Media in Wales: A democratic necessity

Lee Waters and Angela Graham introduce the first part of the IWA Wales Media Audit.






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52% of people in Wales do not realise that the NHS is run by the Welsh Government and not the UK Government.

Nearly a fifth of voters in Wales consistently tell pollsters they felt unable to rate First Minister Carwyn Jones because they don’t know enough about him.

How can Wales develop as a vibrant democracy if its citizens don’t have basic information about how decisions are made?

IWA Wales Media Audit

Yesterday: Read Lee Waters’ introduction to the IWA Wales Media Audit

Today: See section 1 of the draft Wales Media Audit in full here. 

Wales is not unique in facing challenges arising from profound changes to the technology, business model and changing consumption habits of the modern media.  But Wales is the worst placed of the UK nations in being able to deal with these challenges whilst developing a political and civic culture.

At the time of the IWA’s last Media Audit in 2008 it was clear that media deficiencies in Wales were, on any objective test, significantly worse than in either of the two other devolved territories, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The only exception to this was television provision in the Welsh language.

The 2008 Audit concluded: “Of the three, Wales has the weakest print environment, the weakest commercial radio sector, is the only country where none of its commercial radio stations is indigenously owned, is the only one of the three whose ITV franchise holder was absorbed into ITV plc, and the country where the BBC is most dominant in both radio and television.”

Seven years later, although, with some exceptions, the availability of communications has significantly improved, the position regarding content for audiences in Wales  is considerably worse. Output and spend on English language television by BBC and ITV has further diminished, with an inevitable narrowing of the range of programmes. S4C has suffered the first ever cut in its funding. Ownership of commercial radio has undergone further consolidation, usually with consequent reductions in locally originated output. Like newspapers everywhere the print circulations of Welsh newspapers continue to drop, while their journalistic resources shrink.

While there have been substantial increases in the accessing of news through a range of digital platforms, this has not compensated for a reduction in the forensic capacity of Welsh journalism. In a situation that requires investment and coherence, overall Wales has seen market failure writ large.

Currently, there is no sign that this downward trajectory in the total media service for Wales service will be halted, let alone reversed. In both 2010 and 2015 the UK Government imposed tough licence fee settlements on the BBC that imply significant real terms reductions. This is bound to impact on S4C. An agreement between Ofcom and ITV plc envisages no increase in output for Wales up to 2024, if ever. Even the current output may be endangered if ITV plc is sold to an overseas buyer. In September 2015 Trinity Mirror announced further reductions in its journalistic staff in Wales.  Outside the BBC, provision on radio is also threatened.  Under current legislation, a future switchover to digital transmission, could see the end of any news, weather and other local content of relevance to listeners in Wales on commercial radio, with community radio’s limited reach being unable to compensate for this loss.

An improvement on the current provision is a democratic, social and cultural necessity.

Media policy in Wales is a reserved matter under the direct control of the UK government. It is essential, therefore, that the UK government recognise the particular media needs of Wales and that the Welsh Government, too, should act to the full extent of its capacity in this area.

The Welsh Government does not publish an assessment of trends in the Welsh media.  In conducting this audit, the IWA is, to some extent, executing two tasks that the Welsh Government recognised as necessary in its response to recommendations made in 2012 by the National Assembly’s Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee’s Task and Finish Group: The Future Outlook for the Media in Wales.

This group had recommended the creation of an independent advisory forum on media policy, together with a review of the media needs of the people of Wales. It was anticipated that this would draw on expertise from across the media sectors, would look to the future, and advise on matters across all media sectors.

Although Welsh Government did not accept this recommendation it recognised it as “a reasonable request and not altogether unexpected, as the coming period will see extensive changes in our media landscape, changes caused by market forces, technological change, user behaviour and UK Government intervention.” As “a crucial first step in addressing the Committee’s concerns” the Welsh Government said it would set up a Broadcasting Advisory Panel “to review matters in relation to broadcasting”.

In its responses to the Committee the Welsh Government accepted in principle the recommendation for a review of media needs and stated that the BAP would be expected “to provide advice on whether a similar exercise should be undertaken”. No such review has taken place. To our knowledge the panel did not publish any reports or advice to Ministers. Its final meeting was in 2013.

We have done our best to fill the gap drawing on the IWA’s modest charitable resources and a huge voluntary effort from members of the IWA’s Media Policy Group. A final version of our new Media Audit will be published online at the IWA’s Cardiff Media Summit on 11th November. The Summit is designed specifically to advance analysis, discussion and refinement of our proposals.

From today we are publishing key sections of the report in draft to allow our work and conclusions to be challenged, in the hope that this process will strengthen our final conclusions.

We are publishing our chapter on the state of television in Wales today – you can click here to read it in full.

Tomorrow we’ll publish our draft chapter on radio, internet and broadband on Thursday, and Press, Online and Interactive Media on Friday. Next week we’ll be publishing our draft recommendations for what action needs to be taken to address the issues we identify, and we’re inviting a range of commentators to post their responses to the data and analysis over the coming weeks too.

You can leave comments on this site or email them during our consultation period which ends on 23rd October. Responses should be sent to jessica.blair@iwa.org.uk

We can only carry out this work with the support of our members. If you are not a member but value the work we do to try and help Wales flourish please support us by joining.

Lee Waters is Director of the IWA. Angela Graham is Chair of the IWA's Media Policy Group.