Scotland could lose its dedicated Gaelic channel and see a decline in the use of the language unless BBC Alba wins a better financial deal, its operator has warned.
MG Alba says the future of the station has been left in the balance by the BBC’s new royal charter because it does not spell out specific guarantees on future funding.
It has warned that at least 300 jobs are at risk unless MG Alba wins a significant improvement on its current £5.5 million annual settlement from the BBC. Senior figures say the channel has reached a “crossroads” due to an over-reliance on repeats, which make up 74 per cent of programming.
MG Alba, which runs BBC Alba in partnership with the corporation, is angry that it has failed to win a promise of parity with Wales’s language channel. It wants the BBC to contribute ten hours a week of original content – to bring it into line with S4C.
MG Alba chiefs set out their ambitions at a broadcasting summit in Edinburgh and a reception at Holyrood. A promotional film described how it was “bringing Gaelic language and culture to a broader audience, enabling the normalisation of Gaelic in everyday life”.
It went on: “BBC Alba is currently working with 26 production companies in Scotland and sustains hundreds of high-quality jobs, many in economically fragile areas. With less than two hours per day of new programmes, BBC Alba aspires to build on the success of the channel and increase the range and depth of its offering to audiences.
“The Gaelic language is a unique precious asset and is under threat. With a clear policy foundation and better financial support, BBC Alba can make an even greater contribution to the revitalisation of Gaelic.”
An agreement between the government and the corporation states for the first time that the BBC “must continue to support the provision of output in the Gaelic language in Scotland”.
Donald Campbell, MG Alba chief executive, said: “Until now, there’s been no explicit policy commitment to a Gaelic TV channel. We finally have some progress towards that, but it is not enough.
“It [the charter] fails to set out a cohesive and coherent policy for minority language broadcasting. It fails to set out a consistent approach to the two minority language channels.
“We can look at Gaelic as a minority interest which sits on the margins of our field of vision or we can see it as an asset for the whole of our nation and the BBC.
“Gaelic media is a creative and cultural asset for the whole of Scotland and even for the UK. There is no room for complacency. If we don’t build on the success of BBC Alba we’re going to lose it.”
MG Alba chair Maggie Cunningham added: “It’s absolutely vital that, over the next few years, investment in BBC Alba is real, and the number of original programmes we make increases so that Gaelic continues to be an important part of the rich tapestry of Scotland.”