The Orange Order has described a decision by the BBC not to provide live TV coverage of Twelfth of July celebrations in Belfast as “devoid of logic”.
BBC NI has confirmed that it will not feature live coverage of the city demonstration this summer but will instead provide an hour-long evening programme featuring events at eight locations.
The BBC has said more people would be able to watch the evening highlights programme than could view a live daytime broadcast.
The broadcaster had in previous years provided live coverage from Belfast, although not in the past two years when the parades were impacted by the Covid pandemic.
Unionist politicians have reacted angrily to the decision not to resume the live programming while the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland described it as “immensely disappointing”.
An Orange Order spokesperson said that Grand Secretary Mervyn Gibson and DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson held a meeting with the interim director of BBC Northern Ireland Adam Smyth this week and asked him to reconsider the decision.
The spokesperson said: “The BBC is a public broadcasting service and to cancel live coverage of the Twelfth of July – the biggest cultural event in Northern Ireland with tens of thousands taking part and hundreds of thousands more watching at the 18 host venues – defies logic.
This is the wrong decision by the management of BBC Northern Ireland and it's one that they should reverseJohn Stewart
“We pointed out many people cannot attend Twelfth of July parades for a range of reasons. Many are housebound due to illness or old age, while others are in nursing homes – they are the people who will be impacted most by this decision.
“It is hard to accept this as anything other than a further snub to the wider Protestant, unionist and loyalist community and our culture.”
But Mr Smyth said the decision was taken for audience reasons and “not to diminish” the importance of July 12 to the unionist community.
He told the BBC: “There are 80% more people available to watch the highlights programme in the evening than there are available to watch the live programme during the day.
“But more than that, I think putting some of our resources into the highlights programme, allows us to get out of Belfast to see all of Northern Ireland, and to really capture the richness of the cultural event that it is beyond Belfast, where we’ve been focused for quite some time.
“We do understand how much value people put on the Twelfth and in no way are we seeking to deny any of that, but we’re trying to shape our resources to maximise the audience benefit.”
But DUP MP Gregory Campbell said: “It is a clear signal from BBC Northern Ireland of how much it cares about reflecting a hugely important event for a very significant section of our population.
“The BBC appear to be presenting the live coverage in the early part of the day and the highlights programme at night as an either/or option.
“There is no real explanation as to why live coverage cannot happen alongside a later programme which always provided coverage from across Northern Ireland.
“The ultimate measure is that there will be fewer minutes of programming this year dedicated to the single largest cultural event which takes place in Northern Ireland each year.”
Ulster Unionist MLA and Orange Order member John Stewart called on the BBC to reverse the decision.
He said: “This is the wrong decision by the management of BBC Northern Ireland and it’s one that they should reverse.
“The Twelfth of July is one of the biggest events of the year in Northern Ireland which generates millions for the local economy.
“The programme which the BBC is discontinuing is also very well made.
“Not only does it contain live coverage of the Twelfth itself, but it’s also very educational with pre-recorded pieces about the history and background to the Twelfth, and those participating in it.
“To decide to drop it is totally irrational. I would appeal to Adam Smyth, the interim director of BBC Northern Ireland, and his senior colleagues to reverse this decision.”
Tens of thousands of people attend parades on the Twelfth every year to mark the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 when the Protestant King William of Orange defeated the Catholic King James.