Donald Campbell: Viewers switched on to the potential of homegrown channel

SO OFTEN we hear that public apathy is so rife that any engagement with them is a complete waste of time unless it involves X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing or Celebrity Big Brother.

I am, therefore, very pleased to report that Scottish TV viewers have made it clear that they are not content to sit back in their armchairs and surrender their right to have their say in a small, but important, part of the future of broadcasting.

For the last 12 weeks, the BBC Trust has been carrying out an extensive public consultation exercise on the performance to date of BBC Alba and whether the channel should be made more accessible to viewers on Freeview. The consultation ended this week, and it would appear that Scots have responded in their thousands.

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The BBC Trust will make its decisions in March and those involved with BBC Alba have been delighted by the declarations of support the channel has received across Scotland and from people in all walks of life.

BBC Alba – the first new Scottish channel since the creation of STV – has been very well received attracting an average weekly audience of 220,000 viewers since it was launched, even though it is available only on Sky, Freesat and the BBC iPlayer.

This is a figure that is in line with the targets set by the BBC Trust and is one which could be increased substantially if the channel is made available on Freeview. This current viewing figure also puts the channel within the top 20 of satellite channels viewed in Scotland.

Our range of home-grown programming has appealed to both Gaelic and Scotland-wide audiences with bilingual programmes and Gaelic programmes with English subtitles. BBC Alba was never intended to be a Gaelic broadcasting ghetto and the strategy of attempting to reach a wider audience is proving the right one.

BBC Alba is a partnership between the BBC and MG Alba, the Gaelic Media Service. MG Alba receives 12.4 million of government support and the BBC contributes 4m of programmes. In comparison, S4C in Wales is supported to the tune of 100m from the UK government and around 25m of programmes from the BBC.

We are fully conscious of the need to produce best value and I would contend that the range of programming we produce has met that challenge.

While the channel fulfils a role in public service broadcasting, BBC Alba is also making a worthwhile contribution to the creative industries in Scotland. MG Alba employs people working on the channel in Glasgow, Inverness and Stornoway.

During the past year, BBC Alba has benefited the Scottish creative and independent production industries, commissioning work through 26 independent companies, including four new start-ups as well as generating new jobs throughout Scotland.

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BBC Alba has been a real milestone in Gaelic broadcasting and viewers' accessibility will certainly help towards the ambition expressed by education secretary Mike Russell of his vision for Scotland to create a new generation of Gaelic speakers.

It would be absurd to suggest that BBC Alba has found it all plain sailing since its launch. The pressure to continually develop and fund new programmes is constant.

However, what has been most gratifying is that throughout Scotland, from political leaders to the most important people of all – the viewers – there has been a wave of goodwill and a desire to see BBC Alba move on to the next level, a decision that now lies in the hands of the BBC Trust.

• Donald Campbell is chief executive of MG ALBA