Ignorance is bliss?

Sian Powell says the media’s lack of scrutiny in Wales is giving the Welsh Government an easy ride.

Only 48% of the Welsh public know that the Welsh Government runs the National Health Service in Wales.  Whose fault is that?  The politicians for being boring and uninteresting, or the media for not giving them a platform to communicate their policies?

This month Michael Gove and Theresa May publicly rowed over the policy to combat extremism in schools in England.  In the same month Alun Davies, the Welsh Government’s Natural Resources and Food Minister, is under investigation to determine whether his role as a constituency AM has conflicted with his position as a Minister.  While the first instance gained much press attention across a number of days resulting in an apology and the dismissal of an advisor, in comparison the latter hasn’t been widely discussed or analysed.  Does one deserve more attention than the other?  Or is the culture and differences surrounding the press and politics in Westminster and Cardiff Bay resulting in a lower level of scrutiny for our Welsh Government ministers?

The democratic deficit in Wales has been largely reported upon and the lack of coverage from any outlet other than the BBC is worrying.  The ease with which Welsh Government ministers can avoid interviews and therefore fail to be scrutinised or even make themselves visible to the public, is such that doing so could become a campaign strategy for the Labour party ahead of the Assembly election in two years’ time.

If we compare this with the culture of door stepping and dog with a bone attitude of the Westminster press pack you may begin to feel short changed that our politicians aren’t under siege when they seem to misuse their ministerial role and even allegedly appearing drunk in the chamber.  Wales Today did successfully door step both Alun Davies and Nick Ramsey, the Assembly Member accused of being ‘tired and emotional’ in Plenary, this week in an attempt to place both under pressure.  But where does the story go next?

It’s the lack of context surrounding Welsh politics that’s the problem, as highlighted by the worryingly low level of comprehension surrounding who runs the health service.  This is not about BBC bashing, the BBC is alone in Wales in having the resources to cover all the political coverage in Wales, and has a remit to do so.  However where’s the analysis and discussion on the decisions made by the Welsh Government that affect our health and education?  Who’s analysing the decisions taken by the Government and communicating this to the Welsh public?

The old excuses that it’s not interesting enough or that the politicians turn down interviews are becoming old.  Surely it’s not for the BBC to decide what’s important or interesting enough for the Welsh public to hear; it’s their job to make it interesting and relevant.  I sympathise with journalists in Wales for trying to fill the deficit in a world with a thousand channels and falling viewing figures.  However, surely with further powers set to be transferred from London to Cardiff there should be greater scrutiny and the BBC, as should all journalists in Wales, should ensure that our ministers are held to account and are made to be heard.

Sian Powell is studying a PhD into the role of the media during elections in Wales post-devolution. From September she will also be a lecturer at Cardiff University's School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies.