A Minister has admitted to Ulster Unionist peer Lord Rogan that the UK Government was “disappointed with how the BBC handled its announcement of cuts to Radio Ulster and Radio Foyle.”
Lord Rogan wrote to Arts Minister Lord Parkinson in November expressing his “outrage” after a personal assurance that Radio Ulster and Radio Foyle would not be affected by BBC cuts proved to be inaccurate.
Following an announcement in October that programming on BBC local radio stations in England was to be reduced, Lord Rogan tabled a Parliamentary Question asking what discussions the Government had held with the BBC “about cuts to local radio services” and whether there had been “any indication that BBC Radio Ulster or BBC Radio Foyle, will be affected by such cuts”
In his response, Lord Parkinson said: “The BBC’s recent announcement will only affect the BBC’s local radio services in England. There should be no impact on BBC Radio Ulster or BBC Radio Foyle.”
It was later confirmed that BBC Northern Ireland is planning to cut local jobs and programming including the daily breakfast news programme on Radio Foyle and the Inside Business programme on Radio Ulster.
The Ulster Unionist peer wrote to Lord Parkinson seeking an explanation.
In the Government’s response to Lord Rogan, Media Minister Julia Lopez MP wrote: “When Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay answered your Written Parliamentary Question on 17 November, the only changes to BBC Radio services which my Department and I were aware of at the time were to those in England, and we had received no advance notice that reductions to BBC services in Northern Ireland would be announced on 29 November.
“Following the BBC’s announcement relating to England, I met the Chairman and Director-General of the BBC to outline our concerns and the strength of opposition across Parliament to the BBC’s proposals. I also raised the lack of warning the BBC had provided the Government about changes to local radio.
“I was therefore disappointed with how the BBC handled its announcement of cuts to Radio Ulster and Radio Foyle. Following the BBC’s announcement of cuts in Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State for DCMS, the Rt Hon Michelle Donelan MP wrote to the Chair and Director-General to communicate our concerns with how this was handled.”
Lord Rogan said: “I welcome the Minister’s candour but it would appear the situation remains unchanged with the axe continuing to hang over programming at Radio Foyle and also Radio Ulster with Inside Business set to follow Inside Politics on to the scrap heap.
“I share her disappointment at the manner in which the management of BBC Northern Ireland handled the situation with local licence fee payers paying a heavy price, together with those journalists likely to lose their jobs.
“I hope the situation can yet be rectified and a workable solution found.”