BBC needs to follow-through on its warm words

Image of Tony Hall

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

6 thoughts on “BBC needs to follow-through on its warm words

  1. Lord Hall is emerging as a man of goodwill devoid of substance. I cannot help feeling that, listening to his recent pronouncements that his attitude to Wales remains largely a patronising one, indicating of the establishment for which he works. He has, of course, been shafted by the Conservative government recently making the BBC responsible for funding free TV licences for senior citizens, a decision in part determined by the aim of reminding the BBC, just before the charter renewal, who the boss is.

    However his hands are tied in one sense. I remember an anecdote from a few years back now when representations were made regarding the devolving of broadcasting to the constituent nations of the UK. The answer received was that it was not possible given “that we are the only think holding the country together.”

    There has been some discussion in the newspapers recently that not enough was done at the time of devolution in terms of precautions taken to safeguard and retain the UK identity. The expectation from Westminster politicians is that that particularly responsibility now rests with Lord Hall, and that any raising of the Welsh profile above its predetermined level will be regarded by them as a sign of weakness.

  2. If people are that interested in what’s happening in our ‘neck of the woods’ why are ENGLISH newspapers being sold in village shop by about 20 to 1 as compared to the Western Mail!!. Lets be absolutely frank the WM has turned into a rugby ‘magazine’ with pages and pages devoted to rugby football,with very little notice of ‘minority’ sports. Perhaps the welsh people have had enough of the current BBC Wales coverage of a)news,b)current affairs,c)sport which seem to be obsessed with ‘nation building’,and national ‘identity’ in the extreme. I would place BBC Wales (South) with the West of England,and BBC (North) with North West of England and reduce staffing/expenditure to more reasonable levels.

  3. I think the author of this piece is somewhat naive and confused. He talks of the loyal BBC Welsh audience on the one hand and yet goes on to say that half of Welsh voters don’t know who is in charge of the NHS.

    Either the BBC in Wales isn’t doing a very good job of informing and educating its audience or else fifty percent of the people in Wales are choosing not to get their news, politics and current affairs information from BBC Wales.

    No amount of extra money will improve this situation. Only an immediate change of leadership at the top of BBC Wales.

  4. @ Howell Morgan

    It seems to have escaped your notice that the people of Wales voted twice for a democratically elected political body to be their government. The only way your suggestion could work is to deny that these events happened.

    @ Karen

    Whatever criticisms can be made of the Director of the IWA, being politically naive isn’t one of them. In addition, you posit an apparent contradiction that doesn’t exist. If a half of Welsh voters don’t know who is in charge of the NHS, then the other half do. Perhaps you’ll find the loyal viewers of BBC Wales among them.

  5. The BBC is not going to get a lot more efficient in what it does, is it? Does anyone know how to make that happen? Commercialization might improve entertainment programming but won’t improve news analysis or public service broadcasting – look at US radio and television. So to improve broadcasting will require more money. Where is that coming from? No point in moaning at the Beeb unless you can answer the question.

  6. “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.”

    For all its faults you can’t blame BBC Cymru Cymru Wales for this! This is a bunch of people who don’t give a damn about politics and it doesn’t matter how much detail you dangle in front of them they won’t take any notice! Here we have another example of the standard solution to ‘failure’ = more of the same! It seldom works…

    My own view is that one of the main problems with political interest in Wales is that there is too much politics in too many layers with too many players… Covering it adequately is almost impossible for any broadcasting medium or organisation. How do you keep Joe Public informed about all the aspects of UN, EU, UK, WG, county and local politics which affect people in Wales? You can’t – it’s more than a full-time job keeping on top of all the intricacies of all these layers of increasingly anti-democratic snouts in the trough and the specific and over-lapping codes they have to work to.

    Educating and informing the public would be so much easier if we just got rid of the two most unnecessary layers (EU and WG) and then BBC Cymru Cymru Wales, and the rest of the Regional media, might be able to cope! As it is, they have no more chance of covering it properly than we have of taking it all in!

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