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Calls for BBC NI to 'reverse' decision to axe live television coverage of Twelfth of July parade

Calls for BBC Northern Ireland to "reverse" its decision to axe the live television coverage of Twelfth of July parade. Picture by Pacemaker

THERE were calls last night for BBC Northern Ireland to "reverse" a decision to axe live television coverage of Belfast's Twelfth of July parade.

The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland voiced "immense disappointment", while unionist politicians it was "totally irrational".

The broadcaster confirmed that "after careful consideration", it would not run live television coverage. An extended highlights show from eight locations will be aired instead.

BBC NI interim director Adam Smyth said it was part of efforts "to better and more fully reflect" the Twelfth.

Orange Order Grand Secretary Mervyn Gibson and DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson held a meeting with Mr Smyth on Thursday and asked him to reconsider.

An Orange Order spokesman said the move was "reached without meaningful discussion or consultation".

"It is immensely disappointing and frustrating, not only for our members, but for the many members of the public who watch the programme each year," he 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."

He said it was "hard to accept this as anything other than a further snub to the wider Protestant, unionist and loyalist community and our culture".

Speaking on BBC Talkback, Rev Gibson said he "raised the point about the GAA coverage" during discussions with Mr Smyth.

"Our community and indeed many within the nationalist community, regard them as equal in terms of culture and influence," he said.

"We are asking for one live coverage of the biggest day of the year. It's like the All Ireland final, but the All Ireland is not just covered, we have all the other matches covered - which I'm not objecting to, but what I will object to is when our culture then suffers and something is taken away from it - and there is no cost cutting with regard to GAA coverage. It's simply one culture being put above the other."

But Mr Smyth said the decision was taken for audience reasons and "not to diminish" the importance of the Twelfth to the unionist community.

"There are 80 per cent more people available to watch the highlights programme in the evening than there are available to watch the live programme during the day," Mr Smyth said.

"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."

He denied allegations BBC NI was biased against the unionist/loyalist community and said the station "acts in fairness and impartiality".

DUP MP Ian Paisley is to raise concerns with UK's culture secretary Nadine Dorries while his party colleague Gregory Campbell said the decision to cut live coverage was "a clear signal" of the importance the BBC placed on the event.

UUP MLA John Stewart said it was "the wrong decision" and "one that they should reverse".

But political commentator Brian Feeney said: "I think it is entirely correct."

"I think it is long overdue - it reflects the changing position of unionism in the north of Ireland and the diminishing role of the Orange Order - thank goodness.

"The role of the Orange Order in the establishment in north of Ireland has gone and its role in politics and its role in society.

"Most unionists don't watch the Orange Order parade on 12 July."

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