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.

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