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Concerns raised over Gaelic television funding

The Gaelic Media Service has expressed serious concern about the minimal level of additional funding provided to the Service in the Scottish Executive’s spending plan, announced last week.
Neil Fraser, Chairman of the Gaelic Media Service, said: “No increase in 2005/2006 and mere token increases in the two subsequent years is a major disappointment to us and to the Gaelic community, which anticipated an improved Gaelic broadcasting service when the GMS was established with additional powers under the Communications Act of 2003. The buck has been passed for far too long between different jurisdictions, to the detriment of the Gaelic community. It is ironic that Gaelic broadcasting should have become an inadvertent victim rather than beneficiary of devolution. The GMS had requested the Scottish Executive to restore the original value of the Fund to an index-linked figure, and the UK Department of Culture Media and Sport to provide the additional resources to establish a digital service. Not only is it impossible at this point to maintain the present inadequate provision; it makes planning for a Gaelic digital channel irrelevant. It also renders the new powers of the GMS meaningless.”
When it was created in 1992 the Gaelic Television Fund amounted to £9.5 million, estimated to provide 200 hours of original television programming annually. A subsequent decrease to £8.5 million, coupled with rising costs, has reduced that hourage by 25 per cent. Had the fund been increased annually in accordance with the retail price index, as has been funding for Welsh television, it would now be £12.8 million. “This would not be sufficient for a dedicated channel, but it would be a starting point for an appropriate service,” Neil Fraser said.
Mr Fraser stressed that the Board of the GMS, while taking little comfort from the Scottish Executive’s announcement, would continue to strive towards the kind of quality broadcasting service that the Gaelic community has a right to expect and enjoy. “The challenge is now more formidable than ever,” he said. “Gaelic is the only part of the public broadcasting sector that has not benefited from increased public funding through indexation. It is apparent that the door to a Gaelic television channel is not going to be opened by the Scottish Executive, and we are urging the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to make a positive intervention. It is regrettable that Gaelic broadcasting has not benefited from the considerable additional finance that has been made available to Scotland since devolution. A tiny percentage of it would have maintained the value of the original Fund.”
The Gaelic Media Service is now assessing which of the current funded programmes and projects can be cut or condensed. Earlier reduction of the funding led to curtailment of news and drama output, which are core components of television programming. At this time any resumption of these programmes is unachievable. Nor is it possible to avoid a reduction in employment and training opportunities.
The Gaelic Media Service has asked the UK government, which holds reserved powers for broadcasting, to ensure that the Council of Europe criticisms are expeditiously addressed and that a Gaelic television channel returns to the agenda.

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