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TV & Radio

BBC criticised for live coverage of Orange Order march in Northern Ireland

Local blogger says coverage becomes 'more anachronistic with every passing year'

The BBC is facing criticism for continuing to clear its schedule for live coverage of the Orange Order march, “The Twelfth”, despite the long history of sectarian violence associated with the event.

The broadcaster will devote 75 minutes of uninterrupted live coverage in Northern Ireland tomorrow to what is one of the most colourful events in the region’s calendar. Around 10,000 people line streets festooned with red, white and blue bunting as “Blood and Thunder” flute and drum bands march to “Belfast field” to mark William of Orange’s victory over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Last month the BBC Trust rejected a complaint that the coverage – part of a BBC tradition dating back 50 years and including commentary from veteran broadcaster Walter Love – amounted to “uncritical promotional coverage” of the Orange Order event and failed to give “due weight to the negative aspects of the parade”. The Trust found that the event was “controversial” but not “highly controversial” and so the coverage on news programmes of violence in which 20 police officers were injured meant that BBC Northern Ireland had not been in breach of impartiality rules.

After the ruling, Belfast blogger Alan Meban commented: “The BBC’s live coverage of The Twelfth of July parade through Belfast city centre becomes more anachronistic with every passing year.” Other online commentators took a different view, pointing to the BBC’s extensive coverage of Gaelic sports, which have deep historical ties to Irish nationalism.

Tension around The Twelfth has increased this year with the removal from the House of Commons of Democratic Unionist Party deputy leader Nigel Dodds yesterday after his complaints over restrictions placed on the marchers by the Parades Commission.

A spokesperson for BBC Northern Ireland said: “Our non-news coverage of the Orange Order’s 12th July demonstrations seeks to describe and explain their cultural significance for many people. It forms part of a wider portfolio of programmes about local community diversity. We recognise, and are sensitive to, the existence of differing views about religious, cultural and political traditions in Northern Ireland.”