Belfast Telegraph

BBC NI stuck in the past and should reflect changing society, warns watchdog

By Adrian Rutherford

BBC Northern Ireland is stuck in the past and must do more to keep pace with our shifting society, a watchdog has said.

The broadcaster should showcase a wider range of stories reflecting contemporary and evolving life, according to a report by the BBC Audience Council.

The organisation said that BBC News NI should better reflect the region as it is today.

BBC trustee for Northern Ireland Aideen McGinley explained that the broadcaster was performing well, but also warned it must not become complacent.

"Audiences here are news-hungry and with high expectations," she added.

"They have made clear that while they value the BBC's services, they wish to see a wider range of subjects and voices to fully reflect life in Northern Ireland today."

The Audience Council advises the BBC Trust, the corporation's governing body, on interests and issues of licence fee-payers.

Its review looked at services across the UK, assessing the performance of the BBC's news and current affairs output across TV, radio and online.

It found strong demand from audiences for services, and BBC Radio Ulster/Foyle was found to make a strong contribution to BBC NI's overall performance. Around 36% of adults listen each week - higher than any other nation's radio station.

But the review also heard from audiences that BBC News NI and current affairs needed to continue to develop to meet changing audience expectations, given the political, cultural and demographic changes taking place.

A wide range of people suggested that too much of the news agenda was reported through a political lens.

"As the political situation stabilises, many people think there should also be a wider range of stories reflecting this contemporary and evolving society," the Audience Council said.

"They particularly want more focus on other ways into stories about public policy areas which impact on everyday lives, such as education and health."

The report additionally flagged up concerns about some BBC content, with some listeners indicating that drivetime programmes Good Morning Ulster and Evening Extra were becoming "less compelling", with items perceived to be more suited to a magazine programme.

Some also complained that BBC NI's website and news app were not updated enough.

A BBC spokesperson said: "We're pleased that the review shows that audiences in Northern Ireland greatly value the quality and range of our radio and news services, as well as believing that we provide good value for money.

"We cover a wide range of stories about all aspects of life in contemporary Northern Ireland, and over the past two years have increased the number of our specialist journalists and dedicated correspondents who regularly cover a wide range of stories, including agriculture and the environment, health and social affairs, economics, education and the arts.

"New programming and features have also been added to our programmes and schedules."

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