A new deal for the BBC services for Wales is called for in the IWA’s response to a BBC Strategy Review that ignored Wales
A major re-balancing of the BBC’s spending to allow a better English language television service for Wales is called for by the Institute of Welsh Affairs in a response to the BBC’s current Strategy Review.
The IWA says that English language television in Wales is in crisis and needs an immediate injection of £5 million into BBC Wales to allow the service for Wales to grow, following cuts at the BBC and the collapse of ITV Wales production. “The BBC should continue to enhance its contribution to Welsh culture and society, and has a particular obligation to do so, now that ITV Wales output has collapsed,” it says.
The IWA stresses that this is not a demand for a bigger licence fee, but for a re-balancing of spend within the BBC’s current income. This would allow the BBC to respond to demands for better services in Wales and Scotland.
“The BBC has ample capacity to re-balance its spend within the UK to deliver the kind of rounded national services for Wales and Scotland that have been argued for by the Welsh and Scottish Governments, on the back of research by various committees and commissions in both countries,” it says.
“This re-balancing should be achieved over a three-year period by halting the present budgetary cuts within BBC Wales, and beginning with a switch of not less than £5m into Wales to allow for an additional two hours per week of new programming.
“The £23 million budget should then be progressively grown to around £40 million which would allow the development of a service of a volume, range and quality that could properly reflect the complexity and vitality of Welsh society and culture,” it adds. It points out that the corresponding service for Scotland, currently costs nearly £50 million.
The report says the BBC “must provide an English language service that delivers demonstrably greater equity between the two languages in Wales”.
It also calls for urgent action to ensure that Radio Wales and Radio Cymru enjoy the same transmission coverage in Wales as the BBC’s UK services. Radio Wales gets to only 62% of the audience in FM and less than 50% on DAB. UK services have 88% coverage.
The IWA report says that ITV production in Wales has collapsed from 12 hours a week to just a news service with only 90 minutes a week of general programmes. It also says that BBC Wales television output for Wales has fallen by 18 per cent since 2003 – from 17 hours a week to 14 hours across BBC1 and BBC2. From a peak of £26 million, spending on English language television has already dropped to £23 million and is scheduled to drop to below £20 million by 2012-13.
With news, current affairs and sport accounting for 85 per cent of English language television for Wales, the IWA says there is “painfully inadequate space to accommodate a proper ration of drama, music, arts, factual and light entertainment programmes. It is in these areas that we would expect to see a better provision. These are programme genres that are of proven importance to the audience, and they need the space and resources with which to grow and flourish.”
The IWA says that “the BBC is the all-important cornerstone of public service broadcasting in Britain, and should remain so for the foreseeable future”, but that the BBC “should continue to enhance its contribution to Welsh society and culture”. It also “applauds the BBC for the initiatives it has taken to decentralise production, to Cardiff, Manchester and Glasgow, and particularly its decision to create the drama village in Cardiff to capitalise on the network drama successes of BBC Wales over the last decade”.
But it criticises the BBC’s central management for producing a Strategy Review that does not even refer to the services for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and adds, “It is difficult to believe that such an omission could have been possible at the end of the first decade of devolved government within this country.”
It calls for the replacement of the BBC Audience Council for Wales with a BBC Trust Wales responsible for a national service licence to encompass all its services for Wales, and funded by a block grant taken direct from the licence fee.
It also points to a sharp contrast between the services for Wales and Scotland. The spend on English language television in Wales is now less than half what the BBC spends on its service for Scotland (£49m). Last year BBC Wales produced four hours of drama for Wales, compared with Scotland’s 56 hours. The spend per hour for the Scottish service is also double that for the service in Wales.
“We do not question the spend in Scotland, but neither do we believe that delivering services of comparable range and quality for the two countries can be achieved by applying an informal ‘Barnett formula’ within the BBC,” says the report.
Among its other recommendations are:
- The BBC’s Wales Today news programme should mark out an even more distinctive position, showing no less serious a journalistic intent than the BBC’s six o’clock news throughout the duration of the programme.
- More comedy and satire to challenge Welsh society and politics, and a bigger ration of entertainment to tap more of Wales’s deeply rooted performance culture.
- Fuller and more varied treatment for Welsh culture and arts needs, with more use of creative partnerships between BBC Wales and Welsh arts organisations.
- More drama made just for the audience in Wales. This would allow Welsh talents to develop their own voice at home in the language of their choice. This would also help bring genuine cultural diversity to UK network drama.
- Closer partnership between BBC Wales and the Film Agency and Creative IP fund to support the creative industries in Wales.
- Some children’s programming for Wales so that Welsh children can see their own communities and hear their own accents in television programming. This could be an area for collaboration between the BBC and S4C.
- Ensure that cuts to online budgets do not undermine the BBC’s online service for Wales.