Belfast Telegraph

BBC NI accused of not showing enough GAA

By Rebecca Black

A fresh row has erupted over coverage of local sport on BBC Northern Ireland after Sinn Fein demanded more airtime for GAA.

Sinn Fein MLA Sinead Ennis has claimed the limited amount of Gaelic games on BBC NI is a source of "huge frustration", and that it does not reflect the popularity of the sport.

Yet her comments have caused controversy, with others citing the lack of airtime given to Irish League football by the BBC.

Ms Ennis is seeking a meeting with the head of sport at BBC NI to demand more GAA be shown.

The GAA negotiates broadcasting deals nationally for major competitions such as inter-county matches and the All Ireland.

All broadcasters are invited to tender. Last year a five-year deal was agreed to run until 2022.

Meanwhile, Ulster GAA negotiate directly with BBC NI over the rights to broadcast Ulster-specific events such as the Dr McKenna Cup and McCrory Cup.

Ms Ennis said that while she understands there are restrictions imposed by broadcasting deals with RTE and Sky, many do not have access to these stations, and she has called for further options to be explored.

However, Ulster Unionist MLA Andy Allen hit back claiming that local football receives less coverage and is also popular across the province.

The BBC's local sports coverage has long been a source of controversy. The BBC hold the TV rights to the Danske Bank Premiership - Northern Ireland's top football division - but provide limited coverage.

Brief highlights are shown on Saturday evenings in their Final Score programme - but this can be as short as 10 minutes and is screened around 5pm, when many fans would be on their way home from games.

The only local game shown live is the Irish Cup final. Five league games a season - and the Bet McLean League Cup - are broadcast live on Sky Sports.

Northern Ireland is the only country in Europe where the top domestic league doesn't have its own dedicated TV highlights show. By contrast, RTE shows a weekly wrap of the Republic's Airtricity League, as well as some live games.

The BBC does carry clips of match highlights online, has a weekly half-hour Irish League Show on iPlayer and Radio Ulster's Saturday Sportsound show carries coverage of the day's football.

Mr Allen said: "The GAA has chosen to sell the rights to gaelic games to RTE and Sky as part of a commercial deal and that is hardly the fault of the BBC.

"Fans of Irish League football will be looking on in amazement at complaints that the BBC does not provide adequate coverage of gaelic games.

"BBC Newsline's teatime bulletins seem to have gaelic coverage every night, whereas local football fans are lucky to see a goal from a match, with coverage being confined to an online show. I believe that BBC NI should look at producing a half hour local Irish League football highlights show and showing it on TV."

A spokesperson for BBC NI said: "BBC Sport NI is committed to bringing local audiences a range of sports. We constantly review our output, looking at new and innovative ways to invest in our coverage across all our platforms - within the highly competitive context of sports rights."

Belfast Telegraph

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