in Belfast at which Séamus Dooley strongly criticised Ofcom for appearing to concede that public service broadcasting should be refashioned to meet the needs of commercial broadcasters.

He also restated the NUJ position that insufficient research has been carried out by Ofcom on alternative sources of funding. MLA Barry McElduff, Chair of the culture committee , told the conference that he was extremely concerned at the threat to employment and broadcasting quality in UTV's plans.

A full debate on Ofcom's proposals and the decision of UTV to axe jobs will take place in the Assembly next Monday. Broadcasting is not a devolved function and, as such, is the responsibility of Westminster. However, Gregory Campbell told MLAs yesterday that he has agreed to a future meeting with Linda Fabiani and Alun Ffred Jones, his ministerial colleagues in the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly Government, to discuss broadcasting issues in light of the Ofcom review.

Negotiations at UTV are due to recommence tomorrow afternoon.

Tags: , utv, cuts, assembly northern ireland, cuts, broadcasting authority of ireland, sdlp, ulster unionists, dup, ofcom, redundancies, government scotland, assembly wales