Irish-language content on radio is negligible, says report

A survey on the use of Irish on radio stations has found that it barely reaches the ‘cúpla focal’.

Rosemary Day
Rosemary Day of Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick.

The Irish language has only a marginal role on the vast majority of Irish radio stations, despite a legal obligation to include it. Apart from RTÉ, most stations use Irish in a “trivial” or “culturally stereotypical” way.

The findings are in a study of the use of Irish on Ireland’s radio stations. Four commercial stations — Galway Bay FM, KCLR FM, Midwest Radio, and Today FM — and one community station — Ros FM — broadcast no Irish at all in their schedules.

The study also found that four commercial stations — 98FM, C103, 96FM, and Q102 — have no dedicated Irish language or bilingual programme and broadcast only Irish language or bilingual inserts three or four times per day. These last, on average, 60-90 seconds, or less than half an hour a week, in total.

The research was carried out by John Walsh of NUI Galway and Rosemary Day of Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick, and presents data on the provision of Irish language programming by 59 radio stations in 2017.

Under broadcasting legislation introduced in 1988, all radio broadcasters are obliged to include the Irish language in their programming, but the ‘research on use of the Irish language on radio’ found that it is a marginal presence on the airwaves.

The number of weekly hours that are broadcast in Irish or bilingually is very low compared to the stations’ overall outputs, with average weekly output in Irish of 3:23 hours, including repeats.

Programmes in Irish are mainly broadcast outside of peak hours, such as after 7pm, overnight, or early on Sunday morning.

Among commercial stations, the highest weekly Irish language output is from the youth station, iRadio, but “the majority of these hours are broadcast overnight, when listenership is negligible”.

Counties with large Gaeltacht areas, including Cork, Donegal, and Galway, are also not adequately served with Irish language programming by local stations.

The report concludes that the Irish language has only a marginal role on radio stations, other than those broadcasting in Irish, in spite of statutory provisions regarding Irish in the licensing process.

“With a small number of exceptions, stations broadcast only minimal amounts of Irish, almost invariably outside peak hours,” it said.

“The lack of Irish-language programming during primetime across most schedules is a cause of concern, as it represents the marginalisation of the language to times when listenership is lowest.

“Apart from RTÉ, no station broadcasts a daily news service in Irish and the output tends towards the trivial [‘let’s make Irish fun’] or culturally stereotypical [traditional music].”

The study recommends strengthening different aspects of legislation, encouraging stations to produce their own Irish-language content, and that the BAI re-introduce an Irish Language Advisory Committee and Irish language officer.

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