The National Assembly has established a Broadcasting Committee to investigate and report on:
“The future of public service broadcasting in Wales in the English and Welsh languages; and the impact of digital switchover and the creation of new delivery platforms, on the production and availability of programming and digital content from Wales and in Wales.”
The committee’s establishment (March 2008) anticipated the publication on April 10 of the second Ofcom review of public service broadcasting (PSB), which outlines the challenges facing PSB in the UK. Ofcom’s research shows the public value PSB highly but that the digital switchover and other funding pressures mean the current arrangements for PSB cannot continue for much longer. In fact, Ofcom estimates ITV1 Wales’ costs of holding a PSB licence could outweigh the benefits as early as 2009.
Coverage in UK-wide media of Ofcom’s report focused on the cost implications of sustaining PSB. Ofcom proposed four scenarios for ensuring funding for PSB is sustainable. Wales relies to a great extent on UK-wide media – in print especially – meaning Wales will be involved in this debate about funding. This is entirely appropriate. However, given Wales’ heavy reliance on UK-wide print media and ITV1 Wales’ precarious position there are extra issues – ensuring plurality and sustaining the Welsh language, for example. There are other important questions: will there be sufficiently plural PSB to help Wales’ debate about devolution? How can Wales cultivate PSB that is economically sustainable, plural and accessible? What is the role of the internet and other technologies? This list is not exhaustive but gives an idea of the scale of task.
Both Ofcom’s Phase 1 consultation (on the report published last week) and the Assembly committee’s work conclude early in the summer. The IWA will publish a Wales media audit in May, which is supported by a grant from the Assembly Government. The audit will provide an evidence base that will help people form their own judgements. Now more than ever we must use our democracy and the media resources available to Wales now to freely debate and encourage informed policy-making on this crucial issue.