What does the BBC’s statement on its future say about Wales? Not a lot, says IWA Director Lee Waters
Last April Tony Hall came to Cardiff to say that the BBC wasn’t doing enough to capture Welsh life in its output. Over a year on, as he sets out the future of the BBC, he has yet to say how he plans to do it.
His analysis last year was spot on. He noted “English language programming from and for Wales has been in decline for almost a decade. The reduction in ITV Wales’ contribution has played a big part in this – but the BBC’s output has also been eroded. What does that mean for audiences here? It means, inevitably, that there are some aspects of national life in Wales that are not sufficiently captured by the BBC’s own television services in Wales, and I would include comedy, entertainment and culture in those categories. Does this matter? Of course it does”.
Ofcom’s latest figures back that up. Since 2008 spending on programmes has been cut by more than 30% in Wales – significantly more than in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Indeed, the BBC’s own Audience Council has said English-language services for Wales are close “to the cliff edge”, and the Welsh Government have called for an extra £30 Million to be given to BBC Wales as part of the Charter review process.
When Tony Hall stood up this morning in the Science Museum to start setting out the BBC’s response to the UK’s Government’s statement there was an expectation that he would show how the problem he identified could be resolved. But there was nothing.
He acknowledged, again, that the BBC needs to better reflect the whole of the UK but didn’t say how.
“As the pace of devolution quickens we will need to adapt our services – on television, online and radio – to ensure that they fully reflect, and are able to report, the increasingly divergent politics of the UK. Tony Hall said in his speech this morning. “We will never give up our role in reporting the whole of the UK back to itself, but we also have to recognise that news in some parts of the country simply does not apply in others. We want to look at how, within existing resources, we might better configure the BBC’s news offering across the UK, and, by the way, how across the range of our services more broadly, we reflect the nations of the UK to the whole UK”.
If the BBC Director General is sincere in wanting to create a BBC that is “made to measure for you, wherever you are”, as he said in his speech, he needs to make sure BBC Wales is able to produce content that allows people in Wales to see their own communities and their country reflected in its output.
There’s a lot at stake. In May the Welsh people will be asked to vote on who should control a budget of £15 billion. And yet, according to a recent poll, more than half of Welsh voters do not realise that health policy is decided in Wales and not London.
The BBC has a big role to play in reducing that democratic deficit. Tony Hall knows that. It’s time he follows through on his analysis with a solution that serves the BBC’s loyal Welsh audiences.
|These issues will be discussed in the IWA’s forthcoming Media Audit and at the Cardiff Media Summit on November 11th at the Wales Millennium Centre. For details of tickets see here