MSPs back BBC Alba on Freeview

Friday, February 12 2010, 12:00 GMT

By Andrew Laughlin,

Scottish politicians yesterday threw their weight behind calls for Gaelic TV service BBC Alba to secure carriage on Freeview.

In a meeting at the Scottish Parliament, culture minister Fiona Hyslop told MSPs that many people are being denied access to the channel, despite its availability on satellite and online platforms.

"It is important at this critical time that the parliament speaks with one voice as to our wish that BBC Alba is made available on Freeview," she said.

"The Scottish government's long-standing view is that it should be available on Freeview and all other relevant platforms, including cable."

Last September, the BBC Trust signalled its intention to review the impact and reach of BBC Alba, including options for its availability on digital terrestrial television.

However, such an approach could result in the BBC's main radio networks - Radio 1, 2, 3, 4, Five Live, Radio Scotland and World Service - not being available on Freeview between 5pm and 11pm every night. The Trust is expected to communicate further on its consultation next month.

Also at the parliament session, Labour's Pauline McNeill claimed that Alba has been a "phenomenal success" since it launched two years ago.

She further highlighted that the channel has managed to secure an impressive audience reach considering its fairly limited distribution.

Addressing the MSPs in Gaelic, Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan said that Alba is a "another step on the road" towards the normalisation of Gaelic in broadcasting, reports The Stornoway Gazette.

"BBC Alba understands the importance of broadcasting every sort of programme in Gaelic and of appealing to every sort of viewer, but their job would be much easier if BBC Alba was available on Freeview," he said.

"Despite the restrictions on the number of viewers imposed by the current refusal to put BBC Alba on Freeview immediately, BBC Alba has won viewers and is well supported."

Allan added: "If BBC Alba was available with other Freeview channels it would provide a huge incentive and boost for Gaelic broadcasting.

"There would be many more houses where people would be listening to, and becoming engaged with Gaelic. And the BBC Trust would get some peace as well!"

Last month, secretary of state for Scotland Jim Murphy also backed calls for the channel's availability on Freeview, before adding that the Trust "certainly has a responsibility to help to make it happen".