Maggie Cunningham: Gaels deserve as much TV as Welsh

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The ink may still be drying on the UK government’s White Paper on the BBC Charter Renewal, but Scotland’s broadcasting sector has wasted no time in digesting what it will mean for the industry over the next decade.

The White Paper is clear that the BBC should maintain its commitment to Gaelic language broadcasting through its partnership with MG ALBA which delivers BBC ALBA.

With support for Scotland’s production companies – and for indigenous language broadcasting – at the core of the White Paper, the challenge of building on the clear success that BBC ALBA has been over the past eight years lies with the BBC.

For me, as chairperson of MG ALBA, that means achieving parity for BBC ALBA with the contribution made by the BBC to our Welsh counterparts, S4C. The BBC currently contributes around 4.5 hours of original programming per week to BBC ALBA. In comparison, the BBC is required by parliament to contribute 10 hours per week of original programming to S4C and also to provide cash funding to S4C that dwarfs Gaelic broadcasting funding in Scotland. We believe that the BBC’s commitment to BBC ALBA should match its commitment to 10 hours per week programming for S4C.

I would urge a close examination of BBC ALBA’s success since 2008. From a standing start, it is now firmly embedded in the Scottish broadcasting landscape and is enjoyed by both Gaelic and non-Gaelic-speaking viewers alike. Viewing figures have consistently outstripped the targets set, and we have seen healthy demand for our content on platforms such as BBC iPlayer.

However, we are not complacent. Our high repeat rate presents a major challenge, and some of our genres are not adequately resourced with clear gaps in the schedule across news, drama, comedy and children’s programming. The most underserved demographic is our most important one, children and young people, and we must provide for them as a matter of urgency.

As the BBC commits to devolving decision making and hopefully ensures there is greater funding for programming in Scotland, part of that settlement must include a commitment to 10 hours of original programmes for BBC ALBA. This should be over and above the BBC’s commitment for more resources for BBC Scotland for all audiences in Scotland.

Why does this matter? It matters because Gaelic is part of the heart and soul of Scotland. It is as embedded as our mountains and glens – most of them are named in Gaelic. It is a civil right for Gaels to have a contemporary service in our language.

Our ambition is to have three hours of original programmes a day. It is modest and is what our loyal audience deserves.

Continuing to support the creative sector in Scotland is also very important for MG ALBA.

Next month, the channel’s drama series, Bannan – driven by the creative talent of The Inbetweeners’ producer Christopher Young – will debut new episodes at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Shortly before this, Hamish – a film to be broadcast on BBC ALBA about the Scottish cultural colossus Hamish Henderson and made with the support of MG ALBA and Creative Scotland – will tour various locations across the country.

These events are two snapshots, but neither would be achievable without what BBC ALBA has created since its inception. Our independent production sector – which is based across the whole of Scotland – is seen as amongst the most talented in the UK. With 50 per cent of all commissions to independents in Scotland made by BBC ALBA, not only is its presence of vital importance to Gaelic, its contribution to the creative sector over the past eight years has been invaluable.

The success of BBC ALBA has been recognised and applauded across the whole political spectrum and there is a clear understanding of its important contribution to a healthy and confident creative industry.

BBC ALBA has delivered well above expectation over the past eight years. With a greater commitment from the BBC, the possibility for the service to become firmly rooted as a strong creative force in the Scottish firmament will be assured.

Maggie Cunningham is chair of MG ALBA