Experts call for BBC Alba subtitles in Gaelic

These singers at the Mod could soon be watching TV with Gaelic subtitles. Picture: William ThorntonThese singers at the Mod could soon be watching TV with Gaelic subtitles. Picture: William Thornton
These singers at the Mod could soon be watching TV with Gaelic subtitles. Picture: William Thornton
ASPIRING Gaelic speakers could be helped by adding Gaelic subtitles to programmes broadcast on BBC Alba, language campaigners claim.

The move is supported by the website Gàidhlig TV, which promotes the learning of the language. Lisa Storey, the writer behind the campaign, said the absence of Gaelic subtitles on the Gaelic television channel hinders the ability of people to become fluent in all aspects of the language. Currently only English subtitles appear on screen.

“A great deal of the channel’s programming for adults contains English language content – a deliberate policy decision by broadcasters – with no Gaelic subtitling/captioning, dubbing or voice-overs,” Storey said.

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“English language subtitles are imposed on the majority of programmes for adults, with no opt-out opportunity.

“Gaelic subtitles – for the very language the channel is supposed to represent – are not provided as an option, therefore limiting access service provision for fluent speakers or learners of the language. Learners are a key target audience for the channel also.”

The decision to introduce ‘red button facilities’ to allow viewers to switch to English language sports commentary, first announced in August for rugby and the Guinness Pro12 series, was heavily criticised by the Gaelic community.

Andrew Lambourne, a leading industry expert on access services for television who has been involved in the subtitling industry for the past 35 years, supports the campaign.


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He said: “Scotland’s only Gaelic channel, BBC Alba, provides little or no access service provision in Gaelic.

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“There have been cases of ‘Gaelic’ programmes being conducted almost entirely through the medium of ­English.

“In 2014, a new ‘facility’ was introduced for selected live programming on BBC Alba. This was the ‘red button’ English language option, allowing viewers to cease listening in Gaelic and switch to English.

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“This caused consternation among Gaels, many of whom had previously lent their support to a successful campaign for establishment of Gaelic television services.

“During the 1990s and indeed right up until the channel was secured in the first decade of the 21st century, Gaels were urged to emphasise arguments from a ‘minority rights’ perspective: that the linguistic and cultural rights of Gaelic speakers were important and should be respected within the UK.

“Fast forward to 2014, and it would appear the essential raison d’être of the Gaelic channel – to provide a Gaelic language service for Gaelic speakers – is being undermined.

“BBC Alba’s identity crisis needs to be addressed too. The channel cannot claim to be a Gaelic channel until it significantly reduces the level of English language content regularly appearing in its programmes.

“If a significant level of English language content is inevitable – and we question whether it is – then Gaelic language audio through voice-over technology and/or dubbing, as well as support through Gaelic subtitling, must be provided as essential.”

Last night a spokesman for MG Alba, the Gaelic media service, said: “The integrity of Gaelic is of paramount importance to BBC Alba.

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“As the BBC’s partner, MG Alba invests heavily in viewer research. Where English features, there is a deliberate editorial reason for doing so. Part of our remit is to raise awareness of Gaelic and introduce non-speakers to the language. That is why Gaelic and English are entwined in some of the ­programming.”


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