Let’s shout about TV in Wales

Claire Hill says Wales should shout about its TV industry.

The question is who is this a problem for? Does it really matter if we don’t have strong English language programming in Wales?

We are, after all, in a global market. We have channels both domestic and international jostling for space on our television, catch up services where we can dictate our own viewing and a rich, innovative stream of online content. The BBC is so confident that youth viewing is going to migrate online that BBC Three will be heading there sooner than expected. The world is at our finger tips like never before, and if people don’t like the content they are given, then they can just pick up a camera, log into a free YouTube or Vimeo channel and begin to broadcast.

This week on Click on Wales

This week on Click on Wales we’ll be debating English language TV for Wales, asking ‘is it really in decline?’ and looking at how it can move forward. 

Tuesday: Hywel William outlined the facts and figures for the challenges facing TV broadcasting in Wales.

Yesterday: Ruth McElroy calls for a plan of action for resolving BBC Wales and its decline in producing English language TV.

Today: Claire Hill says Wales should kick up a fuss about English language TV’s decline.

So why should we care that in the words of Tony Hall that “some aspects of national life in Wales that are not sufficiently captured by the BBC’s own television services in Wales”? Is there really a role for broadcasters like the BBC to have nations and regions programming? And should Wales get its fair share?

I think we should care. I think there is a role, and Wales certainly deserves its fair share.

It’s all about representation. I believe it’s important for communities to see themselves reflected in the media. And that doesn’t just mean a country, I mean diversity in all forms. By seeing our worlds and lives on screen it can help us understand it, it brings recognition and affirmation for those who live in that world and it give others a chance to walk a mile in someone’s else shoes, to paraphrase.

And who better to make that than the people who live there? Behind the scenes the industry is brimming with talent. People who were either born in Wales, or who have settled here, and who want to make content about, and for, the place that they live in.

That is something that should be treasured, and built upon.

As an industry in Wales we don’t really celebrate what we do, we don’t shout about it. Some of the best programmes we make aren’t getting talked about because it’s not on the marketing plan this time around. A recent conversation I had with a journalist from the Western Mail didn’t know that BBC Wales Factual and Music department makes all a huge swathe of the cracking BBC Four music documentaries that everyone praises. If you tasked the press, the politicians and the people of Wales to name the breadth and depth of work that is made here in Wales they’d name Doctor Who and Sherlock because that’s where the focus is placed but I don’t think they would scratch the surface of our other output.

We need to make a bigger fuss of what we are doing. As an industry we need to be bolder and come together to shout about what makes broadcasting in Wales great and we need to galvanise a mass behind us of public and political support.

Our industry has seen plenty of cuts, from budgets to opt out hours, and we are all used to trying to do more for less and working harder to ensure the quality doesn’t dip. But it is not as if those cuts are over and a big pile of money will be handed to the industry in Wales tomorrow. If we think it is important to represent the people of Wales, with programming made in Wales, and for Wales, then we need to argue for more, and make some noise.

Back in 2011 former Director General of the BBC Menna Richards gave the Welsh Political Archive’s annual lecture and said “I have found it surprising that the future of English language television programmes in Wales is apparently of so little concern to politicians and others. It’s instructive in this regard to compare Wales with Scotland. The BBC in Scotland is faced with making similar tough savings but I’ve always found it curious that the level of interest and engagement there is so much more intense.

“Scottish newspapers and politicians complain, write, criticise and attack the BBC’s senior management in London.
“The BBC’s top team would tend to sigh theatrically at what they saw as an excess of emotion in Edinburgh and Glasgow but you’d know that, usually, Scotland would get some concession just to keep them quiet.

“Because a fuss was being kicked up. There was a public debate. Newspapers were agitated. Politicians were angry.”

Wales still hasn’t kicked up that fuss.

People will fight for the services that they love and when they make a noise and fight there is every chance they will be listened to. To take a BBC example, 6Music and the Asian Network were saved from a culling only by the public and their protests. We need to come together and show that English language broadcasting in Wales is worth fighting for, and in that fight we might get a little more of the pot.

Claire Hill is a directing assistant producer and co-founder of Push Auto (www.pushauto.co.uk) a new networking collective set up to bring people who work in broadcasting in Wales together.

3 thoughts on “Let’s shout about TV in Wales

  1. Wales doesn’t kick up a fuss because no-one in Wales knows what’s really going on so no one gets fired up about. Scotland’s economy is stronger so she has more spirit. For all sorts of reasons, Wales is more broken and the message about why and why we always get less ( money per head per child in school, money paid to Wales via the Barnett Formula, less devolution) doesn’t get through via the Welsh media.

  2. ‘no one in Wales knows what’s really going on’ A very interesting comment, in this particular context especially. For example,Tony Hall called for a debate about the BBC in Wales but unless the BBC steps forward with easily digestible facts and figures about what there is to spend and what the obstacles to spending it are (from the BBC’s point of view) then it remains very difficult even for those who are keenly interested in this field to shape a debate. The situation, as was clear from Hywel Wiliam’s piece earlier this week, is complex. By ‘easily digestible’ I mean a presentation of facts that clarifies rather than obscures what the facts might mean, or come to mean. In order to have a proper debate all parties need to help each other understand the factors applying. Tony Hall, having made that call for a debate, should have taken a practical step to facilitate it: a date offered, some information, a list of key factors…. Perhaps he didn’t want it to seem as though the BBC intended to set the terms too readily or be too controlling but I think a little more is needed. And the BBC is only one part of this equation.
    And a debate is only a beginning. As we all know, there’s nothing like a talking shop to distract attention from the most important matters. What counts ultimately are the decisions that are made. But we have to start the talking, with the figures and facts to hand.

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