Beyond Rhetoric: Media Policy for Wales

Angela Graham says we should not be afraid to think creatively about new ways of ‘doing media’.

“as slow to be set on fire as a stomach”

I wondered, while listening to Rhodri Talfan Davies speak this weekon two occasions at the National Eisteddfod, if some version of that sentiment ever entered his mind. It certainly entered mine. It’s a striking phrase coined by George Eliot to express her frustration at her contemporaries’ failure to grasp the spirit of the times. How slow we are – those of us not touched by genius such as hers   ̶   to see the writing on the cultural wall in front of us. A new dispensation is coming and we need the ideas to meet it.

A stress on the need for new thinking and engagement was, it seems to me, the main thrust behind the solo speech from the Director, BBC Cymru Wales. He concentrated largely on Welsh language broadcasting, given the location, but he made a passionate case for public service broadcasting as a whole. He maintained that the prophets of doom are mis-reading the message. It’s not that public support for PSB is in decline but that:

What we’re really seeing are powerful commercial interests that want to chip away at the notion of a publicly-­owned broadcaster. A publicly-­owned broadcaster committed to serving everybody irrespective of background.

Why? Well, because it doesn’t fit with an ideological view of the world where consumerism must trump citizenship every time. For them, public service broadcasting is a rather unpleasant system that doesn’t trust the public to make free choices as consumers. But just because the terms of the current debate can feel deeply frustrating doesn’t mean we can afford to ignore it. There is simply too much at stake in this Charter Review.

In fact, the peril ahead of us, he would maintain, translates thus:

Get it wrong, and we could see public funding being reserved for a narrower range of rather niche programmes that commercial companies wouldn’t be interested in making. The BBC would become a sort of creative ‘polyfilla’ – there to fill the gaps left by the market. And the licence fee could be wound down over time…. The result… would be to dismantle the BBC and with it the broadcasting system not just in the UK, but here in Wales too.

Shortly before this speech, Rhodri Talfan Davies was on the panel at an event organised by Cardiff University, BBC Cymru, S4C, y Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol and production company Rondo (see BBC Radio Cymru series Cyflwr Y Cyfryngau) on The Future of the Welsh Media. There was no mistaking his appeal for fresh thinking, for ideas on how to move ahead into a new world of media consumption and use. It may be part of the job of a Director of a BBC ‘nation’ to come up with solutions to broadcasting problems but it is not a one-person, nor a one-institution, task. He went on:

Because I’m an optimist, perhaps my biggest hope is that the Charter Review period provokes that real and far-­reaching debate about the future of broadcasting in Wales. It is an opportunity not just to ask what sort of broadcasting we want, but also what sort of Wales we want. We should be prepared for a passionate and often heated debate. In fact, we should demand one.

And we should demand it on the right terms. There must be an end to campaigns which focus solely on Welsh-language media. The two main languages of Wales are in this together or their broadcasting futures decline together.

Being at an eisteddfod it is easy to see why the culture of Wales matters but this is not so clearly perceived outside Wales. Demanding something is easy but cuts little ice with those preoccupied with concerns closer to their own homes. A case has to be made, with confidence and with proof that the desired outcomes are feasible.

We should not be afraid to think creatively about new ways of ‘doing media’. As well as a debate we need concrete suggestions. The Institute of Welsh Affairs, through its Wales Media Policy Group, is working towards those by updating the Media Audit it produced in 2008. With a basis of facts rather than rhetoric we have an opportunity to demand a great deal more than a debate.

Since our successful first Cardiff Media Summit last November we have held regular meetings of a forum nature at which a range of media interests is represented. Our Audit will cover provision in broadcasting, the press and online material in Wales, along with a review of major statements and documents about the media in Wales. On the basis of these facts and the themes which emerge from them a working party is developing policy proposals. These will be broad in scope and include issues of governance and also diversity, training and employment matters.

We will publish the Audit and Proposals on 12th October. We have invited a number of media academics to respond promptly via the IWA clickonwales site. In order to further policy development we are organising the second Cardiff Media Summit on the 11th November at the Wales Millennium Centre.

We have invited media researchers from all Welsh universities to link to the summit. Academic scrutiny of Welsh media is an essential part of a healthy media landscape.

Rhodri Talfan Davies ended his eisteddfod speech with a phrase that could hardly have been more to the point.

You pay for us, so it is your voice that will matter most in this debate. Just make it count.

But he didn’t tell us, individual viewers and listeners, how to do that. It’s important to get one’s voice on the record, otherwise it can’t be counted. One way to do that re. the BBC is via the Corporation’s online consultation.

Angela Graham is Chair of the IWA’s Wales Media Policy Group. This article was first posted on her blog:

14 thoughts on “Beyond Rhetoric: Media Policy for Wales

  1. A simple answer to many questions you have raised Angela is to free the Welsh media of ‘Essential Bilinguals’ in the Welsh language context for all English language services.

    There is not a single main media outlet (BBC & ITV Wales; Western Mail and the Daily Post) without those people most of whom have an immense chip on their shoulders plus an agenda to promote a language and culture that’s irrelevant to most people of Wales.

    These people are stifling and censoring debate on the corrosive and damaging issues of Welsh language imposition (Especially in education) and in my view to the detriment of Wales!

  2. BBC Wales’ broadcast at the Eistedford was an exercise in pure self-serving delusion. Not ONE voice of serious dissent was broadcast, classic BBC Wales bias.

    As for high minded Welsh academic hobnobbing and guileless pontificating, this is for the birds.

    It’s humble ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ taxpayers who are forking up, not the abstruse tedium of laverbread coated Welsh academic piffle.

    Say ‘Hello’ to the real world Ms Graham, Welsh language broadcasting in particular should be by subscription or nothing.

    As for BBC Wales, it is really is time it was subjected to ruthless reform. It has been abusing license fee payers for far too long.


  3. @LFW- It speaks volumes about the nature of your drivel that you refuse to publish your name with your comments. I wonder why? How interesting that this poor silent majority have not yet said enough is enough? Maybe because you are in fact a bitter minority? And given the fact that you are unable (I so assume given your vitriolic rants) that you are unable to read or appreciate Welsh academia, please tell me how you can possibly evaluate it and come to the unsurprising conclusion that it is ‘piffle’? It is also most interesting that you believe BBC Wales needs ‘ruthless’ reform; some sort of Anti-Welsh Kristallnacht I suspect?

  4. Well, that escalated quickly, didn’t it? Both Protic and Ruck on the same morning, and both with the same-old same-old.

    Anyway, to the point: I can’t see the point of having a ‘media policy for Wales’ when Wales could scarcely be said to have any media of its own anyway.


    The BBC is owned and controlled by the Westminster State and will – when push comes to shove, like it did in Scotland – know on which side its bread is buttered.

    Whatever HTV is now called, it too is owned and controlled from beyond our border and can scarcely be said to reflect anything particular to our country’s political, social or cultural landscape beyond those parts of it which co-incide with the agenda set at ITV corporate HQ in London.

    ‘Our’ press contains two main newspapers, one of which has no circulation worth speaking of north of Aberystwyth, and one which has no circulation worth mentioning south of my alma mater. Both of them nonetheless insist on referring to themselves as “The National Newspaper Of Wales”, or some such puffery. Ludicrous in itself, but even more so when you find that both are owned by the same London-based corporation.

    And then there’s the local press, which has slimmed down so much that the staff of the advertising departments now seem to outnumber the journalists by a factor of three to one (which explains why so many of them are no more than promotional leaflets with a bit of local gossip cut-and-pasted from press releases by local Council bigwigs, with whom the papers have to keep well in because local authorities are usually the biggest spenders on advertising space in them).

    All in all, our ‘media landscape’ more closely resembles a desert than any more viable territory, and without adequate sources of investment and – crucially – guaranteed diversity of ownership – little is likely to change.

    To go back to the beginning, why don’t the two previous commenters – doughty veterans of communication as they are – form their own TV channels to give us their ‘fair-and-balanced’ view of our land? Who’s for ‘Protic TV’? Who’s for “Ruck Today”?

  5. Media policy is an important subject and both Rhodri Talfan Davies and Ms.Graham make very useful contributions to the debate. This has made me examine my own family’s consumption of media and for what it’s worth this is what I found.
    Since the advent of broadband, I am the only member of the family (some of whom are Welsh speaking) to watch live ‘terrestrial’ TV on an increasingly sporadic basis. Over the past year I have only religiously watched Bake Off, This Week (Andrew Neil) and scandi-danish-french-noir type dramas with subtitles and 6 Nations rugby. I don’t watch any channel other than BBC. I don’t have Sky. I watched a couple of episodes of Hinterland and fell asleep halfway through. I loved High Hopes but this isn’t on anymore tragically. I don’t watch anything on S4C now. I watched Pobol y Cwm for years but eventually gave up. I watched abit of Dr Who but found it incomprehensible. The majority of my media consumption (and work) is now done online.
    My wife and my offspring (they aren’t children anymore) do not have or watch TV at all. All their media consumption is now done via the Internet on mobile phones, laptops and tablets. My wife asked the other day why are we paying £140 plus per year for that unused TV in the living room. Well, I said, I want to watch the Rugby World Cup so it stays! You can b… pay for it then was the riposte!
    It seems that the penetration of ‘Gordon Brown’s world wide websphere’ into media consumption is almost complete reflected by catastrophic viewing figures for S4C and other channels and the collapse of newsprint. It’s not even ‘generational’ since the trends cut across all generations young and old. It is only the ‘digitally excluded’ for whatever reason that rely on old media. I don’t think media policy should be dictated by such a diminishing group of consumers.
    Change in the media landscape is accelerating and there will be new players. The BBC as an institution is indeed admired across the world and treasured by those of us brought up with it but the writing is on the screen.

  6. The usual indignation from the Y Fro front whenever stark realities of the Welsh language imposition are exposed but never a rational justification or any attempt to justify the unjustifiable.

    Wales is subject to damaging Social Engineering policies as practiced by the Welsh Labour Government under the ‘Bilingual nation’ definitions for the benefit of the few and by the few.

    The Welsh ‘Bilingualism’ has become synonymous with failings across many aspects of post devolution Welsh society and increasingly the damage is becoming more and more evident and especially in education, public services and broadcasting.

    Take the Welsh Language Demand that apparently exists on a massive scale as we are frequently told by the Welsh media but never allowed to challenge this premise in any shape or form whilst Wales is literally imploding because of it!

    Sticking with the Welsh language media it’s fair to say that after Billions have been spent on its promotion especially in the last 16 years, there is absolutely nothing that can be claimed to be a success, simply abysmal failings by the S4C and virtually non-existent Welsh language press.

    We need to understand reasons behind this sorry situation and have a high profile debate free of censorship especially by BBC and ITV Wales and the answer may come out that the vast majority of Welsh people simply have no interest in the Welsh language and its culture?

    Hopefully Welsh public may wake up and understand the damage that’s been done to them by the politicians in the Bay and perhaps start demanding answers from their AM’s before May 2016!

  7. What ever the ‘debate’ about BBC (UK),and by implication S4C produces in coming years it is clear the current model is unsustainable,and some radical changes are coming down the line. I would imagine that BBC Wales/S4C is heavily subsidised by English payers of TV Licence Fee/taxation,but they are unaware of that,so hopefully UKIP can start explaining this to people’over the border’ and corrective action taken in near future. It is interesting that BBC (UK) does not cover any form of horse racing,which is of great interest to many working class people/country dewellers,so it (BBC UK) is becoming of less relevance to ordinary people. We in Wales have regional BBC/S4C that is absolutely obsessed with rugby football which is now at top level a ‘professional’ sport with huge salaries paid for coaches/players,and an army of commentators/pundits also earning fortunes out of basically a ‘rubbish’ product at regional level. When you think that International matches are covered by 1,. Radio 5,2 ,Radio Wales,3, Radio Cyrmru,4 ,BBC TV.5, S4C and myriad programmes/reports before matches it makes you wonder if the world has gone MAD!!.

  8. To Mr Screen (?),

    Oh dear, the fact that I am the editor of LFW ie Julian Ruck, really doesn’t require any further comment.

    Be assured that the cowardice of internet anonymity has never been my style, as my media profile etc clearly confirms.

    As for your thoroughly unimaginative, if not burnt-out, Godwin’s Law ‘piffle’ then all I can say once again is, dear me.

    Julian Ruck – Editor, Letters From Wales Uncut

    PS Oh and by the way, I was an ‘academic’ myself once. I lectured law, though sadly not in Wales. Disgraceful isn’t it?.

  9. To Chris Jones,

    The points you make are rational and informed.

    Just one problem:

    Those in the Welsh language lobby are hardly renowned for accepting the future or demolishing their redoubts of denial.

    Owen Glendower is alive and well and Saunders Lewis is still running around with a box of fire lighters stuffed into his arse pocket.

    LFW (or should that be Julian Ruck?)

    NB To R Tredwyn – where Welsh language broadcasting is concerned yes, subscription only or nothing. It is scandalous that BBC Radio Cymru receives £16.2m pa and BBC Radio Cornwall £1.2m pa and yet both stations have the same audience figures!!!

  10. Letter etc: why wouldn’t all BBC services be subscription ones on your logic? Why single out Welsh?

  11. Now, now Chris. I would happily employ a wet nurse to put you bed, on the condition that you stop pulling the ears off your teddy bear.


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