Belfast Telegraph

BBC coverage of final stages of Haass talks brings out critics

BY CLAIRE WILLIAMSON

The BBC has come under fire for airing pre-recorded shows on the day Northern Ireland's most important political negotiations in years broke up.

New Year's Eve marked the culmination of months of talks chaired by former US diplomat Richard Haass, when the parties failed to reach agreement on flags, parades and the past.

As media analysis, comment and debate ensued in the aftermath, the BBC came under scrutiny after two of its main current affairs programmes – The Stephen Nolan Show and Talkback – aired pre-recorded shows.

Neither contained coverage of the Haass talks, despite New Year's Eve not being a public holiday.

DUP MLA Jimmy Spratt said: "I would have thought something so fundamental should have been aired on the major programmes yesterday and some form of emergency procedure put in place by the BBC in bringing somebody else in on the fundamental day."

In a statement the BBC said: "BBC Radio Ulster gave extensive live coverage of the Haass talks on Good Morning Ulster and Evening Extra and in news bulletins throughout the day and the story was also covered on BBC News Online and BBC News NI television bulletins.

"As scheduled and as is the norm at this time of year, The Nolan Show and Talkback on BBC Radio Ulster broadcast a review of major stories of the year."

Meanwhile, questions have been raised over a comment made in a BBC news review of 2013 about Health Minister Edwin Poots.

On Good Morning Ulster, health correspondent Marie-Louise Connolly said: "In last year's review I looked forward to the hyponatraemia inquiry ending, Northern Ireland abortion guidelines being published and children's heart services being sorted once and for all. I also questioned if Edwin Poots would remain in his post. Let's hope 2014 brings developments in all of those areas."

DUP MLA Jimmy Spratt said: "It is not appropriate for her to say that."

The BBC denied claims of impropriety. Its own guidelines on impartiality for staff says reporters "may offer professional judgments rooted in evidence" but "it is not normally appropriate for them to present or write personal view programmes and content on public policy, or on matters of political or industrial controversy".

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