Elis Owen: an unsung hero of Welsh broadcasting

The consolidation of ITV’s Wales, Midlands and north west England operations has ended an era, says Geraint Talfan Davies:

If ever a departure from an organisation signalled the end of an era, it is the departure of Elis Owen from ITV Wales, announced last Monday.

His departure and the simultaneous rolling up of ITV Wales into an amorphous ITV management entity encompassing Wales, the Midlands and north west England, signals a final end to any notion of Wales as a discrete and forceful entity in the ITV system. It has a disturbing similarity to the recent merger of Trinity Mirror’s previously separate newspaper groups in north and south Wales with newspapers in the north west of England.

It underlines, if any underlining was needed, that, with the exception of S4C, none of Wales’s media organisations, large or small, are indigenously owned or controlled. It also explains why in any future reorganisation, regulators need to create a discrete licence for Wales within the ITV framework.

But this is not the time to re-run arguments about broadcasting policy but rather to remark on the rich contribution that Elis Owen has made to journalism and broadcasting in Wales, even at the risk of making this read like a premature obituary.

He has been captain of the ITV Wales ship at Culverhouse Cross in Cardiff for the last nine years, but it is for his work as a hands-on programme maker and an incorruptible journalist that he should be lauded by all who care for public service broadcasting in these less caring times. He has been an editorial force in the company for 30 years.

He and I both share a background in print journalism, in days when newspaper journalists could actually leave the office to find stories. But we first worked together when Elis joined HTV to work as a researcher on documentaries that we made to explain devolution to a bemused public in the run up to the 1979 referendum.

He stayed to become a terrier-like editor of Wales This Week, the weekly current affairs programme that was launched in 1982 and is one of the few remaining programmes to survive in ITV’s disappearing service for Wales. In more senior positions he also led its Welsh language twin, Y Byd ar Bedwar, that has also survived as a mainstay of current affairs on S4C.

Elis Owen has never been a media luvvie. The passion, doggedness and integrity with which he has pursued countless stories over three decades has lived alongside a shyness that is not the usual hallmark of the media world.

For ten years he has judiciously managed a centrally imposed decline without public complaint, carefully preserving core elements of the service for as long as possible, and resisting the easy temptation to jump ship. ITV has had the benefit of his determined pursuit of public purpose and total loyalty to a beleaguered staff for longer than ITV plc dared hope or deserved. He is an unsung hero of Welsh broadcasting. Diolch, Elis.

Geraint Talfan Davies is Chair of the IWA.

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