Call for federal BBC

Lleu Williams finds that effective governance for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland requires devolution of broadcasting

The exclusion of the devolved administrations from any power in the field of broadcasting does not accord with the spirit of devolution, and is no longer justified. This is the main conclusion of a new report published by the UK’s Changing Union project today.

The report, which acts as a second submission on broadcasting from the UK’s Changing Union project to the Commission on Devolution in Wales (the Silk Commission) says that responsibility over the power of public service broadcasting should be shared between the UK Government and the devolved administrations.

It calls for appointments of the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish members of the BBC Trust to be made jointly between the relevant devolved administrations and  Westminister,  which is already the case in Scotland as a result of the  Scotland Act 2012. In addition, the report calls for the abolition of the BBC Audience councils in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In their place should be new National Broadcasting Trusts with their own budgets for services in their respective countries. These new Trusts would then operate under the umbrella of the BBC Trust.

The report argues for the transfer of responsibility of S4C, along with its current budget and appointments to the channel’s governing body, should be transferred from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to the Welsh Government This, it says would reflect S4C’s position as the deliverer of a key element of the Welsh Government’s language policy.

The report calls for representatives from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to be appointed to the main board of OFCOM, with these appointments subject to the approval of the relevant Ministers in each of the devolved nations. Licensing of local and community radio to be transferred to the OFCOM committees in each country.

The report says:

  • The editorial independence of public service broadcasters in the devolved territories must be maintained and safeguarded.
  • Regulation, governance and management of broadcasting should better reflect the particular needs of the devolved territories in terms of media, culture and language.
  • The appointment of people to represent a devolved territory at the UK level in media organisations and their regulators should be made jointly by the respective devolved governments and the UK Government;
  • The devolved administrations should have a responsibility to assess at regular intervals the media needs of their respective countries;
  • The allocation of resources between different public service broadcast and online services within each devolved territory should be decided within that territory.

As Professor Richard Wyn Jones Chair of the Changing Union project and Director of the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University, said:

“In the post-devolution era, it is no exaggeration to say that the democratic health of the smaller nations of the UK depends on a properly functioning and resourced public broadcasting system. Yet so far there has been little or no attempt to adjust the way that public broadcasting in the UK is governed in order to reflect the new realities. These proposals would give the devolved level a voice in key decisions whilst retaining robust UK-wide structures and are thus wholly in keeping with the spirit of devolution. In Wales, the importance of S4C within the overall approach to safeguarding the language cannot be underestimated. That is why the Welsh Government should not be afraid of assuming responsibility for it.”

Lee Waters, Director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, added:

“The lessons from the crisis in S4C need to be heeded. An understandable desire to keep decisions on broadcasting from becoming overly politicised in Wales led, instead, to key decisions being made in Whitehall. The consequences were traumatic. The current Governance of broadcasting at a UK level needs to be brought up to date to take into account the changing shape of the UK.”

Lleu Williams is the Project Coordinator for the UK’s Changing Union project.

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