The media that Wales deserves?

Lee Waters outlines the conclusions of the IWA’s draft Media Audit.

Throughout the past week we have been publishing our draft analysis of the state of main media sectors in Wales. In the spirit of the ‘crowdsourcing’ approach that we have adopted in several of our recent projects we have had valuable feedback on our chapters on the radio industry and the press that we will be incorporating into the final report that we will launch at the Cardiff Media Summit on November 11th.

The analysis we have laid out is sobering. Since the IWA’s last Media Audit in 2008:

  • Spending on English language television by the BBC has been cut by 25%, as has the number of hours produced
  • S4C suffered a 24% cut in its central funding and ITV Wales is broadcasting a diminished service of just now 90 minutes a week on top of its news output
  • There’s been a narrowing of the range of programmes, with genres such as light entertainment, the arts and drama are minimally represented or, in some years, not at all.
  • Local content on commercial radio has been cut as ownership has been consolidated
  • Welsh newspapers have seen a collapse in their print distribution – in common with most modern media markets. Although there are encouraging signs of the growth of online journalism, the commercial pressures on journalism raises question marks about the future of inquiring reporting and its ability to scrutinise Government all levels in Wales.

At a time when Wales is becoming more distinct in policy terms, the ability to reflect and question these changes has diminished considerably and faces further downward pressure. The future of Public Service Broadcasting faces an ideological assault from the BBC’s commercial rivals, ‘light-touch regulators’, and Small State advocates in Government. The place of Public Service Broadcasting could be tested even more ferociously by the rise of the Smart TV; the channels currently given prominence by the Electronic Programme Guide we see when we browse channels don’t appear on Smart TVs and Public Service Broadcasting content is increasingly cumbersome to search out – which will further embolden the troika to weaken PSB further, much to the detriment of Welsh needs.

Rather than wring our hands the IWA Media Audit sets out to accompany an analysis of the trends with a set of suggestions for mitigating them to try and ensure the Welsh media can perform three important functions:

i) to be a constant, inquiring two-way conduit of information, connecting government, civil society and citizens, and

ii) to provide a full reflection of that society to itself – its diversity and creativity, its achievements and failures, its languages and arts, its glories and its foibles.

iii) to enable Wales to represent itself to the rest of the UK

You can read our policy recommendations here.

IWA Wales Media Audit

Last week

Monday: Read Lee Waters’ introduction to the IWA Wales Media Audit

Tuesday: See section 1 of the draft Wales Media Audit in full here. 

Wednesday: Read the Wales Media Audit’s findings on Radio in full. 

Thursday: See the Wales Media Audit’s findings on internet. 

Friday: Read the full draft report on the Press.

This week

Today: Read our policy recommendations.


Lee Waters is IWA Director.

11 thoughts on “The media that Wales deserves?

  1. The ‘question marks about the future of inquiring journalism’ is a point well made.
    The rapid change in the media in Wales has been devastating for journalism.
    After more than 32 years as a journalist here, I survey a scene which now resembles a First World War wasteland.
    The Western Mail now sells fewer than 18,000 copies a day as Lee Waters rightly points out (see
    In 1979 it was 94,000, and when I worked in (then) Thomson House in the early 80s it was still over 70,000.
    Exactly three years ago it was predicted The Western Mail could have no readers at all in 10 years time.
    The growth of online journalism may be ‘encouraging’, but WalesOnline looks like a dog’s dinner.
    They are obsessed with rugby, the weather, celebs and ‘click-bait’ articles.
    They promote competitions like ‘Miss Wales’, publish pictures of buxom young women holding foaming mugs of beer in so-called stories about a new bar opening, and print items about the ‘glamorous’ partners of Welsh rugby players.
    They do, though, concede attractive women can also be intelligent.
    Dr Anwen Jones, a lecturer and wife of Alun Wyn Jones, is described in the piece about rugby partners as “clever and sporty… a former 400 metres hurdler (who) was Welsh champion from 2000 – 20007”.
    This is Bernard Manning journalism stuck in 1972.
    What does it say about the position of women today?
    Very occasionally I want to know where Wales will be in five years time.
    You won’t find that in the Western Mail, even though they dub themselves ‘The National Newspaper of Wales’.
    Plunging down market evidently does not work, and it is not just a problem for Cardiff-based newspapers, but across Wales.
    In February the Daily Post (with the same owners as The Western Mail – Trinity Mirror) which covers North Wales was selling 25,426, down 5.9 per cent.
    The South Wales Argus, based in Newport, was at 12,671, down 9.2 per cent.
    The South Wales Evening Post, based in Swansea was selling 27,589, down 9.8 per cent.
    Wales on Sunday (also owned by Trinity Mirror, which cannot be healthy surely?) was on 16,238, down 15.1 per cent.
    On a wider issue, reporters are no longer sent on a daily basis to cover courts and inquest hearings.
    In most evening and weekly papers ‘Lifestyle’ pieces prevail.
    At the South Wales Echo which now sells just 18,408 a day (sister paper of the Western Mail – another Trinity Mirror title) there used to be a dedicated crown court reporter, a magistrates court reporter and industrial tribunal reporter.
    No longer.
    But readers want to know what their neighbours are doing.
    I pay tribute to the Herald newspapers in West Wales who have decided once again to send reporters to cover local courts on a regular basis.
    They think, too, there is money to be made in it.
    Hopefully without sounding too pompous, the lack of regular court and tribunals coverage also has a serious implication for democratic accountability.
    How are policy-makers held to account?
    How do we know what they are up to?
    Where is the investigative journalism?
    My old news editor on The South Wales Echo always used to tell me: “Never assume anything.”
    Unfortunately we can assume this decline is having terrible consequences.

  2. This series of articles confirms some of the worst fears of those of us who still believe in democracy. In a sentence, our once vibrant civic culture seems to be in terminal decline at the very time when we are drifting towards ever greater political autonomy.

    This is a very dangerous combination: politicians of increasing power being elected by voters of increasing ignorance.

    The media have only themselves to blame. They are so one-sided as to be worthless. Whether it is because of their own ideological prejudices or because those who offend the Establishment risk being cut off from the sources of information, Welsh journalists seem incapable of subjecting the Assembly and its policies to serious critical scrutiny. Why should we spend our own money buying newspapers that simply trot out the party line or waste our precious leisure hours watching state television that long ago gave up on even the pretence of political independence?

    That said, it is fair to note that the media are also subject to global trends. Those of us who used to read the ‘Western Mail’ but now read online blogs, and who used to watch terrestrial television but now buy ‘boxed sets,’ are of course part of those trends.

    Yet those trends are practically inevitable, given the technology, and not necessarily a bad thing. Local media simply need to accept and understand them better in order to use them. They do in other places. The twin obstacles to this happening in Wales are the inward-looking narrow-mindedness of those running our local media and the ignorance of a poorly educated populace. That a report only today singles out Wales for its ‘digital skills gap’ is depressing but not surprising:

  3. I attempt to scan the world’s media as much as possible. Apart from the outstanding New York Times, the finest investigative journalism, and prose, I’ve read recently has come from The National (Scotland), and Morning Star (England). If you take the thorough, and global, Newyddion (S4C) out of the equation, Welsh journalism and production is at its nadir.

  4. Mr Parry makes many good points. It is indeed a wasteland and really rather depressing – particularly if you are someone who is ‘pro-devolution’. The devolution project can hardly be considered a success when only around half of people know who is responsible for running the NHS, schools etc. Who’s fault is that? The media? the politicians? people?

    WalesEye does a decent job of holding politicians to account and we need more sites like it. However, Mr Parry refers to the sexism that appears on outlets like walesonline (of which he is correct to), but WalesEye is particularly guilty of this. The ‘satirical’ writer on that page often spews misogyny – which is a shame. My advice is stick to the investigations.

  5. I must say that times have moved on and Phil Parry is only echoing reaction I was getting in my early days at the Evening Leader In Wrexham and Radio City in Liverpool in the 1970’s.
    Local newspapers existed for over a couple of hundred years on births,marriages,funerals and obits plus courts. The national newspapers still pretty much exist on the same fodder. In a word gossip or chat in the pub. Local court cases are no longer reported unless there is some sort of national interest. Planning and other local council committe meetings are no longer covered. Most local journalists got their stories either at the markets or in the pub on market day. Today we have what I call the ‘eternal flame’ journo or to put it another way they never go out. In the last century the local paper editor was part of the local movers and shakers in the freemasons and other town societies. It would be considered improper if a journalist was founding drinking and socialising with council members these days. As for tv and radio in Wales well I quickly discovered when I joined Radio Wales from Radio City in 1978 that it stopped at the heads of the valleys road.South of that you had the Western Mail while in north Wales the local daily was the Liverpool Daily Post. I took my nice sinecure from BBC Radio Wales for a decade with a five day a week programme knowing we were never going to have any committment to cover Wales like BBC Radio Scotland. The freesheet newspapers and internet have now destroyed the financial model that kept local newspapers and radio and tv afloat. Worse still the Performing Rights Society have eliminated radio in the workplace with their draconian licensing system that means we no longer hear Swansea Sound booming from every tyre shop ,garage and workplace in the city.

  6. In reply to Jack Rawls….

    I spent the best part of a decade as a global tv news producer initially with Associated Press TV and later Reuters in London.These are the two global tv and print news wholesalers.
    I quickly discovered that whatever I wrote and whatever tv footage I edited would go to air uncut on most of the major international and national stational around the world. To this day this how news is produced. BBC World will air footage from Reuters and just revoice it using the script that comes as do CNN or other global broadcasters. My son took over from me at Reuters and his packages go around the world every day to tv stations and major newspapers. When you first get in to the international news game the fact you can google your byline on many newspapers such as the Detroit Free Press or Chicago Tribune gives you a buzz. However the bottom line is no one apart from a few journo’s read bylines or tv credits.

    What I found disappointing was that around 80% of global news is unreported. In other words only 20% of whatever happens in the world makes the screen or newspapers. Thousands of people dying in an earthquake in who knows where is not the same as an aircrash where two kids from Wrexham die.
    And this brings me back to Wales. To get people to read news someone has to make news. It is a vicious circle where you have to report someones fortune or misfortune.

  7. In reply to Phill Parry’s comment….
    “My old news editor on The South Wales Echo always used to tell me: “Never assume anything”

    That would have been Geoff Rich?

    Good advice for anything in life.

  8. Living and (sometimes) working (digitally) as I do in a darkest purple ‘digitally excluded’ area of our fair land (see above), I am finding all this negative analysis rather depressing. Nevertheless, I suppose it has to be done and I applaud the IWA for its groundhog day breaking efforts.

  9. @Mike Flynn.. ‘To get people to read news someone has to make news. It is a vicious circle where you have to report someones fortune or misfortune.’
    Yes indeed and it makes me thankful that we live in a country where there is little or no news that hacks ( I won’t denigrate the term journalist) find worth pursuing and newspapers want to print.
    Talking of news, we are shortly publishing Tom Davies’ (ex.Sunday Times, Observer, Western Mail) latest book (rant) on his pet theme of the ‘evil’ Media. It is titled ‘Bush Revelations’. I think some of you will enjoy it!

  10. @ Chris Jones

    I agree with you that all this analysis is rather depressing. I have enough trouble keeping up with constitutional developments and tracking the Welsh economy that the work needed to improve the situation and quality of our media seems overwhelming.

    However we need to realise that the process of raising our expectations of our society and ourselves is a painful one since it only serves to highlight the neglect we have inherited. We can draw some comfort, I think, from the maxim that the truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.

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