Northern Ireland news

BBC axes live coverage of Twelfth parade

The Twelfth of July parade in Belfast has previously been broadcast live by the BBC. Picture by Hugh Russell

BBC Northern Ireland has confirmed it will no longer provide live coverage of Belfast's Twelfth of July parade.

In a lettter addressed to the Orange Order, BBC NI Interim Director Adam Smyth said the decision to replace live coverage with an hour-long highlight show in the evening had been taken "after careful consideration".

The Twelfth parades were cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic with scaled-down marches held in local areas last year.

Representatives from the BBC met Grand Secretary of the Orange Order Mervyn Gibson and DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson yesterday amid speculation that live coverage was going to be halted.

In his letter, Mr Smyth said the decision was "based on all usual editorial considerations”.

He said: “We will also want to explore how we can make audiences aware of other BBC programmes about the Orange tradition, coinciding with this year’s 12 July programming and will confirm these and other broadcast details shortly.”

Mr Smyth said the broadcaster would be "seeking to describe and explain the significance of what is happening and make it more generally accessible including to those with other backgrounds and beliefs.”

A spokesman for the Orange Order said: “The BBC is a public broadcasting service and to cancel live coverage of the Twelfth of July - the biggest cultural event in Northern Ireland with tens of thousands taking part and hundreds of thousands more watching at the eighteen host venues – defies logic.

“We pointed out many people cannot attend Twelfth of July parades for a range of reasons. Many are housebound due to illness or old age, while others are in nursing homes – they are the people who will be impacted most by this decision.

“It is hard to accept this as anything other than a further snub to the wider Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist Community and our culture.”

Speaking to BBC News today, Mr Smyth said: "There are 80% more people available to watch the highlights programme in the evening than there are available to watch the live programme during the day.

"But more than that, I think putting some of our resources into the highlights programme, allows us to get out of Belfast to see all of Northern Ireland, and to really capture the richness of the cultural event that it is beyond Belfast, where we've been focused for quite some time.

"We do understand how much value people put on the Twelfth and in no way are we seeking to deny any of that, but we're trying to shape our resources to maximise the audience benefit."

But DUP MP Gregory Campbell said: "It is a clear signal from BBC Northern Ireland of how much it cares about reflecting a hugely important event for a very significant section of our population.

"The BBC appear to be presenting the live coverage in the early part of the day and the highlights programme at night as an either/or option.

"There is no real explanation as to why live coverage cannot happen alongside a later programme which always provided coverage from across Northern Ireland.

"The ultimate measure is that there will be fewer minutes of programming this year dedicated to the single largest cultural event which takes place in Northern Ireland each year."

Ulster Unionist MLA and Orange Order member John Stewart called on the BBC to reverse the decision.

He said: "This is the wrong decision by the management of BBC Northern Ireland and it's one that they should reverse.

"The Twelfth of July is one of the biggest events of the year in Northern Ireland which generates millions for the local economy.

"The programme which the BBC is discontinuing is also very well made.

"Not only does it contain live coverage of the Twelfth itself, but it's also very educational with pre-recorded pieces about the history and background to the Twelfth, and those participating in it.

"To decide to drop it is totally irrational. I would appeal to Adam Smyth, the interim director of BBC Northern Ireland, and his senior colleagues to reverse this decision."

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