Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Friday, 10 June 2011

BBC Alba, Gaelic-language programming and BBC2 Scotland

This is a mostly-good-news observational article, with some less good news thrown in just to 'keep it real'.

First the good news; from 8th June the Gaelic-language channel TeleG (which broadcast only for a couple of hours a day and was, I understand, an offering from ITV) has been replaced on digital television channel 8 in Scotland by the BBC offering - BBC Alba - broadcasting mainly in Gaelic for 7 hours a day (8 hours a day at weekends) during late-afternoon until midnight.

As all parts of Scotland now receive digital television only (the analogue transmitters having been switched off some months ago), it is now possible for everyone in Scotland and who still wishes to watch terrestrial (as distinct from satellite) broadcasts to see all the Freeview digital offerings, so BBC Alba is now a truly 'national service'. I have no personal interest whatsoever in Gaelic-language broadcasting, but it is certainly a 'good thing' for those who do wish to do so to be able to watch programming in that language, wherever in Scotland they happen to be.

One of the things that has 'bugged' me for years was the two-hours of Gaelic-language broadcasting on BBC2 every Thursday evening, during the peak early-evening schedules, when there were usually much more interesting (to me) programmes airing in England, but which I could not watch in Scotland (although ironically I could in the past few years whilst at my Spanish home). The move of BBC Alba to the Freeview platform seems, happily, to have ended this lamentable state of affairs - next week's Radio Times magazine shows that Thursday-evening BBC2 programming is now Gaelic-free. Hurrah!

However, nothing in the BBC is ever that simple, of course, specially where the Kremlin-on-the-Clyde (the BBC Scotland HQ in Glasgow) is concerned! A close study of the BBC2 schedule for next week shows that a 1-hour Gaelic-language broadcast has been sneaked into the schedule at 7pm on Monday evening; the alternative in England seems to be an episode of James May's Toy Stories - the Great Train Race, which is possibly a repeat, although I'm not sure about that. However, it still does not explain why, or excuse, a 'Gaelic Music Sessions' programmes being slipped into the schedule on a Monday at peak viewing time.

In fact the 7pm slot on BBC2 next week on several days seems to be devoted to local Scottish programming of one kind or another, although only on Tuesday does it seem to be in Gaelic. I have no particular objection to this, except that for example on Tuesday I'd far rather have the opportunity of watching "This World: The Invasion of Lampedusa" (the Italian island which has had an influx of illegal immigrants crossing from Libya and beyond in recent months) to something called 'The Adventure Show' about sporting events based in Scotland this week it seems. Wednesday and Thurday seem to be mercifully free of 'parochial' programming, although it creeps back in on Friday - but at least it's only on Monday that it's in Gaelic, still too much now that BBC Alba is available.

I do have a 'bee in my bonnet' about this issue, don't I? So sue me!

NB/ In view of the unpleasant nature of some of the comments here, I regret to advise that further comments on this article are not permitted.


  1. Hi Bill,

    For info, BBC2 has always had 'parochial' evening opt-outs for England, Wales, Scotland and NI. It just so happens that this slot used to be the home for a fair bit of BBC Scotland's obligation to broadcast Gaelic programming. Rest assured, you've rarely if ever been deprived of seeing something common to the rest of the UK!

    I'm guessing that you have Freeview at home in Scotland. If you want full access to BBC2's programming from England, Wales or NI, why not swing for a Freesat dish? No subscriptions to pay to Rupert Murdoch, and you even get some HD channels into the bargain. You'll also be able to watch any ITV region you like.

    I've got mine tuned to ITV London so I can watch Champions League football in HD (getting it in HD on Grampian as was is a bit of a faff), but it's still easy enough to switch back for the local ITV news if I want. It also, on one occasion, meant I could ditch BBC Alba's Gaelic commentry on a game of Rugby between Edinburgh and Llanelli for the BBC2 Wales coverage which was in English.

    I'm sure the Channel Islands ITV news is very interesting, but I've yet to get round to setting things up to watch that. However, it was revealing to get the BBC North West news after hundreds of motorists got stranded in snow on the M6, and be able to compare it to the coverage served up by BBC Scotland a couple of weeks earlier when something similar happened on the M8... :-)



  2. Hi Richard

    Whilst I accept, to some extent, what you write, what is this nonsense about 'obligation' to broadcast Gaelic programming? Where, precisely, is this 'obligation' laid out?! In actual fact, there are a lot of programmes which those in Scotland have been deprived of over the years, as you surely know - please let us not delude ourselves. There is a very funny video-clip by Armando Ianucci which covers this:

    - and of course this latest wheeze of having BBC Alba on digital TV channel 8 means than whole swathes of digital radio channels are no longer available in Scotland during the hours BBC Alba is broadcasting. I'm trying to be reasonable, but please don't try my patience with your SNP 'press release' type instant response ;)

    Funnily enough, in Spain I can watch almost all of the regional ITV offerings on my cable TV, including all three regions of STV, although with BBC1 what I get is BBC London; funnily anough the ITV channel I tend to watch most often is the Channel Isles. On the other hand I also get all the Spanish digital channels, plus some of the German and various channels from the Middle East (Dubai mainly) broadcasting in English, even if the advertsiements arare in Arabic, which I understand anyway.

    Take care :)

  3. PS/ Oh, and do read some of the recent comments on this video-clip ;)

  4. Press release? I thought it was more of a PR puff for Freesat, but there you go... :-)

    The Armando Ianucci sketch is funny. I remember a better one on Naked Video back in the 80's, which announced the 4 minute warning of a nuclear strike on the UK - except of course for Scottish viewers, who would instead have the opportunity to watch a repeat of the shinty.

    Re any 'obligation', I always thought there was a requirement for the BBC to broadcast a certain number of hours of Gaelic programming each year, but I could be wrong on that. My point was that BBC2 in Scotland, Wales, England and NI usually broadcast different programmes at that point in the schedule.

  5. BBC Scotland still have a requirement to broadcast a certain amount of Gaelic programming each week on BBC2. This, unfortunately for you, isn't going to change anytime soon. The BBC have decided to keep the odd hour or two [1 or 2 hours out of 161 every week] to broaden the reach of Gaelic shows and make them more mainstream and less segregated.

    If you want to watch BBC 1 London, either move to England or buy Freesat for £50. Or you know, you could even watch the programmes [as ludicrous as that sounds] - you might learn something!

  6. Hi Alasdair

    Oh, I'm happy to accept what you write, but I'd still like you or Richard (the other commenter) to substantiate your statement.

    In any case, with the advent of BBC Alba and the ability of all (or almost all) users of terrestrial television services to receive this now it has been added to the Freeview platform, I think that whatever 'obligation' there may have been is now out of date.

    Please provide a link to where I may read the broadcasting regulations with which you state that BBC2 must comply. Does it apply to that channel specifically, or simply to the BBC as an organisation, for example?

  7. Alasdair

    PS/ As for my viewing arrangements, and your remarks about moving to England, I will if you don't mind evaluate your impertinent remarks as they merit - by ignoring them. Frankly, I don't give a monkeys what you or the other 50k or so Gaelic speakers may think of me - you represent only a miniscule proportion of the population and whilst I agree your needs and desires should not be ignored, nor do I believe the other 99 per cent of the population should be held to ransom by your parochial thinking. This is my blog and I'll write precisely what I wish however irritating you may find it. Why don't you go and live in Lewis (if you don't already) then you can be amongst people who mainly speak your language (and who don't do 'sinful things' like enjoy themselves on the 'sabbath')!?

  8. Sorry, but Alasdair has got a point. If you don't like Scottish telly, in Gaelic or English, then move to England. I quite like some Spanish and German telly myself but I have to limit my viewing to when I am actually in the relevant nations.

    Btw, as a Lowlander, Gaelic is just a part of my everyday life as a 'Highlander'. I speak it everyday, use the media, use it with my kids and can see it in my local placenames.

    BBC Alba is indeed a good service but as I also use English, I would welcome some more Scottish based telly in English from the BBC. London-based telly is probably the most navel gazing in Europe - certainly according various European friends. I'm tired of hearing, for example, about 'school in England and Wales' on the 'national' news. Lets have more Scottish telly in Scotland in either of our languages.

  9. Dear "Mac an t-Srònaich"

    - respectfully, get lost! I find it quite despicable that you have the infernal impertinence to suggest to me that I move out of my homeland just to accommodate your prejudices.

    I am ignoring, because of your opening remark, the rest of what you write.

    Any more comments from you will not be published. I like to publish almost every comment that is written here (other than those which contain profanity, which I never publish), but I won't be told by you or anyone else what I may write in my own blog in the kind of terms you have used to me.

    Tough if you don't like it!