Belfast Telegraph

GAA coverage not in our hands, says BBC after Sinn Fein's O'Neill hits out

Sinn Fein Deputy leader Michelle O'Neill
Sinn Fein Deputy leader Michelle O'Neill
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

The BBC has hit back at Sinn Fein in a row over live television coverage of Ulster Championship GAA matches.

Sinn Fein Deputy leader Michelle O'Neill called on the broadcaster to reverse its decision to slash its coverage, saying it had caused "huge anger" by only showing two live Championship matches in 2018.

But the BBC responded that it "would like to broadcast all of the games in the Ulster Championship live, but that is not only our decision to make" because RTE has a stranglehold on terrestrial broadcasting rights.

The Sinn Fein vice president claimed the BBC move to reduce the number of live televised games broadcast in last year's competition from seven to just two has angered supporters.

"In advance of this year's Ulster Championship I believe the BBC should reverse the decision that saw such a drastic reduction in live televised matches in 2018," Mrs O'Neill said.

"Such programming decisions by a public broadcaster disproportionately and negatively impacts on the GAA community.

"They also create a perception in that community that the BBC, as the world's biggest broadcasting organisation, has a clear bias against Irish national games.

"In my view there is a clear public service obligation on the BBC to facilitate widespread access to GAA coverage in a manner that reflects the popularity of, and interest in, all levels of Gaelic games, which includes National League and provincial club championships.

"These are issues that my party colleagues Senator Niall O Donnghaile and Sinead Ennis MLA have previously raised with the BBC, but to date there has been little tangible progress.

"I have therefore written to the director of the BBC in Belfast seeking a meeting to discuss what substantive preparations are being made to improve GAA coverage for spectators in the north."

BBC Northern Ireland said the decision to broadcast only two matches from the 2018 Championship was one taken out of its hands by the reality of broadcasting rights.

"Currently, BBC Northern Ireland can only broadcast live any Ulster Championship match selected for live broadcast by RTE," it said.

"In 2018 we broadcast only two games live on BBC Two Northern Ireland on that basis and a further two live games were available on the BBC iPlayer.

"Fans were also able to watch deferred coverage of the other four ties in full on BBC Two Northern Ireland.

"All eight games were available to watch via the BBC's iPlayer catch-up service afterwards."

The BBC added: "We would like to broadcast all of the games in the Ulster Championship live, but that is not only our decision to make. The coverage we are able to secure depends on partnership agreements with other broadcasters and the rights holders and the rights that are actually available.

"We do provide the outside broadcasting resources and infrastructure to cover eight Ulster Championship games. Which of these eight games we can broadcast live, is then determined by the rights with partners and broadcasters.

"We understand the importance of these games to local audiences and remain committed to maximising the range, impact and volume of coverage of GAA across our different platforms."

The Ulster Council's Declan Woods said the organisation is always open to finding new ways to promote the sport.

"The reality is that, as things stand, the BBC don't have the rights to show live championship games. The rights are dealt with nationally and lie with RTE," he said.

"The BBC arrangement is that it can provide a joint live coverage when RTE are showing games. That's what happened last season. RTE broadcast two games live, BBC provided both of those.

"We are always open to exploring new ways to promote the sport through all media channels, including the BBC."

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