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The Assembly Commission, through its engagement strategy, is making strenuous efforts to ensure that the business of the Assembly is available to the public. The Assembly makes use of a range of media, including the Assembly’s broadcasting service, Internet site and printed publications. In addition, the Assembly works closely with the broadcast and print media to ensure that the business of the Assembly is communicated widely and effectively.
Since the beginning of the 2008-09 session, there have been 33 press releases relating to Committee and Assembly Commission business, and seven public notices have been placed in regional and local newspapers to inform the public of Committee meetings that were to be held outside Parliament Buildings. For all Committee meetings that are held outside Parliament Buildings, media services works with the local media — newspapers and radio — to publicise the work of the meeting, to encourage attendance and to inform the local community.
From 1 January 2007 to 31 December 2007, there were over 7 million hits on the Northern Ireland Assembly website. That figure increased to over 9 million in 2008 — a substantial increase of 2·5 million hits. Furthermore, 17 Committee reports were uploaded to the website to provide public access to Assembly business. In addition, Media Services receives an average of 60 public enquiry calls each week and answers approximately 50 web mail enquiries per week, thus providing information for people across Northern Ireland.
The Assembly Commission has also taken action to improve access to the Hansard report. Now, the Office of the Official Report places on the website the first edition of each sitting day’s plenary proceedings on a phased basis, and a draft edition of the Official Report is published no later than three hours after the House rises. That enables the public to access the work of the Assembly within hours of business taking place. The revised Official Report is on the website by 10.00 am the following day.
The Education Service — one of the units in the Assembly’s engagement directorate — is also involved closely in promoting the work of the Assembly to the public. It has its own website, which is tailored to the requirements of the Northern Ireland curriculum, and publishes leaflets and other resources that can be accessed by the public and which are tailored for use by schools, youth groups, further education institutions and universities.
From 1 September 2008 to 20 January 2009, 162 groups availed themselves of education programmes. That represents over 5,000 participants, and 77% of those came from the primary and secondary sectors.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I thank the Member for his comprehensive answer. Has the Commission considered placing Assembly coverage on video-sharing websites, such as YouTube? The Assembly Commission should ensure that the public is provided with as many avenues as possible to access coverage of the Assembly. A number of businesses, NGOs and individuals use those websites already. It is accessible not only to thousands of people locally, but to millions worldwide, and the Assembly should be doing more to ensure that coverage of Assembly business is put on the Internet in that way.
The priorities for the Commission are to make available video content from the Assembly website, and to improve coverage of Assembly proceedings through the existing terrestrial and satellite channels. In the medium to longer term, the Assembly will engage with Ofcom to consider how the coverage can be improved yet further.
Given the success of ‘Stormont Live’, despite its rather restricted timing, has the Commission considered making available a dedicated Assembly satellite channel? [Laughter.]
That would allow people to see every scintilla of proceedings in all their unadulterated glory? It strikes me that the House has all the makings of a good soap opera; people know all the characters. I am making the serious point that people are interested in what we have to say, and they like to see us at work. Some people watch the streaming video of debates on the Internet, but that service is intermittent and not totally satisfactory. Will the Commission consider making available a dedicated Assembly satellite channel that could possibly be shared with other legislatures and the councils?