BBC NI's team at Euro2016 to outnumber players in Northern ireland squad
BBC Northern Ireland has been slammed after refusing to say how many staff it is sending to Euro 2016 - and how much it is costing the public.
The broadcaster announced yesterday that more than 250 employees will be in France for this summer's finals.
But its Northern Ireland wing is staying silent on the numbers travelling from Belfast for the tournament. It has stonewalled questions from this newspaper about staff size and the cost to licence payers.
DUP MP Sammy Wilson accused the publicly-funded broadcaster of hypocrisy, citing its frequent investigations into public expenditure.
"It doesn't surprise me because the one thing the BBC hates is scrutiny of its spending," he told the Belfast Telegraph. "The BBC demands licence-payers' money, takes people to court if they don't pay, yet doesn't have any accountability when it comes to its own spending."
Euro 2016 will be Northern Ireland's first major tournament for 30 years. The Republic have also qualified, as have England and Wales. It means unprecedented interest from UK media in this summer's finals. The television rights are shared by the BBC and ITV.
The BBC is also planning extensive radio and online coverage. Yesterday its director of sport, Barbara Slater, pledged the BBC's coverage of the Euros would be "unrivalled" in depth and breadth.
She confirmed 258 staff would be sent to France for the month-long tournament. However, the BBC refused to say how many of these would be from BBCNI, whose main sports presenter is Stephen Watson. The BBC also stonewalled questions about the cost of sending staff.
A spokesman said: "We don't disclose production costs as this is commercially sensitive information."
However, Mr Wilson said there was an onus for the BBC to be accountable to its fee-paying audience. "The BBC is a public body, and it demands all kinds of information about spending," he added. "You name it, it has questioned it. It has campaigned, along with others, to ensure that the Freedom of Information Act is not changed and yet it is acting in a covert manner when it comes to its own spending. The words pot, kettle and black come to mind when you hear the excuses."
Two years ago the BBC was criticised after it sent twice as many staff as ITV to cover the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. BBC and ITV split World Cup coverage down the middle, yet the licence fee-funded Corporation sent 272 staff, compared to ITV's 120.
Mr Wilson added: "I suspect one of the reasons for its embarrassment is that it is sending an enormous number of people compared to others."
Ms Slater said 39 million people watched the BBC's coverage of Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine.
She added that France 2016 has added excitement for home nation fans after Northern Ireland and Wales qualified.
"BBC Wales and BBC Northern Ireland will be on site to relay the latest news from within the respective camps, capture the stories from the legions of travelling fans and provide Welsh language services," she said.
The TV rights to games are split with ITV. The BBC is showing Northern Ireland's opening game with Poland on June 12, and the final group fixture against Germany on June 21.
ITV will have coverage of the game against Ukraine on June 16. The Republic of Ireland's first match versus Sweden is on the BBC, while the games against Belgium and Italy are on ITV.
The BBC will broadcast the highly anticipated home nations clash between England and Wales.
ITV will show England's first and final group games against Russia and Slovakia.
Wales' first match at a major tournament since 1958, against Slovakia, will be on the BBC.