Gaelic broadcasting head recognises challenges still ahead while celebrating progress already achieved

THE head of Gaelic language TV channel, BBC ALBA, has said that Gaelic broadcasting has come a long way since it first started on radio 90 years ago, but that there are still challenges ahead.

Margaret Mary Murray was speaking on Wednesday as part of the Celtic Connections music festival in Glasgow.

At BBC Scotland’s Pacific Quay HQ in the city, she said:  ”[The BBC governing body, the BBC Trust] set us a target to reach 500,000 viewers. This was difficult as there were only around 90,000 people with some level of Gaelic in Scotland at that time.

“We had to think carefully about how to draw people in.

“For the first time, we had a whole channel for Gaelic programmes and the freedom to create a full schedule. Research told us that people who spoke the language would come to us in the same way that English speakers tune in to English channels, for news, entertainment, events, documentaries, drama – the full range of programmes. But, we had to ask ourselves, why would non-Gaelic speakers come to watch a Gaelic channel?”

Murray’s 

’Gaelic in the Media’ lecture was organised by the University of the Highlands and Islands.

She continued: “We decided to focus on audience niches such traditional music, certain sports and factual programmes. We made music a priority and have since launched broadcasts from events like the National Mod and Celtic Connections. Sport is also important in Scotland and it would be unusual for any channel not to offer it so we broadcast live rugby, football – including women’s and youth football – and shinty.

“These types of programmes attract people who haven’t had much exposure to the Gaelic language or culture.”

She finished, saying: “Gaelic media has come a great distance, but we still have many challenges to meet. We need to strengthen our partnerships and collaborations with other agencies as well as develop new programme genres to extend our offer to audiences on radio and television. The biggest complaint viewers have is that there are too many repeats, but to offer more original programmes, we need to attract and secure funding. We also need to ensure that we are developing programmes appropriate for the next generation of our audience.”