Media Circus

Phil Parry bemoans the current state of media in Wales.

The media in Wales is not in good shape. After spending most of my adult life in the media I feel qualified to say so.

The present row over whether a senior BBC executive did, or did not, give reassurances that their Welsh headquarters would move to Cardiff bay, and a £10 million road was then built in anticipation, hides the real issue.

It cannot be right that Wales is dominated by two giant broadcast organisations, and one huge print company which runs the morning papers in the north and the south of the country (with the one in the north based in England).

All credit must go to digital broadcast companies and weekly, as well as free newspapers, for becoming part of the mix, but they still have not broken the strangle-hold of the BBC and ITV in broadcasting and Trinity Mirror in papers. Indeed many of the weekly papers in Wales, which do a sterling job, are also owned by Trinity Mirror. This cannot be good for a thriving, accountable, democracy.

Allied with this question of ownership is the issue of how the news is presented.

In local newspapers there has been a slight upturn in profits recently, largely due to their online offerings, but life-style features still abound because these are perceived as more profitable.

When I started at the South Wales Echo in the early ‘80s there were dedicated reporters assigned to magistrates courts, crown courts and industrial tribunals. They were the same people day in day out, who were well known by the clerks and lawyers, so they were aware when important cases were about to come up, and they could tell the news desk. The stories these people produced sold newspapers, but also served an important function in holding people to account.

This is not the case any more.

A freelance journalist told me recently if he had a choice of whether to send one of his reporters or photographers to sit outside Charlotte Church’s house or go to cover magistrates’ court, there would be no contest. Charlotte Church’s house would win every time – because that is the story London-based papers would pay for.

Digital technology is wonderful and allows almost anyone to present news in their area. But it cannot be viewed as a substitute.The ability to see what is an important fact and what is not, is, actually, very important and only comes with training and practice.

I once asked an older journalist what one word would best describe a good reporter, thinking he would say “integrity” or “honesty”. He said simply: “experience.”

As for ensuring factual accuracy and legal safety, don’t get me started.

So-called reports are posted on social media sites without any thought of the consequences. The truth is that a comment on Twitter is exactly the same, legally, as a piece on WalesToday or an article in The Western Mail. The laws of libel still apply.

Broadly if it can be established a story has a) been published to a third party b) identifies a person and c) defames that person’s reputation, then you need to be very sure of your facts, before saying anything. Journalists undergo years of rigorous training in libel laws before they are let loose on the public. But in social media like Twitter, people appear to believe different values apply.

On Wales Eye recently we ran a story about a BBC broadcaster who had tweeted:

“So much for the BBC – ‘Our nation’ are playing in the world cup ey?”

A tweet which flies in the face of the corporation’s strict rules on impartiality.

We were accused of “bullying” a young journalist by a BBC employee within the corporation’s new media section, when the story actually centred on how guidelines had been repeatedly tightened up but consistently ignored.

I still remember the mantra of my journalist tutor:  check, check, check.Frankly, with social media, this all too often does not happen.

Incidentally it is an intriguing insight into social media, and perhaps British society overall, that a Twitter account called Stuff on my rabbit which is devoted to pictures of different objects balanced on the head of the author’s pet, gets 14,000 followers while a news feed like ours gets 1,100. New technology should not necessarily be seen as a panacea

A juicy magistrates court case sells newspapers, as well as fulfilling a very important role. The film industry in Wales is little better.

It is viewed, rightly, by policy-makers as a central support for the economy of Wales and is worth millions of pounds. But only a few days ago it was revealed that vast sums of money have been spent in post- production, in England by companies making ‘Welsh’ films. The huge new film studios to be built near Cardiff will involve £30 million in public money while the company lured to take part, will put in £800,000 for equipment.

The Film Agency for Wales aims to:  “facilitate the emergence of a viable and sustainable Welsh film industry and to promote a vibrant and dynamic film culture”.

But is this really the way to do it?

It must surely come down to finding and supporting ALL home-grown talent – just as covering apparently tedious cases in the local magistrates court is vital.

Local may seem boring and parochial but it is very important.

Phil Parry is the Editor of Wales Eye

11 thoughts on “Media Circus

  1. Most of the “content” produced by Trinity mirror’s WalesOnline website is appalling and they give little work to serious reporting.

  2. Phil,
    your piece ranges over a number of important issues. So what can be done to improve the situation? You conclude with a remark made in the context of your final point relating to the Film Agency (though you may mean it to apply more widely) that , “It must surely come down to finding and supporting ALL home-grown talent”. Could you expand on that? What would it mean in practice? Who would do the finding and the supporting?

  3. Phil,

    Just seen a headline on the BBC saying NHS needs more cash say coalition mps and it doesn’t give the slightest clue about whether this is a story about NHS England,which I suspect since the financial black hole refers to the very large NHS England crisis. How can we be hope to be informed if the BBC makes no effort and thee is nothing of equivalence to inform us. Basically we haven’t got the media we need, we’ve never had it and its not clear how we ever will.

  4. Couldn’t help but laugh at some of this. Whilst I think the author makes a decent point about the falling standards in the Welsh media and the obsession with celebrity, I don’t for a moment think that those are exclusively Welsh problems by any means. Meanwhile, the tone of the piece makes the author sound like a grumpy old man railing against a new media which he doesn’t understand (hence “Twitter” appearing in italics!).

    However, some good has come from the article. Without it, I’d never have heard of Stuff On My Rabbit, which has proved most diverting this morning.

  5. What a pity that an article that whinges about factual accuracy contains a major factual error in its first few paragraphs.

    “It cannot be right that Wales is dominated by two giant broadcast organisations, and one huge print company which runs the morning papers in the north and the south of the country (with the one in the north based in England).”

    Like the Western Mail the Daily Post’s main newsroom is in Wales. The Liverpool Daily Post no longer exists. The Cardiff and Llandudno Junction newsrooms are both part of Trinity Mirror’s North West and Wales division.

  6. This could, and has, been written far better anytime in the past ten years. Solutions? Shrug shoulders. We have none, just a pension. So as Wales plc and its threadbare political/media class sinks ever deeper into the Pontcanna peat bog…Where is the anger? The sense of the absurd? Where is the satire? Where is “Wales Watch”?!

  7. Yeah, yeah. I know about the Llandudno junction newsroom, and that the Liverpool Daily Post closed in December. I also know the editor is from the Liverpool Daily Post and all the key decisions are still made in Liverpool. The Western Mail, for all its many faults, has always been based in Cardiff.

  8. The print media seem to be shooting themselves I the foot.

    They concentrate increasingly on “celebrities” where much of the information is ficticous and where reporters sub-contact and never leave their desks. They can’t even be bothered to get names right. There were two men named Richard Harris; one the famous actor and the other the famous playwright. Fleet Street, however, continually mixed them up and merged them. They could not be bothered to check. After all, there aren’t any individuals with the same name, are there?

    I once had to learn how to write “copy” for the newspapers. What I discovered was the sensational distortions went at the top and what actually happened went at the bottom. This was because copy was edited from the bottom up and the facts were the least important part of the story.

    I also remember the Daily Mail deciding they didn’t like Colin Chapman (founder of Lotus Cars). He had once said that “the competition begins when the rules are published”. Somehow they claimed this was proof he was dishonest!

    It’s really not surprising that the traditional press is in decline when it is so widely either incompetent or dishonest.

  9. Yeah, yeah, Phil. Why not just admit you were wrong? I’m sorry to say this as I used to admire your journalism – but you are sounding like a disappointed old man.

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