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Stop wasting TV licence cash on golf globetrotter Watson, petition tells BBC

By Cate McCurry

Published 13/04/2016

Stephen Watson and Rory McIlroy in Portugal
Stephen Watson and Rory McIlroy in Portugal
Stephen Watson in Augusta last week

Anger is growing over the rising cost of sending BBC Northern Ireland staff abroad to cover golf tournaments.

The broadcaster has been accused of "squandering" public cash, prompting an online petition calling for its Belfast wing to "stop wasting" TV licence money.

It follows BBC presenter Stephen Watson's latest trip to the US to cover the 2016 Masters.

He spent a week at Augusta National following the progress of stars Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke.

A petition entitled 'Stop Stephen Watson wasting our TV licence on trips abroad' was recently set up on Change.org.

The journalist has travelled to the US 14 times in the last six years for three Major championships.

While the BBC - which was recently criticised for refusing to say how many staff it was sending to Euro 2016 - defended its decision, it refused to reveal the travel costs involved.

A spokesperson said: "BBC Sport NI is committed to reporting on the performance of our internationally renowned stars, in whatever sport they play.

"There is currently a huge interest from audiences in Northern Ireland in our golfers. BBC Sport NI sends a presenter and cameraman to these events so that we can provide in-depth, personalised coverage.

"Travel costs on these occasions are scrutinised to ensure efficiency and value for money. We do not publish commercially sensitive details about programme costs."

The online petition slamming the spending states: "When certain sports are played outside of Northern Ireland, BBC NI sports reporter Stephen Watson is sent to report on them.

"I think it's time that he stayed at home to watch these sports on TV like the rest of us.

"The Masters in Augusta is starting and guess who is there? Yip, Stephen Watson.

"There are already enough mainland Britain (sic) reporters out in Augusta covering the Masters for live broadcasts."

One Belfast supporter of the petition said: "I feel it is an utter disgrace that this is being allowed to happen.

"I follow the law and I pay my TV licence. Why should it be allowed to be abused like this. It's an utter joke."

The DUP's Sammy Wilson also accused the BBC of hypocrisy and said the broadcaster needed to justify its costs.

"They can't demand transparency from everyone else that they report on and at the same time hide behind a veil of secrecy when it comes to their own financial affairs," he claimed.

"There's a huge dollop of hypocrisy there. It's a public body, it's publicly funded, it comes from the licence fee, which is demanded off the public.

"People are criminalised if they don't pay, so the public have a right to know how the licence fee is spent.

"A lot of these sport events are covered and sold on. Why don't they use that as a more efficient way of gathering more information?

"The BBC get their money far too easily and they squander it far too easily. They don't look for efficiencies."

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