Why is Wales treated differently?

Bethan Jenkins asks if the public is being well enough informed by our media, and what impact that has on democratic decision making here in Wales.

The referendum may be over but the waters are far from calmed. Both sides are still effectively at each other’s throats if Facebook and Twitter is anything to go by, and the consequences of Brexit are now being played out across all political, economic and social walks of life.

It was important, therefore, to spend as much of the weekend speaking with those who didn’t vote in the same way as I did – those people who want out of the European Union. Not easy to do, given the heat of the debate, but important, not least because over half the people in Wales and in all of the UK don’t want to be part of the EU anymore.

The reasons I got were varied, from the vague “We want to take back control”, to rehearsed Leave arguments about immigration, to more considered replies about having given the EU some 40 years to deliver. This last point isn’t one I agree with. We seem to have reached the point where many people plump for doing away with the institution rather than changing its executive at the polls.

However, it is attitudes like this and others among those people who voted to leave that myself and the political class in Wales must confront. While the reasons varied, it remains an angry vote. A common theme throughout was of modern politics’ failure to deliver better lives for everyone.

That is a consideration for another piece, because it’s also worth focusing on an interesting if little remarked-upon anomaly in the result: why was it that Scotland voted overwhelmingly to Remain, while the similarly post-industrial South Wales Valleys voted for Leave?

No doubt this requires real research to arrive at a definitive answer, but we can talk in general terms by examining where Wales and Scotland differ. They both have a different constitutional settlement, and there is an argument that Scotland’s is more capable of delivering improvement for its people than Wales due to those additional powers. But then, time and again, research has shown that the devolution journey is not an abiding concern for the public, ranking somewhere below refuse collections and litter in our streets.

In a campaign dominated by whether there is enough to go around – because that’s what the migrant argument boils down to – the constitutional aspect certainly played no part in Wales.

Where Wales and Scotland differ significantly is in our media. Scotland has four national newspapers, and numerous regional dailies. The Daily Record, once Scotland’s biggest seller, has recently slipped behind The Scottish Sun. But here’s an interesting aspect: The Scottish Sun supports the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon’s government.

The difference between its coverage of Scottish affairs and that of its sister paper sold in Wales and England is like night and day. While The Sun mocks up the First Minister as Miley Cyrus, under the headline “Tartan Barmy”, its Scottish counterpart has her as Princess Leia above the words “Stur Wars: a new hope”.

While these two titles are owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, The Daily Record is part of Trinity Mirror. There’s no doubt that the parent company has subjected its Scottish title to the kind of cuts we have become well used to in its Welsh newspapers, but again the coverage is pro-SNP, and distinctively Scottish. Last Saturday’s paper, in the wake of Sturgeon floating a second independence referendum, splashed with “EU go, girl”.

Scottish papers – overwhelmingly for the Union – were credited with delivering a No vote when the issue last went to the people in 2014. With the Record now seemingly having taken the seismic step of swinging its support behind independence via a second referendum, will this prove to be a game changer in Scotland?

By contrast, there are no Welsh editions (let alone separate titles) of what used to be called the Fleet Street papers. Their coverage of the Assembly elections amounted to almost nothing. The argument that the Assembly simply is not “interesting” is not germane here. When I hear this claim from editors, I know that it isn’t based in any kind of research. Rather, its logic (such as it is) is down to a comparison – that the merits of spending millions on upgrading the Heads of the Valleys road for the good of the economy is unlikely to excite the public as much as the latest Z-list starlet stepping out for the night.

And yet this doesn’t seem to be a problem for the working class in Glasgow, or Catalunya, where readerships can comfortably digest their showbiz alongside serious debate about how money is spent on public services. So why is Wales treated differently, and why is it that two seemingly identical demographics voted in entirely different ways?

None of this considers the problems facing our own media, whose problems are well documented and deserve a separate look. But there are questions to ask around whether the public is being well enough informed by our media, and what impact that has on democratic decision making here in Wales.

I am sure that there are experts and media professors analysing the EU referendum result as we speak, and this should be one of the initial tasks of the newly announced Independent Media Forum for Wales by Welsh Government. We need to understand how people are consuming their media in the first instance, and how then we can create an indigenous Welsh media, potentially by supporting hyper local start-ups in a sustainable and viable way – which may not, incidentally, equate to Welsh Government direct funding, who may not wish to fund media outlets that will criticise and scrutinise them. Or potentially it could work the other way, whereby any media outlet directly funded by Government may not wish to bite the hand that feeds them.

What I do know is that we need to raise this issue to the top of the political agenda, and urgently so. If people are not consuming media about Wales, or about their lives and how Welsh political decisions directly affects them, then how can we ever seek to educate them and empower them to engage in debate about their own communities and people? If people see Nigel Farage on their screens more than they do the First Minister of Wales, is there any surprise then that many people I talked to on the doorstep believed that he was actually standing in the last Assembly elections?

We should all be concerned about the EU referendum result, especially given that we need to move forward now as a nation, and offer clear, radical leadership that will hold the Leave vote to account for the promises they made. Just how easy that will be when the media here is still so weak will be a mighty challenge, but one in which I – and others, I hope – will take up with gusto.

Bethan Jenkins is Plaid Cymru AM for South West Wales. She is also Chair of the Assembly'/s newly formed Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee.

8 thoughts on “Why is Wales treated differently?

  1. Bethan raises some trenchant points, but i guess the question is what to do about the fact that much of the media consumed by people in wales barely presents matters from a ‘welsh’ perspective? After all we cannot force people to stop buying papers like the sun and the daily mail in favour of the western mail, or swap listening to Radio 5 live in favour Radio Wales or Radio Cymru.

    But in the short term perhaps a welsh newsnight (as scotland has) would be a step in the right direction? I recall a few years back we had a welsh edition of question time – the then welsh coach graham henry graced one edition – whatever happened to that programme? But sadly in recent times we’ve seen the hours given to welsh political and current affairs programing cut ie dragon’s eye. With more people – the young especially – getting their information via the internet perhaps there’s scope to boost understanding of important issues from a welsh perspective online via platforms like youtube? (and obviously facebook).

    Perhaps the most disappointing feature of the referendum result for those of us progressive disposition however is that it confirms the recent trend showing that – despite nearly 2 decades of devolution – politics in wales appears to be becoming increasingly indistinguishable from politics in england. Large votes in 3 successive elections for right and center right parties (the tories and ukip) and a majority of the electorate voting to leave the EU. So as england shifts to the right wales appears to be shifting to the right. And what can rightly be called a ‘welsh deficit’ in much of the media available in Wales may well be playing a part in this depressing trend.

  2. What makes Ms.Jenkins believe that any new Welsh Media indigenous hyper-local start-ups will be any less likely to support Leave? The Welsh government (with EU money!) has attempted to get ‘Welsh’ flavoured print media going several times (eg. Y Byd and Golwg). The Media is incredibly complex, driven only by demand, advertising and profit and increasingly disintermediated by the Internet. People ‘consume’ Media information that re-enforces their prejudices- you only have to look at the situation in the USA (Fox news). People get what they deserve.
    The BBC, on the whole, does a very good, unmatched worldwide, job of ‘informing’ viewers who can make their own choices for good or ill. The IWA website does a good job as well but, like most (all?) Wales focused websites, it is run on less than a shoe string and has limited ‘reach’. As for S4C well what can you say?
    So what is the solution to this problem if indeed it is a problem that can be solved? I don’t think anyone knows and probably least of all …’a newly formed Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee.

  3. Most media outlets are commercial – they supply what they think the public want. Our real problem is we lack a citizenry with a serious interest in politics and currrent affairs. Democracy is only as good as the electorate is well informed.

  4. ” Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee.”

    So that will be a committee committed to culture communicated through and for the Welsh language?

    And there you have the seed of its failure and the failure to communicate to the 90% of Welsh adults who are not fluent in Welsh and the 85% who aren’t much interested in “Welsh Culture” as opposed to just the Culture enjoyed by the Welsh people in all their diversity.

    You get the media that you deserve and if Wales allows “the Language” to remain sacrosanct then S4C is the media that you will get and not much else.

  5. “So that will be a committee committed to culture communicated through and for the Welsh language?”

    No. The website for the National Assembly for Wales has more details.

  6. It appears to me that Bethan Jenkins is missing the obvious and fails to realise that the vast majority of Welsh people have no interest in the so-called ‘Welsh Brand’.

    People had enough of the never-ending and often mindless deluge of the Y Fro Gymraeg agenda (Welsh language and Welsh culture), that has reached a saturation point.

    What’s happening in Wales in the post-devolution period reminds me of the worst excesses of the former totalitarian states of Eastern Europe – Endless propaganda of the state virtues and glory days ahead (More powers, a devo max or even better the ‘independence’) but with no scrutiny or a reality check permitted in any shape or form.

    Take heed what the Welsh literary great Gwyn Thomas had to say on this very subject back in 1970’s – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-36792176

  7. I find Bethan’s argument muddled, lacking in clear direction, patronising and blatantly biased.
    Which, ironically, is the kind of “Welsh media” which would be ideal for her party, for obvious reasons.
    Has it become an automatic knee-jerk reaction for Plaid people to refer incessantly to Scotland and its politics and media like a lost mini space ship refers to its bigger, stronger, more powerful mother ship to which it one day longs to re-unite with? Our mother ship is clearly England and we should be working together energetically together, not fighting like schoolchildren.
    The problem in Wales is a dire stasis where politicians are never held to account, never resign nor consider their positions and find it too easy to join a dominant party in a constituency and get elected.
    A media which constantly asks the wrong people the wrong questions will not help.

  8. The Remain campaign lied and lost with pretty much the full weight of the Welsh media behind it. I’d say enough people in Wales and the rest of the UK are therefore well enough informed despite this campaign of misinformation. You lost – get over it! The rest of us have run out of patience with your bleating, especially those of us who voted NO in 1975. We – the old people who are now being labelled too stupid to vote – are actually the best placed people to know how completely the EUropean Project has failed the people of Europe – that’s the EU28 and the rest it has dragged down with it. It is no coincidence that it was better informed older people who swung the referendum for Leave. Instead of bleating about it the uninformed and the brainwashed remainiacs should be thanking us for saving your bacon!

    I accept, regrettably, that the Leave campaign also had its fair share of lies and deceit but it paled into insignificance at the side of the Remain campaign. It was mostly variations on the single issue of the real nett contribution to the EU black-hole rather than a whole web of lies. It still shouldn’t have happened.

    You’re right about one thing – it was an angry vote and we’re going to get a hell of a lot more angry if BREXIT isn’t seen through in a meaningful way. There is no doubt in my mind that we WILL make the UK ungovernable should the government fail to negotiate a meaningful BREXIT settlement.

    You may find pretty much the same people have had enough of Project Scotland and Project Wales as well – I know I have!

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