Search for a Welsh Broadcasting Lifebelt

Geraint Talfan Davies assesses the significance of the Assembly Government’s new review of creative industries in Wales

The work to avert a crisis in broadcasting in Wales took another twist yesterday when the Assembly Government announced its response to the report on broadcasting by the Assembly’s Communities and Culture Committee.

The response confirmed the committee’s concerns, reaffirmed the Assembly Government’s backing for the concept of a Welsh Media Commission, and also set up a review of the creative industries to be conducted by the former Ofcom board member, Ian Hargreaves. A review of the creative industries in Wales has been on the cards since before the last Assembly elections. However, Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report has given it a new urgency.

It is almost certainly a recognition of the fact that, if the UK Government continues to refuse to intervene to support general programming for Wales, unlike their declared support for sustaining a news competitor to BBC Wales, the Assembly Government may have to dip into existing pots of its own money to avert a total collapse.

Effective collaboration between departments has not been a notable feature of Assembly Government working, especially between the heritage and economic development portfolios, so this joint review is something of a breakthrough.

Hargreaves is being asked to take an overview of several pots that are now distributed between the Heritage and Economic Development Departments: under Heritage, the Film Agency whose production fund is drawn from the Arts Council’s lottery fund, and under economic development, the £7m Creative IP fund that has supported several film and television projects. There is also the financial assistance given by Heritage to community radio and to Welsh language online journalism.

He will also want to look at whether we are maximising the possible synergies between our broadcasters and both the arts and the film business, and whether the financial assistance to the creative industries is on a par with that available for innovation in manufacturing.

Few people are better placed than Hargreaves to carry out the survey. He has an incisive mind and knows Ofcom, as a board member and senior executive, and the UK Government, from the inside. He is a close friend of the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, and the Assembly Government had to work hard to negotiate his temporary release from his current position as Director of Strategic Communications for the Foreign Office. That they managed to secure him in a considerable coup.

He also knows Wales. He and his family live in Penarth and have another home in Pembrokeshire. In the late 1990s he headed the School of Journalism at Cardiff University. Most important of all, he is not afraid of radical ideas, including devolution, and my guess is that his recommendations may challenge us all.

Geraint Talfan Davies is Chair of the IWA.

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