Trust delays BBC Alba Freeview decision

Wednesday, March 24 2010, 10:56 GMT

By Andrew Laughlin,

The BBC Trust has delayed its decision on whether to make Gaelic channel BBC Alba more widely available in Scotland on Freeview.

Last September, the Trust launched a review of the impact and reach of Alba, including options for its availability on digital terrestrial television.

Should the channel be launched on Freeview in Scotland, then that would result in the main BBC radio stations being unavailable on DTT between 5pm and 11pm every night. However, the stations would broadcast as normal on FM and digital radio.

A decision was due from the Trust next month, but the BBC's governing body has opted to stall the ruling until after publishing its findings on the corporation's strategy review.

In a statement, a Trust spokesperson said: "One of the main considerations for the Trust's review of BBC Alba has been the question of whether the service should be made available on Freeview.

"To do this could mean removing 13 of the BBC's UK-wide network radio stations from digital terrestrial television in Scotland at times when the channel is broadcasting.

"The issue of universality is therefore directly relevant to the question of BBC Alba's availability in the future. Until the Trust reaches a view on what universality should mean for the BBC as a whole, it would not be appropriate to take a decision on BBC Alba."

MG Alba, which operates the channel with the BBC, expressed its disappointment at the delay. Chairman Alasdair Morrison said: "Today's decision is disappointing as we had hoped the BBC Trust was in a position to give the go-ahead for access to Freeview now.

"The success of the channel to date has been recognised and is not a factor in today's decision. The only outstanding issue is the question of what services need to be universally available in Scotland.

He added: "We believe that access to Freeview is supported by the vast majority of people who responded to the BBC Trust consultation, BBC management and across the political spectrum in Scotland."

Supporters of Alba, including many Scottish MPs, believe that the Gaelic language channel has been a huge success in Scotland since it launched in 2008.