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.

11 thoughts on “Call for federal BBC

  1. We get loads of Tosh from your so called Institute but this is the biggest!! A seperate BBC tor Wales means more people employed and greater cost which has to be paid by Welsh Taxpayers! Why should anyone else pay?
    Obviously as a non Welsh speaking Taxpayer I also think that costs for production of Articles in Welsh should
    only be the same per word as those in English.

  2. I find the BBC very difficult to watch or listen to these days. Apart from the lazy journalism and factual errors, the bias is startling – far worse post-devolution, incidentally, than it was pre-devolution. Also, BBC Wales busts a gut to be seen to be even-handed; note the continuous use of the term “Welsh” when our news is discussed. Yes, this is the ‘Welsh’ news, which includes Welsh people doing things in Wales. No need to tell us every two seconds. Conversely, they then bend over backwards to play the London game – the “aren’t we all happy together” agenda! Hence, the constant comparisons between Welsh and English health, education, etc. Any social scientist worth their salt will tell you that these two nations are so different in so many ways that they should never be compared. But the BBC insists on doing so. Quite pathetic, really….and they are supposed to be serious broadcasters!

  3. ”Obviously as a non Welsh speaking Taxpayer I also think that costs for production of articles in Welsh should only be the same per word as those in English”


  4. I, too, find the BBC very difficult to watch or listen to these days. But, perhaps not for the same reasons as Bob Jones.

    The local BBC news is geared to an audience that just doesn’t exist in Wales. Welsh speaking presenters/reporters speaking in a form of English that is barely understandable (quite why these people aren’t on S4C beggars belief). A ludicrously overly exaggerated use and pronunciation of Welsh place names in the Welsh rather than English form (how confusing can things get). And a constant attempt to highlight differences in lifestyles and aspiration of Welsh folk versus the rest of the UK (ignoring the fact that we are, by and large, all the same).

    Yes, we have the language and culture issue here in Wales. But it applies only to a minority. And that minority has been enjoying its own S4C for some decades now.

    So, I for one look forward to the BBC returning to serve mainstream Wales in much the same way as it serves mainstream Scotland England (albeit with all its faults).

  5. If you want a serious free to air news channel you can now watch Al Jazeera, which provides serious coverage of the crisis in the Central African Republic while the BBC obsesses about trivia.
    This will be my last post on Clickonwales. Since the IWA bans people with whose views it does not agree from contributing, I must protest by withdrawing my own participation. The IWA has earned a unique position in Welsh life and has generally used it responsibly. It is damaging to its own position and to public debate if it seeks to silence awkward voices, especially doing so in private and without acknowledgement. I urge IWA to remember the words of Voltaire and return to encouraging open debate. Until it does so you will hear no more from me.

  6. Nor me …… it has not published at least two of my most recent posts.

    Good luck to ill informed debate. Wasn’t it always thus in Wales!

  7. Valid points are made in the report. Broadcasting has failed to keep pace with devolution.

    There is a particular problem in coverage of news and current affairs in Wales. Far too much information is broadcast to audiences here concerning events and developments in England which are of little or no relevance, particularly in the areas of health and education. It’s left many people confused regarding the responsibility of the Welsh Government for the devolved areas and what exactly is going on. It’s unacceptable in democratic terms, adding to the significant democratic deficit in the UK.

    Worryingly, the BBC is complacent, showing no signs of adapting to the devolved environment. Networked programmes, such as BBC Breakfast, News and Newsnight, are very Anglo-centric, and although they might reflect the balance of population, they don’t meet the requirements of the other nations of the UK. BBC Breakfast, for instance has approximately two minutes of Welsh news items (other than sport and weather) per hour. There are frequent discussions about health and education in England on it, with virtually nothing about the NHS or schools in Wales. We have English items foisted on us ad nauseum, even though we pay exactly the same licence fee as those over the border.

    Things have to change, and soon. Devolution has been in place for thirteen years.

    I can’t wait for independence from an Anglo-centric state which has exploited Wales, brought it to its knees, and created dependency, which the unionist parties, especially Labour, seem content to live with it in perpetuity, whilst eastern European nations are overtaking us in the prosperity stakes.

    Broadcasting is part of the malady inflicted on Wales by Westminster.

  8. One very simple programme which the BBC could do in English (and which they already do for S4C) is a Welsh Question Time.

    This is a real cause for fustration. I’ve stopped watching QT unless it has Starkey, Will Self, Tebbitt or another interesting member of the panel. At least half the discussion is pretty well irrelevant to Wales.

    BBC Wales could even use the same set at the Welsh version (change the name of course).It surely is an easy and cheap programme and is vital to help viewers actually understand who makes policy here.

    The other real cause for devolution of the BBC is the recent judgement in the Eos tribunal where the whole Welsh language music output on Radio Cymru will be paid about half the incime of the BBC Wales’s Chief Exec Rhodri Talfan Davies. Or, a fifth of what BBC Wales spent on taxis in one year. That is, the whole royalties payments for music in Welsh is to be £100k p.a.

    The payment to play music on Radio Wales is around a £1m. So, that’s £1m out of the Welsh economy whilst the BBC were against a settlement which could have put £1m (or at least a sum larger than £100k) into the Welsh creative industry.

    The criteria used was a strictly anglophone one. But doesn’t take into account the fact that British state instutitions; education, population movement; lack of status and yes, BBC policy too has created a situtation where Welsh has been minoritised in the first place.

    Promoting Welsh language culture and creative arts it seems is not a criteria but then, why should I as a Welsh person pay to promote the English language not only in Wales but also across the globe? That is, promoting the English language globally is seen as a good investment in terms of promoting British cultural products, creating a global economy in English which would benefit English/British companies and personel. But, promoting Welsh language culture isn’t seen as promoting Welsh ‘brand’ and a wider economy and culture.

    … or, maybe it is, but that the BBC doesn’t want to promote that and also doesn’t want to deal with an independent and independently minded ground-up Welsh trade union which is what Eos is for Welsh mucisians (not all Welsh-speaking either).

    It’s worth reading this blog:

    The BBC is not half as supportive, and deliberately has no understanding nor with to understand Welsh culture.

    As the blog says:

    “In winning this argument, according to the tribunal, the BBC in London have issued a dictat: it’s not possible for you to make decisions on your own, we will always have the final say, it’s us who decides how to measure the value of your culture, we don’t consider cultural value when measuring the success of our output, nor the value of those individuals responsible for creating that success (Welsh language musicians, in this case).”

    By playing Welsh language music Radio Cymru were ploughing money back into musicians and studios in Wales. They could play English language music and pay much more for it and all that money would go to London or the USA.

    The BBC is not a friend to Wales. It wishes Wales to be in its own (BBC) image.

    What accounts for the Welsh news service in English is mostly to tedious to watch – it presents a picture of Wales devoid of any intellectual vitality.Stories which are ‘too Welsh’ are not broadcast on Wales Toda as, well, non-Welsh speakers have no interest in stuff in Welsh – even if it maybe in their own area. There is no interenational dimension to Welsh news even a discussion on what’s happening in Scotland.

    Why watch news from Wales?

  9. From an English point of view why the hell do we need a union. The devolving countries want independence in all things but money, jobs, contracts and capital spending.
    The biggest question out there is: ‘What the hell is there in it for England?’
    Answer that (one brain cell required) and we see the future of this political farce.

  10. English independence and an English Broadcasting Corporation devoid of all things British are essential.

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