The challenge of reaching Wales’ citizens

As Wales’ broadcast industry gathers at the Cardiff Media Summit, Rhodri Talfan Davies, says that news must remain the cornerstone of the BBC’s commitment to Wales.

Today’s summit in Cardiff is timely. It will debate some of the biggest and hottest issues in broadcasting – including commissioning, the role of the independent sector and the future of news provision in Wales.

In each of these, the tectonic plates are shifting quicker than ever before as content markets become increasingly globalised and digital devices put enormous power and control in the hands of the individual.

It is too easy for broadcasters to label all this change as ‘disruptive’. Well, it is not remotely disruptive for the public. They enjoy a level of access to knowledge and entertainment that previous generations could barely imagine. Last weekend, I tried and largely failed to explain to my son the purpose of the ‘Encyclopedia Britannica’: well, where do you start?

It is also too easy to regard a globalising content marketplace as a threat to Welsh broadcasting. The BBC’s two biggest global exports are made in Wales –Doctor Who and Sherlock – and Fiction Factory’s hit series Hinterland shows that Wales has the creative and entrepreneurial nous to make it on the international stage. There are major opportunities out there for companies and programme-makers with ambition.

But it would be disingenuous to suggest that there aren’t challenges too. The BBC’s Director General Tony Hall recognised this earlier this year when he described the funding squeeze that has faced the BBC’s English-language programming for Wales over recent years. It has meant, as he set out pretty plainly, that some aspects of national life in Wales, including comedy and entertainment, are not being properly reflected on Welsh screens.

Following Tony’s speech, I was asked by some whether BBC Wales’ decision to ring-fence its investment in news, current affairs and political coverage over the last four years had been mistaken as it had, surely, resulted in other areas being hit harder by savings.

There is no denying it was a tough decision at the time. But it was the right one for two reasons.

First, devolution has changed Wales profoundly. The decisions that shape the delivery of our public services are now taken in our own back yard – by our own parliament – so it is vital that we help the public make sense of these developments. A proper, vibrant democracy relies on informed, active citizenship and I believe our news services play an invaluable role in realising that goal. That is why, for example, we have invested in new specialist correspondents and created a news research unit to get under the skin of contemporary Wales.

The second reason is that the challenge of reaching Wales’ three million citizens is more complex and diverse than ever, and it has demanded new investment. Yes, BBC Wales Today continues to be required viewing for almost half the population each week – with audiences at a ten year high – but younger audiences increasingly expect news to be delivered wherever and whenever they choose. Already, some 2.5m devices access BBC Wales’ mobile and online news services every week.

But despite the success and reach of our broadcast and online news services, I would recognise that there is still a great deal of work to do.

Our own research shows very clearly that the public’s understanding of politics and public policy in Wales lags considerably behind their grasp of UK-wide politics. Despite nine in every ten adults saying they have a real interest in news about Wales, our latest survey found just half of adults in Wales could name which party was in government at Cardiff Bay, and only 31% could name Wales’ First Minister unprompted.

Addressing this alarming knowledge deficit should be a matter of priority for everybody who cares deeply about the proper democratic governance of Wales. For the BBC’s part, our responsibilities are two-fold. First, we must continue to seek opportunities to extend and strengthen our news coverage of Wales: to ensure we deliver news services across all devices that properly reflect the realities of a changing and more fragmented UK.

And, in parallel, of course we need to ensure that everybody in Wales has full access to the BBC’s national services. That’s why we prioritised investment in BBC One Wales HD last year. This autumn, BBC One and Two Wales became available as live streams on BBC iPlayer  and we’ve also  been pushing hard to extend the DAB radio coverage of Radio Wales and Radio Cymru. We’ve made real progress there . By the start of 2016,  coverage will have more than  doubled to 86% of households  in just two years and we’ll be rolling out DAB across north-west Wales very shortly.

These are important and necessary steps – and a demonstration of the BBC’s commitment to help audiences in every part of Wales to make sense of our own nation, and to play a full and active part in the development of our youthful democracy.

Rhodri Talfan Davies is BBC Wales’ Director

18 thoughts on “The challenge of reaching Wales’ citizens

  1. A question for RTD to explain what he means by ‘How do we make sense of our own nation and how to develop our youthful democracy’?

    It’s well known that RTD’s credentials for BBC Wales top job are impeccable: His grandfather held this job, then he gave it to RTD’s father and now this job is in the hands of RTD.

    I have no idea if RTD has any siblings but if he has, I would not be surprised that yet another Talfan Davies clone appears at some stage in the future to manage a British institution that has been hijacked in Wales by the Talfan Davies clan to promote the interests and values of the Y Fro minority above all else!?

  2. It would make Welsh politics more interesting if we could have a better knowledge of the Welsh Assembly, with perhaps more marketing and promotion of its work. One problem has been that broadsheet newspapers (I notice in particular The Times), seem to focus on England’s news as a priority, and this news now passes for national news, leaving full coverage of Welsh news to be delivered by the Western Mail.

    The trouble is that this change of emphasis is confusing for those of us who were used to papers like The Times, being a serious newspaper for the UK, while our regional daily was more local. The Times reflects the changes brought about by devolution, and I suppose, also creates a clear record for its own future archive, but I think that the demarcation is a false one, and will reflect poorly on its reputation as a paper of historical record. I feel less happy about buying The Times because it seems to be another country’s newspaper.

    It falls to the Western Mail to deliver the news as a serious national daily paper. It can’t remain a secondary regional one, or we shall be missing out on important news coverage, detail, and comment. That said, I look to online sources of information a great deal now, but still enjoy a proper newspaper.

  3. @ Glasnost UK

    More personal remarks, this time aimed at Rhodri Talfan Davies. There’s just no stopping you, is there?

    Anything to say about the actual issue itself? Do you have anything to contribute on how we can improve the quality of service offered to the public by the media both in Wales and in London?

  4. The future of BBC Wales is in doubt as funding for the national body (UK) wide through the TV Licence Fee is to come under greater scrutiny in next review in 2017?. As people are much more a)individualistic,b)self centred and therefore used to paying for what they want,and when they want it then why have a national body at all??. We can buy the newspapers/periodicals we require without the need for a national (UK) provider,so why have a BBC at all??. If there is this great interest in whats appertaining down the Bay then why are regional papers in such decline,and audience figures for welsh political programmes on BBC Wales don’t exactly ‘hit the heights’.Other than for WAG and welsh rugby I’m not really sure what the point is in having BBC Wales and also S4C,except that its a big employer for the ‘chosen people’ in nationalistic/socialist CYMRU!!.Why do weed need 30 minutes for welsh news at 6.30 when the national news takes only 30 minutes at 6.00.

  5. Why do your commentators have to hide their names? Glasnost (a very inappropriate name) seems to be English, or he would know that the initials for the boss of the BBC in Wales should be RhTD. Or is he in fact English?
    Criticise RhTD for his BEEB-speak if you will. But you can’t really disagree with what he says. But what about HTV (or whatever it prefers to be known as now); to some people it is more important than the BBC.
    The really big problem is the press which is overwhelmingly English. It is no surprise that so few people know who the First Minister (Prime Minister in Welsh) is when they read what they do. Does The Times (now owned by a denier of so much) really give any coverage to the Assembly? I don’t know, as I refuse to touch his publications with a barge-pole.
    We need a paper which puts Wales first; perhaps the Western Mail has changed (it used to be Tory, as the Daily News was Liberal). Or perhaps – more important than anything – the people are changing, as we perhaps saw in the last referendum.
    The Llandudno (not Liverpool) Daily Post must be part of any answer.
    Wales is already changing. The first thing, as they found in Ireland as well, was language. The final move was the shootings. But that will never happen here.
    So it is up to the news people, the RhTDs, even the AEs (look on page 2 of the Western Mail to find who he is, if you don’t know). Scotland knows a little about where to go; perhaps later I will find the link between the (Glasgow) Herald and the new daily The Nationalist. This looks like the way ahead. Unfortunately the Welsh equivalent of the SNP is not quite as powerful as its Scottish equivalent.

  6. Oh please, no more local BBC, be it television or radio. It’s just drivel.

    Time we closed it all down and let the private sector do its best.

  7. “It falls to the Western Mail to deliver the news
    as a serious national daily paper. ”

    It is my vital Katherine Jenkings @Welsh icon reading. Ten pages now most days. I really hate it when Martin Shipton attempts to squeeze in “serious” on page 13 below the fold.

    As for Radio Wales, ask not how it could get any better but how it could possibly get any more desperate or dumber. “MAM VALLEY RADIO 1950s” it flashes up on the screen of my new Roberts DAB portable. Wish I stuck with my old s/h valve one. Still, it provides good medya training for future wannabe Plaid AMs. And their families.

  8. RBJ et al – Nothing personal, just factual as BBC Wales has been in the hands of Talfan Davies family Dynasty for generations promoting the Welsh nationalism.

    BBC Wales English broadcasting is full of ‘Bilinguals’ in Welsh language context with some of the presenters incapable of a coherent English language usage.

    BCC Wales refuses to disclose how many non-Welsh speakers they have employed in the last 15 years They also refused point blank to disclose how many people watch ‘Democracy Live’ – All under FOI requests and many more ‘sensitive Welsh language issues’ simply disregarded.

    On three occasions BBC Wales has only broadcast my interviews with them in Welsh Language programs with no prior disclosure – Censorship or Not and RTD talks of ‘new democracy’ perhaps he should have added ‘On BBC W terms!?

  9. Some people don’t half sound bitter sometimes.

    The BBC makes television shows so good that TV networks around the world queue up to buy them. It gives us coverage of our legislative bodies, scrutinises government, educates us about our history and our present, supports arts and culture, allows us to follow global and local sports and gives a voice to millions of people – all for £145 a year (free if someone in the house is over 75). By contrast, Sky charges people over £50 a month to watch Keeping Up With The Kardashians, live feeds of Kay Burley insulting people, and reruns of mid-table clashes from the 1997-8 Premier League season.

  10. Really! 31% know who Carwyn Jones is? I would have put it lower myself. Just over half of all people polled recently knew (or thought) that the NHS was the responsibility of the Assembly and of course a majority of people in Wales want what Scotland are going to have though they don’t know what it is or, indeed, what Scotland have already.

    I’m disappointed that R(h)TD hasn’t mentioned Wales’ only independent unbiased news source:

  11. From my own perspective I would like to see Radio in Wales diversify greatly. I would like to see a proper Welsh spoken word station to include news, drama, science, history and comedy. Some content could I suspect be brought in from Radio 4 which is far too London centric in a lot of its broadcast.

    The same could be done for Radio Cymru.

    I wish there was a good antonym to “dumb down” – to abstrusify perhaps

  12. That 31% do not know the name of supposedly the most powerful politician in Wales is shocking. The BBC failed in its duty as a nominally independent public service broadcaster by not making this a major story and thereby initiating a wider public debate.

    The fundamental issue here is that Wales does not have a fully developed civic culture. The media must bear their share of the blame for this but, in fairness to them, they are only part of a much broader problem.

    The Scottish Referendum shows that people can still be engaged when they feel they have a meaningful choice. People in Wales feel they have no such choice. One particularly vivid memory is of a BBC trailer trying to stir up excitement about the 2nd Assembly elections by asking, breathlessly, ‘Who is going to be the next First Minister?’ Anyone remotely interested in the Assembly already knew the answer, the same one as before, Rhodri Morgan. The precise percentages of the votes cast were going to be largely irrelevant to that.

    Of course, it would help to develop a civic culture if BBC Wales presented both sides of a question. The problem with ‘Little Gwynedd’ is not nepotism – we are all Welsh here, so let us not pretend to get worked about that subject – but the way our ‘public service broadcaster’ is dominated by people with the same set of backgrounds and values. An English-speaking, non-leftist Unionist has as much chance getting above-the-line work in Llandaff as a black police officer in 1950s Alabama.

    In this the BBC are no worse than Fox, but at least Fox are cheerfully open about their bias and make no claim to be a public service broadcaster.

    The Beeb’s more general introversion impacts not only on the news, but on drama and comedy. Although there are individuals there who are honourable exceptions, the BBC as an organisation is particularly inward-looking and self-regarding. As a result, although it is good to see so much commercially successful drama being produced in Wales, it is not written here, so there is little or nothing distinctively Welsh about it.

    ‘Sherlock’ is superbly executed but still comes down to an English actor playing an English character created by an Englishman. ‘Doctor Who’ is a Scottish actor playing a character created by an Englishman, an Australian, and a Canadian. ‘Atlantis’ is great fun and a triumph of production, but why Greek myths and not Welsh myths? It is not as if we have none of our own.

    Is the much-touted ‘Hinterland’ really that much of a success? It was filmed with great skill but comparisons with the likes of the more sophisticated Danish ‘Forbrydelsen’ only served to highlight the cardboard quality of its characters and plot. Indeed, when was there last a BBC drama which, like ‘Forbrydelsen’ or the American ‘Homeland’ or even Channel 4’s current ‘Babylon,’ left the viewer unable to wait for the next episode?

    As for most recent BBC ‘comedy,’ the less said the better…

    Is the BBC, in drama and comedy as well as current affairs, now trading mainly on past glories?

  13. Reaching Wales’ citizens doesn’t seem to be much of a challenge – nearly every home I go into has Sky TV and national newspapers doing just that! And that’s the case whether the home language is English or Welsh…

    The recent trend for BBC Cymru Cymru Wales and ITV Cymru Cymru Wales to employ reporters with Welsh accents so pronounced I can barely understand what they say has made the local news and current affairs coverage on both channels virtually unwatchable – it is easier just to read the words on their websites. Given the cost per hour of unintelligible TV it looks like appalling value for money! S4C has never been anything other than appalling value for money… And then there’s the ongoing issue of pro-devo bias in most of the Wales MSM coverage. The Wales MSM is so into the Bay Bubble it can’t see wood for trees and has no chance of holding the failing WAG to account when they’re all on first name terms.

    To make the Wales media accountable to the people it all needs to be run by outsiders – failing that it might as well be shut down!

  14. “…to .employ reporters with Welsh accents so pronounced I can barely understand what they say has made the local news and current affairs coverage on both channels virtually unwatchable ”

    Every day the comments here get more like those that appear on the Wales news page of the BBC website. Is IWA oblivious to this trend or is it part of a cunning plan to supply unlimited rope to those with a particular disposition to things Welsh.

  15. @JRW.I couldn’t agree more with your comments.We have in Wales created a ‘delusional’ world in that the media,and in particular BBC Wales thinks we are obsessed with ‘parish pump’ issues,rather than world matters. I asked in local shop about levels of newspaper sales as between a) Western Mail and b)UK wide papers and sales were about 1/20 !!. With regard to S4C I recently went on good walk with 4 friends who grew up in welsh speaking ‘heartland’,and are therefore a)fluent,b)much more sympathetic to welsh culture than I am,however with regard to a)S4C and b) BBBC Wales they were even more critical of both media organizations than myself.There is clearly a close connection between the nationalist/social poilitical class,and the BBC/S4C which would not be tolerated at the national level,i.e BBC UK.There needs to be thorough investigation into the VALUE of S4C,particularly as the new licence fee ‘set up’ in 2017 is likely to further restrict levels of funding of BBC on national,i.e UK basis. I’m pretty sure that less than 1% of English payers do no know about money that they pay for TV Licence goes towards funding a channel that virtually no one watches.

  16. John R Walker is right. Like him, I hate hearing Welsh accents on Welsh TV. Who appoints these people?

  17. Wrong again Howell. All surveys show people are more concerned about “parish pump” matters like the state of the local health service and local roads than they are about world affairs. The national media doesn’t tell them much about either so most people in Wales don’t know who is responsible for the health service or who is the foreign secretary. And you would be surprised what would be tolerated at the “national” level. The BBC is cowed by the government, which threatens its licence fee, the security services tap your phone and read your emails at will, the Guardian cannot get the government to release letters from the Prince of Wales to ministers which abuse his constitutional position. But then you thought Boris Johnson was a “world class politician”. Your romanticism about central government is truly amazing.

  18. @R,Tredwyn.Thanks for information.If people are truly interested in local matters/services why are sales of local newspapers so poor,and numbers of people watching BBC Wales ‘news’ so relatively poor?.I truly believe that the BBC at both a)national,b)regional level is passed its sell by date,particularly as the ‘funding’ is basically a poll tax,rather than direct charge for freely consenting consumers.As far as BBC Wales is concerned its seems hugely overstaffed and poorly managed with far too many outside broadcasts for routine news reporting,if its actually news at all. The reporting of rugby football is very poor,and the tie up between reporters/commentators and the WRU leaves ‘objectivity’ swinging in the wind. I DO believe that Boris will go on to lead the CP and become Prime Minister of UK as he definitely has got ‘something’,how else could he have become the Mayor of London which is not ‘right wing’ territory in any shape or form. I am not romantic about UK governments in general,however as a 70 year old my working class family have had pretty good experiences as a result of its ‘amazing’ performances.

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