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GB News steals a march on BBC over Twelfth coverage

Ex-DUP leader Foster ‘incredibly proud’ to present live broadcast of Armagh parade

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A Twelfth parade makes its way along Shaftesbury Square in south Belfast

A Twelfth parade makes its way along Shaftesbury Square in south Belfast

A Twelfth parade makes its way along Shaftesbury Square in south Belfast

Unionists have welcomed plans by the GB News channel to provide live coverage of the Twelfth of July celebrations.

Seizing a broadcasting and PR opportunity, the channel made the surprise announcement yesterday following a backlash against BBC Northern Ireland’s plans to replace live coverage of the parades with edited evening highlights.

Dame Arlene Foster, the former DUP first minister and now a presenter on GB News, will be leading the coverage and said she was “incredibly proud” that her new employer had stepped in.

The live coverage will focus on this year’s largest parade in Armagh, and the programme is expected to last around one hour.

In a statement, GB News said it acted after the BBC’s “controversial last-minute decision to drop their live coverage”.

Dame Arlene commented: “One of the reasons I joined GB News was to bring a better understanding of Northern Ireland life and culture to a wider UK audience. GB News stands for inclusion, of all regional voices, and the Orange Parades are core to our voice in Northern Ireland.”

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Former DUP leader Arlene Foster

Former DUP leader Arlene Foster

Former DUP leader Arlene Foster

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GB News’ Northern Ireland correspondent, Douglas Beattie, said the coverage would “explain the patriotism, pageantry and colour” of the processions.

“The BBC has huge resources so it’s a challenge to mount this broadcast at such short notice, but that makes it even more exciting,” he said.

"And as we proved with the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, you don’t need to be the biggest broadcaster to win viewers’ hearts.”

Taking issue with the new BBC plans for the coverage, he said: “Edited highlights are never the same — you really need live coverage to capture the immediacy, passion and emotion of the Orange Parades, so that’s what we’ll deliver.”

Unionists and Orange Order members were also quick to welcome the development.

Senior Orangeman Edward Stevenson said he was delighted by the news.

"Live coverage of the Twelfth is very important to so many people, particularly those who are unable to attend parades for a range of reasons,” he said.

"We were inundated with calls, many of them from older people who were concerned that they would miss out on this year's parades. So I am in no doubt that this announcement will come as a huge boost.”

The Orange Order’s Grand Secretary, Rev Mervyn Gibson, told BBC Evening Extra the organisation had been working with GB News to plan the coverage.

He said his understanding is the coverage would last around an hour and focus on Armagh.

While there had been anger towards the BBC, he said the Orange Order would continue to cooperate in recording material for the edited highlights.

The DUP’s Upper Bann MLA Diane Dodds commended GB News after the BBC’s “outrageous” decision, and said it had indicated the broadcaster was out of touch with local audiences.

"It stands in contrast to the GB News decision which evidently wants to reach into the unique blend of identities which make up our great United Kingdom.”

The TUV’s Newry and Armagh spokesperson, Keith Ratcliffe, said it now raised questions about the BBC licence fee.

“If a relatively new, non-publicly funded broadcaster can find the resources to cover the Twelfth live what are we to make of the BBC excuse that they cannot do it because of financial pressures?”

Last week, a BBC NI spokesperson insisted the significance of the Twelfth celebrations will be properly acknowledged.

“We know that the Orange tradition is important for many people and that it forms part of the wider diversity of local society… this is something that we’ll want to describe and explain as part of our 12 July coverage — and more generally.”


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