Media Coverage of Wales is Shrinking

Angela Graham explains the findings of the IWA Wales Media Audit 2015

Just as extra powers are flowing to the National Assembly, the people of Wales are becoming harder to see and hear on the media.

The Wales Media Audit, has been carried out by a group of media experts and academics on behalf of the Institute of Welsh Affairs. It has examined in detail the range and output of TV, radio, online and press, and sets out 37 recommendations for change.

The detailed study has found that although the availability of media has greatly improved, there are major concerns around content about Wales.

We’ve never had so many media to keep us connected and yet the media in Wales have never faced so many challenges. Coverage of our lives in Wales is shrinking. We face a future of many media IN Wales and less media content ABOUT Wales.

Since the IWA’s last review of the Welsh media in 2008 the supply of content about Wales available to people in Wales has been subject to multiple pressures;

  • The amount of money spent by the BBC on tv programmes for Wales in English has fallen by 22.4% in the last decade, as has the number of hours of television it produces.
  • ITV Wales’ programme obligations for Wales were cut by 40% following agreement with OFCOM in 2009. It now produces 90 minutes of English language television a week on top of its news output (of 4 hours a week).

  • S4C suffered a 24% cut in its central funding.

  • Circulation of Welsh newspapers has fallen dramatically – from a 60% fall in the South Wales Echo circulation, to a 33% drop in sales of the Daily Post. The Western Mail now sells just 17,815 copies a day.

  • The combined reach of the newspaper online sites in Wales each day, probably already exceeds the total daily readership figures for indigenous Welsh newspapers in the pre-digital world. In that sense the digital world has delivered a dividend. However, the number of journalists employed has dropped dramatically and the scope of reporting may be contracting. Further, newspapers continue to make up 90% of the income for news organisations raising concerns about the future viability of news provision.

  • In commercial radio, as Digital Audio Broadcasting spreads, local news could disappear from the airwaves as big groups take over.

When the IWA last surveyed the state of the media Wales was the least well served of all the nations of the UK. Since then the picture has deteriorated further.

ITV has cut its service to Wales to a minimum, and BBC and S4C are having further cuts imposed on them. The nature of journalism is being profoundly challenged by the collapse of newspapers and the rise of online. Taken together this means that the media is less able to keep us informed and hold power to account.

Current UK debates about the BBC suggest that Wales is being lined up for further cuts. In the context of the review of the BBC’s Charter, the BBC centrally must show that it has a plan to deal with the media circumstances particular to Wales. To date there has been only rhetoric about making money work harder and warnings that network quality will suffer if Wales gets more funding. The market has not delivered what Wales needs from broadcast media. Robust Public Service Broadcasting is essential and the BBC is the cornerstone of that in Wales.

For BBC Wales’ English language TV service alone, First Minister, Carwyn Jones has asked for an extra £30 million. Is thirty million out of a total BBC income of four billion a big ask for a nation?

The IWA maintains that although broadcasting is not a devolved matter, Welsh politicians should shoulder their proper responsibility in this crucial area and act to the full capacity of their powers in relation to it, for example by requiring the major tv channels to lay annual reports on their operations relevant to Wales before the National Assembly.The Welsh Government or a committee of the Assembly should make a response.

The Welsh Government should set up a structure to monitor developments across media so that they can champion the media needs and interests of Wales from a well-informed basis.

It is possible to harness the wonderful opportunities in the changing media landscape but this needs analysis, informed judgment and concerted action in the round. Some of us are politicians or media workers but we are all viewers, listeners, readers and online users too. We have to act together to get the best possible media deal for Wales.

Angela Graham is an independent TV producer. She chairs the IWA’s Media Policy Group.

24 thoughts on “Media Coverage of Wales is Shrinking

  1. ‘A structure to monitor developments across media’? Ms Graham is already chair of the prestigious and well informed IWA media policy group. Why do we need yet another structure (talking shop), to monitor and make reports on media developments that are self-evident to even the most unengaged punter? The horse has departed from the barn and is galloping off into Gordon Brown’s world wide websphere.
    I think the main worry must be about ‘holding governments to account’. I have to ask since most of the media is ‘owned’ with their own self perpetuating agendas (eg. Fox News in the US) and mostly commercial, are they really the best or most effective means of controlling government? They have become the Orwellian ‘tool’ of government. Therefore, surely it is our elected representatives (those same politicians) that need to pull their media fingers out and do this job within our existing political forums. After all it is in their own interest.

  2. If it is notm obvious to every viewer, listener and reader of the printed press, that coverage of Wales has fallen to below an acceptable minimum then I just do not know what will ever convince them! The total absence of media coverage of a Wales not incorporated into a Greater England? Politicians talk about the ‘four nations of this island’ but given the almost anti-Wales stance of the Secretary of State for Wales any further devolution tio the Senedd and Welsh Parliament remains a sslim hope. Unless, of course, that body has the guts to stray from its remit and debate and resolve upon Welsh matters outside of its powers and vested still in Westminster. The pressure will then be on and the onus lay with the Westmenster Government. What are they going to do? Abolish the Sennedd? And risk serious protest indeed? I think not. Jail obdurant Welsh politicians? May be; and wouldn’t that be good for the future of a Wales learning to take risks in order to ‘grow up’ and be adult in nationhood again

  3. Only sovereignity will allow Wales to have a free and independent press and media. Until then the London media in Wales will be continue to ‘give us our Welsh news and opinions’

  4. The licence fee is currently frozen in a Tory ideological assault on the BBC. However, it has risen in the past decade as have the numbers of licences issued – so has the BBC Wales budget been cut disproportionately if its lost 25% of its funding in the past decade? If so, the £30m is the least we should expect.
    It would be far better for us to have a devolved amount to ensure fair funding.

  5. Perhaps the priorities are wrong! Interest in protecting the language as opposed to the culture is out of balance if we are to attract people to the manner in which we see ourselves and who we are and why our ancient language is important we have to market it properly not push it down peoples throats ar vasr expense much of which is wasted. Get peoples interest in the reasons why Wales is different and its past is greatly misunderstood but worth understanding in depth as is its scenery. Present the package that leads people to want to accept the importance of the language.

    Beyond that when I watch my Rugby matches I want it with an English commentary!

    My real grudge is having to put a bomb under officito take on board the need to re-engage on using OUR REAL HISTORY as a promotional tool to promote the complete package. Can somebody shake them up?

  6. Gruff, I wonder whether you see sovereignty as an answer to most of our problems but can you explain how it would help in this matter? Yes it might lead to greater public funding but how would that sit with press freedom and independence. Why would the the Welsh population refrain from reading and watching London based media?

  7. In the meantime, whilst Wales is in the present devolved state, we shouldn’t or can’t rely on the devolved Welsh Government to ‘give us our media’. Any national press or media company in Wales should be independent of the government and ideally, however small, a private commercial venture, a cooperative funded by we the people or a mix of both of these. Many people in Wales would be more than willing to stop paying the BBC licence fee and instead pay this fee to an independent Welsh body providing well balanced impartial Welsh and English language news and scrutiny of government.

  8. A typical Welsh response, R.T. ; never step up to the plate yourself , but let someone else pick up the tab !
    If only a tiny % listen / watch to the Welsh – speaking media why should it be bolstered up by the money raised by British public designed to go to genuine good causes ?
    And why the independent scrutiny of the Welsh media be trusted to ,’police’ itself , Gruff but we need “sovereignity ” to do it ? You really make me laugh speaking as though were still a ,”conquered nation. “

  9. “Many people in Wales would be more than willing to stop paying the BBC licence fee and instead pay this fee to an independent Welsh body”

    I hope this isn’t the same “many people” who currently watch S4C… because based on their viewing figures your hairbrained plan would be up the creek without a paddle

  10. “Many people ” would rather stop watching/listening to BBC and prefer to pay and view/listen to a welsh broadcaster. Really? Gruff. By many you must mean a large majority as otherwise it couldn’t possibly be imposed.

  11. Jon, Gillian – Sovereignity (economic specifically) will allow a Welsh state to properly fund an indigenous media structure i.e publicly funded channels, for television, internet and radio in both Welsh and English to effectively reflect the whole of Wales. This would also allow for independent commercial companies and an exclusive Welsh Independent Broadcasting Authority which would cancel out the current antiquated current system where ‘some people in London’ decide who can or can’t broadcast in Wales. However none of this should stop the setting up of a totally independent national press and media body or company (or variety of bodies/companies) in Wales right now , which can broadcast/print online right now without anyone’s permission – there has never been a better time for it and it can be done for very little money and without any governmental help/hindrance. This is obviously already happening to on a smaller scale with blogs, You Tube channels and local newspapers etc. What’s also needed is a proper independently national set up to complement them.

  12. I do wonder what it is that makes people sit on their computers and dream up comments that they can throw into debates to simply provoke outrage. There are a fair few trollers on this web-site and it livens things up quite a bit, but I cannot myself imagine doing this to a similar site promoting Englishness and English values.

    I have a great repect for Englishness and English values and think that it would be great to set out the differences between English and Welsh values and identities and take pride in our differences. If there was a concept of being British that embraced these difference and allowed them to be expressed and aired in positive ways, then I for one, might consider thinking about the word British as having some value, but just as I would never call myself Icelandic, because I’m not, then I cannot relate to the concept of being British while it is simply a synonym for English.

    I think the British in the BBC is simply promoting Englishness and English values – references to the capital meaning London, references to “us”, “we” and “our” meaning “English”. The BBC version of ritsh identity is still very much wrapped up in regal notions, Victorian nostalgia and reverence for the aristocracy, with very English values and practices from high tea to keeping a stiff upper lip and belting out land of hope and glory. If that’s British, then I have as much in common with British as I do with being Croatian and I will take the passport and pay my taxes, but will always dream of something better.

    I use the word dream knowing that words like that are ideal bait for trollers to pounce upon, but the best things we achieve always start as dreams and I do dream that the small minority of Englsh people who dislike notions of a non-homogeneous Britain will one day start to acknowledge that Wales amongst others is different and so should the connotations for the word British if it is ever to survive.

  13. Aled, I am with you on homogeneous British values.Even more so on British and English being synonyms. However your further comments seem to suggest that there is such a thing as a set of homogeneous English values and a separate set of homogeneous Welsh Values. I think that that’s nonsense on stilts.

  14. Jon,
    Best chop down those stilts then – I’d never make a politician thankfully and I’m cringing at the thought that I might have implied a notion of homogeneous national values. I would be interested in opinions on national values – the whole notion of national values sounds wrong to me and conjures up images of piousness, superiority and power. I have always considered values to be personal things, but never really considered having a set of personal values for myself – it would be a bit contrived.

    As far as British and the BBC though, I do think these things are about educating and instilling ideas about common values and maybe that is why it can at times appear a bit distasteful – clearly politicians often get embroiled in these sorts of things and it often ends up very messy I have no idea if there are supposed Welsh values and if there were any, I would certainly object strongly to having anyone or any organization try to push them onto me personally. When I think of the same thing for England and Britain, then periods in history, like the Victorians etc, espousing morals and all the rest come to mind and how these things became twisted to make the less fortunate appear to be immoral, lacking in character or values.

  15. Aled I have misunderstood your original comment but on rereading it, my misunderstanding is understandable.
    I am glad you don’t really believe in national values. I am not sure that the concept of regional values makes much greater sense but there is some truth in the criticism of the BBC reflecting the values of a narrow section of society. Well educated, well paid, public sector and London based; this is not a randomised representative group.

  16. I found the report interesting and familiar and I agree with the conclusions. The people of Wales depend heavily on the London based press and TV News reports but the needs of Wales are completely ignored in these sources. I give an example of correspondence I had with The Sunday Times recently.

    On 18 October I sent the following letter, hopefully for publication, by email:

    “The third largest party in the UK parliament, the Scottish National Party, held its annual Party Conference last week. I had expected to see a report on this in The Sunday Times on 18 October but I couldn’t find a single word about the Conference. This is clear evidence that The Sunday Times is not a UK newspaper. It is clearly an English-only newspaper run by blinkered London-based journalists who are not really interested in anything that happens in the UK outside London.”

    I received a reply on 21 October thanking me for the letter which had been read with interest and said, “We are sorry you were disappointed with the lack of coverage of the SNP party conference last weekend in the national edition of The Sunday Times, which includes Wales.” Note the use of the word “national” and “Wales”. I was assured that the SNP Conference had received front page attention in the Scottish edition together with further reports on the inside pages and they kindly sent me copies of these. I sent a reply to say that this proved my point that The Sunday Times is not a UK newspaper.

    A week later I saw that there was no coverage of the Plaid Cymru Conference either. As they hadn’t published my original letter I sent the following letter on 25 October urging them to consider publishing in order to generate debate:

    “The third largest party in the UK parliament, the Scottish National Party, held its Annual Party Conference 15/17 October. I couldn’t find a single word about the Conference in The Sunday Times on 18 October. At the end of last week Plaid Cymru held its Annual Conference and again not a single report in The Sunday Times on 25 October. This is clear evidence that The Sunday Times is not a UK-wide newspaper. It is clearly an English-only newspaper run by blinkered London-based journalists and political columnists who are not at all interested in anything that happens in the UK outside London.”

    I received a thank you reply adding “Although we were unable to publish it, we were glad to have your view.”

  17. Fynsant Efans said:

    “I hope this isn’t the same “many people” who currently watch S4C… because based on their viewing figures your hairbrained plan would be up the creek without a paddle”

    I’m not sure why you are so preoccupied with only S4C – it seems that you’re implying that the 2.4 million or so non Welsh speaking Welsh men and women have no interest in their own country and what happens in it at all. There are a wide variety of people in Wales who would gladly pay a voluntary annual fee for a bilingual national independent channel or news source that wouldn’t want any governmental help or intrusion. You know, like normal everyday folk of all persuasions and background who quite like the idea of a free healthy press and media which encourages free speech and non biased journalism.

    jon owen jones said:

    ““Many people” would rather stop watching/listening to BBC and prefer to pay and view/listen to a welsh broadcaster. Really? Gruff. By many you must mean a large majority as otherwise it couldn’t possibly be imposed.”

    It wouldn’t need to be imposed as the BBC currently is Jon – it would be a voluntary option for all Welsh citizens of all backgrounds who would like to see a bilingual indigenous media and news outlet for Wales that promoted a free healthy press and media and non biased journalism. And it doesn’t have to be an expensive corporate behemoth. 500 -1000 people paying an equivalent BBC fee to a Welsh channel could be enough to cover costs for an online daily broadcasting body for example. As an indigenous commercial Welsh channel, HTV Wales flourished for decades before the London government threw their bureaucratic spanners in the works.

    Nothing would stop subscribers to this unique Welsh service from also indulging in a bit of BBC watching as well if they so wished of course – perhaps it should even be encouraged in order to remind us how dangerous and out of control the BBC propaganda, spin and cultural conditioning has become – selling us numerous illegal wars and pushing the other grubby agendas so beloved of their Square Mile masters.

  18. Maybe Wales is finally getting the media coverage the people want? True, there are a few people with an almost morbid interest in anything to do with ‘Wales’ but the majority of people have their focus on the UK and global issues.

    This couldn’t be much clearer than in the recent, and ongoing, survey WISERD is doing about kids’ geo-political interests.

    Check out the 2nd chart – scale of issues I feel strongly about analysed by their geo-political location.

    For Regional = Welsh issues it’s zero! Which suggests we don’t need upwards of 60 AMs to legislate and administrate issues our future voters don’t seem to regard as important! Nor do we need a parochial navel-gazing media to cover it. The geo-focus for these young potential voters is UK and global not Cardiff Bay governance and that fits with the ~20% higher turnouts we get in general elections compared with Assembly elections.

    So what is the Wales regional media actually for? In theory we should be able to get local news from local sources we already pay through the nose for – e.g. your Council website should tell you what the Council is doing and about local events etc.. Only a few anoraks care about the Cardiff Bay Bubble which explains why the Western Mail is heading for oblivion. National and global issues are covered by national media sources… Increasingly the Wales media looks like non-media peddling low-interest content to disinterested people… If you take out all the zealously planted stories about disaffected Welsh speakers who can’t get this, that, or the other trivial thing done in Welsh then there isn’t much left!

    The graveyard awaits?

  19. Gruff so you find 1000 people who are willing to pay an additional license fee for the new channel. So what`s stopping you?
    Perhaps its maths? 1000 X £145 = £145,000 that`s about 2 and a half people and maybe a shop attic office.

  20. Ok – so if the world is now so much smaller, how about a media where content is generated by aspiring journalists globally, working to create a name for themselves and enhance their journalistic career opportunities. A platform where aspiring journalists can earn their stripes and show off their talents, edited and published within a group containing editors and reviewers from different countries and continents. We have twitter, but this isn’t the same – there isn’t a platform for publishing credible, quality controlled content, that has been reviewed and appropriately edited.

    To have the media we want requires money, so we need to pool resources and expertise with other nations and minorities who have similar problems. It could be an on-line platform with submission protocols and editorial scrutiny. An on-line media platform, published in many languages, giving global news from aspiring journalists stretching across all the continents providing a very interesting range of news continent and hopefully some very interesting local perspectives?

    Who knows maybe the UN could take an interest in it, since it would aid in global communication and spreading of ideas, allowing people to communicate in their own languages and placing unique cultural slants on things.- Just a thought? All it needs is an on-line platform, a respected editorial team and suitable get it going. Journalists, camera crews and photographers etc would work for free to develop and showcase theor skills to attract attention from the other established media platforms?.

  21. I was amazed by today’s Sunday Times (22 November 2015). On the front page there’s a story about prominent Welsh figures calling for more funding for S4C and their letter is published in full on the Letters Page. In addition, there’s an article by Leanne Wood. I’ve never seen such coverage of Welsh issues in the paper. I sent a message to congratulate them!

    On Thursday 19 November I published a “comment” on this website which detailed email correspondence I’d had with The Sunday Times complaining about the newspaper’s lack of coverage of any stories about anything that happened outside London giving the lack of coverage of the SNP and the Plaid Cymru Annual Conferences as examples. Is there the slightest possibility that my correspondence could have influenced the attention to Wales given in today’s edition? If so, the lesson is clear; we must all make our feelings known to the newspapers.

    I just hope that this coverage will continue regularly into the future and that today wasn’t just a flash in the pan.

  22. “. Is there the slightest possibility that my correspondence could have influenced the attention to Wales given in today’s edition? If so, the lesson is clear; we must all make our feelings known to the newspapers.”

    Be careful what you wish for Hywel; those people who don’t vote in Welsh Assembly elections and Welsh referenda are Anglo-centric consumers of the Tory press. How do you think they will vote if they ever realise there is a Welsh Assembly…or, indeed, a Wales?

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