Wales must take greater responsibility for its media

The IWA publishes its evidence to the National Assembly’s inquiry into the future of our media

The Welsh Government should start work now on constructing a set of proposals to devolve more power over the media to Wales or risk being sidelined in the debate over media policy in the next few years, according to a report published today by the IWA’s newly formed Media Policy Group.

The group, which was formed following the IWA’s well-attended broadcasting conference in October, will give evidence to the Assembly’s Task and Finish Group later this morning.

This is a further stage in the IWA’s work on media policy, and the biggest report on this subject published since the IWA’s 2008 audit of the media in Wales commissioned by the Welsh Government. This latest report is designed to raise the profile of the media issues facing Wales as BBC cuts begin to bite right on the heels of the drastic curtailment of ITV’s service for Wales over the last decade.

The report reminds us that there are big legislative and regulatory changes on the horizon: renewal of the Channel 3 licences in 2014, a new Communications Act in 2015 (or possibly sooner) and renewal of the BBC Charter in 2016-17. All these will affect Wales directly and have a capacity to alter our media and cultural landscape in fundamental ways.

It argues that technology and media policy is moving quickly, but that Wales currently lacks sufficient capacity to keep pace with events.

The report puts forward more than 40 recommendations for developing media policy for Wales including the need

  • to commission a full review of the needs of Wales – its audiences, democracy, culture and economy – in terms of broadcast and online services
  • to create a national ITV licence for Wales when the current licenses expire.
  • to prevent any further erosion of the BBC’s services for Wales in television, radio and online
  • to involve S4C and the BBC and other potential partners in exploring not-for-profit models for local television that may better suit Welsh circumstances.
  • to relax cross-ownership rules between local print and broadcast media

It calls on the Welsh Government to set up a working group immediately “to bring forward proposals for the devolution of some responsibilities in this field within a UK framework, with priority being given to responsibility for S4C, community radio and commercial radio licensing in Wales.”

It argues that Wales has failed to develop an effective influence on media policy, and that this has been exposed by the way that S4C’s fate was decided initially without reference to Wales.

The report says: “The Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, though not short of the confidence to effect radical change, pursued his chosen course by avoiding public debate, while the post facto entreaties of Welsh ministers and united party leaders were brushed aside as of little consequence.

“This has only sharpened the argument for the devolution of some responsibilities in this field. This would instantly raise this policy area up the list of priorities for Welsh ministers, and guarantee early consultation between London and Cardiff Bay on key decisions.

“More importantly, it would be a way of bringing these issues more regularly and forcefully into the public domain by forcing Welsh Government ministers to make their views public, giving the Welsh public and civil society greater purchase.

It adds: “It is imperative that we seek to establish a cross-party consensus on this matter as soon as possible. We believe that the foundation for such a consensus should be the proposition that UK-wide regulation will remain a primary force in media regulation for the foreseeable future, but that detailed provision needs to be made for the sharing of responsibilities between Westminster and the devolved administrations.

“There is an urgent need to establish systems – embracing Welsh and UK Ministers, the National Assembly, regulators, broadcasters, producers and Welsh civil society – that will generate for Wales a continuing, informed, timely and effective influence on policy and, where necessary, appropriate autonomy in governance and executive action.”

It says these systems should also include

  • strengthening the civil service capacity in Wales in this field
  • establishing better joint working between the Welsh Heritage and Business departments
  • establishing a permanent independent media monitoring capacity
  • establishing a standing Assembly committee to deal with media matters
  • devolution within the BBC and Ofcom.

John Osmond, Director of the IWA, said: “In recent decades Wales’s need of a fertile and sustainable media landscape has grown. Paradoxically, at the very same time the traditional features of that landscape have been eroding, even as new technological vistas come into view. We can, too easily, be left with a sense of powerlessness, a sense that that landscape is beyond our control. This report seeks to challenge that assumption.”

The group will also be submitting responses to the BBC’s consultation on its Delivering Quality First proposals next month.

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