British, Bold, Creative – for all of us in Wales?

Angela Graham finds the BBC’s plans for the next decade to be a “curate’s egg”.

British, Bold, Creative: a catchy, punchy title for the BBC’s statement of its plans for the next decade and beyond but, read from the point of view of the Welsh bit of ‘British’, the contents are something of a curate’s egg.

One sees the effort to engage with the Nations and Regions. There are suggestions about reconfiguring the delivery of news and about opening up platforms for a wider sharing of materials. The aspirations are right, as in section 7.3 Entertaining the whole UK:

Firstly, we will improve how we portray and represent the different Nations of the UK on our pan-UK network services. Secondly, we will strengthen the services for each Nation.

Then comes a very big ‘but’:

But significant new investment in a broader range of programming, such as drama, comedy and entertainment, cannot be delivered within the current Budget agreement with the Government… funding these ambitions would require additional income.

It is starkly put. It’s a reference back to Tony Hall’s Cardiff speech of April 2014. It’s the most malodorous part of the egg and the most significant part of the whole document for Wales, especially given that it is preceded by:

In Wales, BBC network services continue to perform strongly but the provision of local English-language programming across the BBC and ITV has declined at a faster rate than in any other nation.

In other words, Wales is starting from a position worse than any other part of the UK so for us that ‘but’ is very big indeed.

This is where anyone concerned either for the health of the Union or for the progess of devolution must pause for thought. How can the Union be strong or devolution deliver, if Wales cannot adequately take its place in the conversation? Is it expected to be a silent partner, seen occasionally and heard seldom?

Early in the document the BBC (British, Bold, Creative, remember) sets out its contribution to the UK.

Another advantage of the BBC to the country’s sense of itself and community life is that it reflects, and reports upon, the whole of the United Kingdom. In news, sport, documentaries and comedy—on local radio, and in television programmes made specifically for the Nations, as well as in minority languages across the UK—our services help connect audiences with their cultures and heritage, and ensure that the country is having an informed conversation with itself.

Policy-makers know that culture matters just as much as the delivery of services. But they rarely have the tools to change culture. This is where public service broadcasting (PSB) can help. It provides a forum where people can debate what matters, change or deepen the views they have, and gradually arrive at better answers.

Except that without adequate funding PSB in Wales will fail the country’s culture. The culture won’t ‘change’ in the sense of ‘develop’. It will atrophy.

But back to Entertaining the whole UK! Here’s a sentence intriguing in its discretion:

We believe that the supply of BBC and commercially funded programming in each of the Nations needs addressing.

For us, this puts the spotlight on ITV Wales (if a spotlight can ever be described as discreet) and rightly so since the contribution and potential of ITV Wales tends to get sidelined.  It also gives a nod in the direction of S4C. Yet  that phrase ‘needs addressing’ leaves much hanging in the air, un-addressed.

So how is the first aim to be achieved? How are the Nations to be better portrayed and represented to the whole UK? Perhaps the answer is in section 3.2 Portraying the whole country.

It is our commitment to reflecting the diversity of the country—across all its constituent Nations and regions—that has brought some of the best content to our screens. From Gavin and Stacey (yes! Wales! but new more than five years ago) to Mrs Brown’s Boys…

That’s the Mrs Brown’s Boys which, though recorded in BBC Glasgow, is set in Dublin which wasn’t part of the UK last time I looked. Not a good start but at least there is a recognition that money isn’t everything:

During this Charter, we ensured that what we spend on network television in each Nation broadly matches its share of the population. But we recognise that spend is not everything—we need to do more, and better, to reflect the lives and experiences of all licence fee payers.

During the next Charter period we will remain committed to investing in programming across the UK and ensure that the drama and comedy we produce for BBC One and BBC Two better reflect the diversity of the UK’s Nations and regions.

Which sounds great except that there is nothing about how this improvement in diversity reflected in content is to come about; nothing about any changes to commissioning practices, for example.

There will be consultation however, not least with the devolved governments.

Given the new formal role given to the Nations’ Governments in Charter Review, we intend to consult with them and stakeholders around the country, to specify and cost our Nations proposals and any additional funding required.

But we already know that the First Minister of Wales has asked for an additional £30 million of funding for English language programming, stating that ‘we have now dipped below the minimum acceptable level of provision as far as English-language programming is concerned.’

But, given that he has also said:

‘It is important to stress that our call for additional funding for English-language programming should not be top sliced from the funding allocated to S4C (or from the £20m BBC Cymru Wales receives for Welsh language programming).’

and, in a noteworthy indication that Wales is not to become a ‘coolie culture’ production centre, has added:

‘we do not see the development of Cardiff as an important centre for network productions as any sort of justification for reducing the BBC’s investment in local services’

then we can predict what his side of the consultation is likely to suggest.

Diversity in representation and portrayal is not an esoteric matter, of interest only to bean-counters. It affects how people see themselves and how they feel about themselves and their society.  I write this on a day when the death of a young man from Cardiff headlined widely. Reyaad Khan, killed in a drone strike, lived about a mile from me and went to the same college as one of my daughters. Can we not recognise the implications of the difficulty the Welsh have of seeing themselves represented adequately in the British media? Representation of the English-speaking Welsh is ‘below the minimum acceptable level’. What does that tell us about the level of representation of Welsh people from English-speaking minorities and from other ethnic minorities?

Wales is a nation of many ethnicities now. In terms of broadcasting provision we should be catering for everyone but we can’t even cater for the majority.

British, Bold, Creative – in Wales that means bilingual Welsh/English and beyond.

The BBC is a crucial part of the democratic fabric of Wales. We need it to work for us and we need it properly funded.

Angela Graham is Chair of the IWA Media Policy Group

9 thoughts on “British, Bold, Creative – for all of us in Wales?

  1. The BBC reports news and makes some television programmes. Nothing more.

    Some think the BBC has a greater role in the fabric of British society.

    It does not!

  2. “….. we should be catering for everyone but we can’t even cater for the majority.”

    That’s Wales for you. I see the logic of allocating finance for programming according to population but then it all rather breaks down when a disproportionate proportion of that finance is earmarked for just one minority group.

  3. This is all very well but you still have to make programmes that people either have to or want to watch. If it were me I would commission a Wales version of Daily Politics along the lines of the american The Daily Show (Jon Stewart) hosted by Rob Brydon, Rhod Gilbert or best of all Frankie Boyle! Now that I would watch!

  4. Lost for words Angela and especially in regard to your last comment “The BBC is a crucial part of the democratic fabric of Wales. We need it to work for us and we need it properly funded”

    Then found the following statement from the 1950’s in the House of Lords archives: “An arrogant section in Wales who, at this moment, are slowly but surely forming a militant dictatorial group. They have captured the B.B.C. and are making a determined assault on our schools. I am afraid these Eisteddfod-going Welsh-language-thumping people will stop at nothing to force their views on the majority”

    BBC Wales (English Language Broadcasting) is effectively a ‘Family Firm’ in the hands of a third generation Talfan-Davies Dynasty operating with extreme prejudice and single agenda ‘Promote and impose Welsh language and culture and by any means’.

    So the BBC Wales being ‘crucial’ it begs a simple question ‘Crucial for whom?

  5. we can’t even cater for the majority

    Eh we have BBC Wales. Oh I forgot that also only caters for the minority. With such dreadful minority programs as Dr Who, Gavin and Stacey, Torchwood, Satellite City, Sherlock. Where are the programs for the majority of us. Why, oh why can’t BBC Wales produce high quality, internationally renowned programs like Dr Who, Gavin and Stacey, Torchwood, Satellite City, Sherlock!!! Wait a minute, let me think this through again.

  6. @ Philip from Monmouthshire

    Yes, very funny Philip but you avoid the point. No-one with an ounce of intelligence would disagree with BBC Wales’ ability to produce high quality programme. But there is a lack of good quality programmes made about Wales for a Welsh audience. You mention two good examples: Satellite City and Gavin & Stacey. Satellite City is probably one of the funniest and most original programmes to appear on our screens. But it’s been sixteen years since the last broadcast of that programme. Gavin & Stacey has been more recent. It was an Anglo-Welsh production but none the worse for that since that is the social nature of areas like Barry, which finally made it to the small screen.

    It is not a case of either/or. If BBC Wales were to adopt a Welsh audience only production policy, it would narrow the vision of Welsh television to our detriment. But the balance, at present, swings away from portraying Wales to itself. My particular bone of contention is the lack of Welsh history on our screens compared to the number of documentaries and dramas set in the context of English history. Just how many different ways are there of broadcasting about Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn? It is very much a case of, for Wales, see England when it comes to the telling of our history. S4C does a better job of producing good quality Welsh history programmes but, at best, it can only serve 20% of the population.

    And before anyone mentions the Story of Wales with Huw Edwards, history is not a story; it’s an enquiry.

  7. Rhobat
    I completely agree with you, we should have a service that portrays more of our society and history. But we also need to be realistic and accept that history in the UK is a hot potato. To be brutally honest a lot of history we get taught is simply English nationalist propaganda, a Daily Mailised version of real history.

  8. @ Philip from Monmouthshire

    I agree that Welsh history is a hot potato, it doesn’t seem to stop English history being broadcast on a regular basis. However we need to get at why Welsh history is regarded by the BBC as controversial and what mechanisms are used to prevent it being broadcast on our screens. When the ‘Dragon Has Two Tongues’ was broadcast, the controversial nature of history was included in the programme and added to the interest. Perhaps the BBC in England prefers the view that uncontroversial history is best delivered by experts for the benefit of the great unwashed.

  9. The BBC is an anachronism in 21st C. Media is created by individuals on a daily, nay, hourly basis. The BBC adds little balance in Wales. It is a polarizing service and frankly is not addressing its core value in Wales; ‘Britishness’. It is first and foremost a British service for British people. I do not like programmes about history, whether it is British (English) or British (Welsh). Rhobat explained historical documents are enquiries and I posit they are presented in such a subjective contemporary way, drawing parallels with contemporary political thought. That is not history, that is just propaganda. The BBC is not needed in the 21st C. PSB (Public service broadcasting) has a place, but the BBC as it stands today is a nationalised industry NOT serving the national interest, not serving the public interest it is just another tax. There is absolutely no need to fund it anything any better, I assume that means it needs more money, there is a need to make the existing service redundant.

    You mention ‘democratic fabric of Wales’. Do you really mean democracy or do you mean majority rule since the BBC is not a democratically elected institution. It is totalitarian, authoritarian and licensed.

    Do you mean that the people vote for elected government representatives using first past the post, where the majority can freely oppress the minority?

    The democratic fabric of Wales? What on earth do you mean?

    The BBC is losing support, losing viewers and losing direction. Dr Who, Gavin and Stacey, et al do not need the BBC, Sky’s Stella, written by David Peet and Ruth Jones, is a testament to that fact.

    The BBC is an anachronism in the 21st C. It is time to consign it to history. Let’s make a programme about that.

Comments are closed.

Also within Culture