Show us the money

Bethan Jenkins offers her thoughts on the media landscape in Wales ahead of Lord Hall’s evidence session in the Assembly.

Lord Hall will appear before the newly constituted Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee of the National Assembly for Wales that I Chair this week. It comes following numerous initial scrutiny sessions by this committee of broadcasters in Wales, alongside Ofcom, in an attempt to put a new spotlight on media affairs in Wales. The creation of the committee has been welcomed across the board, after quite some lobbying for it to exist by myself and others over time. 

No, this matter is not devolved to Wales, but a new Memorandum of Understanding now exists between the National Assembly for Wales and the BBC, one is also being developed with Ofcom – showing that there is a move to work with the devolved administrations and their parliaments. With ITV Wales and S4C showing that they too are willing to provide us with evidence of their work in Wales, it is vital that we utilise this opportunity as a new committee to assess what is happening in the sector, to not only influence government and how it deals with media issues, but to encourage Welsh people to partake in a dialogue about the future of Welsh media, and how it is shaped: particularly in helping to put forward tangible solutions. 

With the enhancement of powers to our National Institution, the irony is that there has been a diminution of representation in the media in relation to Welsh issues and the portrayal of Wales to its people at the very same time – from the hours that ITV Wales devotes to Welsh programming, to the stark decrease in Welsh news on commercial radio, to the closure of many local newspapers, to the distinct lack of effort by the BBC to enhance the provision of English Language drama in Wales, for Wales.  

I have heard time and again that not enough programmes on the UK networks tell us anything about Wales. The BBC’s Sherlock, Casualty and Dr Who are all made in Cardiff –which is great news for the Welsh economy – but what do any of these say about Welsh life? Most people in Wales get their news from UK-wide network services, which often says little about how many important decisions that affect life in Wales – from education to the health service – are made in Cardiff and not London. Radio 2 has a million listeners in Wales, and I have long pushed for a news “opt-out” in Wales on this service, so that listeners in Wales can hear news bulletins that specifically address the issues where they live. A campaign was also launched for a Welsh Newsnight, in an attempt to push Welsh political issues to the forefront of the minds of Welsh viewers.

This is not the first time that Lord Hall has visited Wales to make statements. He came to Cardiff in 2014, and made a clear commitment to invest in programming in Wales. He said that English language programming in Wales had been ‘eroded’ in recent years, and said that some aspects of Welsh life were not “sufficiently captured by the BBC’s own television services in Wales”. He urged us to become part of the debate on the future of the BBC. That we sought to do, when he gave evidence to a committee in the previous Assembly on the BBC’s charter renewal process.  

Lord Hall confirmed his ambition to introduce a single BBC “service licence” for Wales, to replace existing licences that regulate individual radio, TV and online outlets. We have had very little detail on this idea following on from the November 2015 evidence session, however, and plan to ask for an update on this at our session this week. What would a Wales service licence look like, who would have control over its content, and who will be accountable?

We have also seen an announcement of a new Drama Commissioner that will be based in Wales, and we look forward to asking Lord Hall more about this role. Key to this will be enquiring about how the Commissioner will work. It is all well and good for a Commissioner to be based in Wales, but will that role be working closely with the independent creative sector here in Wales, and seeking to talk to the Nation about what sort of programmes we want to see for the future?  

Nobody interested in broadcasting will have missed the fact that a new Nations and Regions post has been created to sit on the main BBC Board. This role did exist before, but was scrapped in 2009, when the Director of the BBC in Wales was given access to the top table. Ken MacQuarrie will take on this new Nations and Regions role, but Rhodri Talfan Davies, as the BBC Wales Director, will no longer be on the executive team. Certainly, we have grave reservations here in Wales about this change, regardless of the BBC spin. This is especially so, given that the detail afforded to us on the structures of new ways of working are minimal. How will the BBC Wales Director be kept abreast of any issues, and what will it mean for that person not to be on the executive board in future? How will the new post reflect all of the Nations and Regions equally and fairly? 

And of course, this brings us back to the money. In May 2015, Lord Hall wrote to the First Minister Carwyn Jones, and said the BBC planned to “allocate additional funding” across Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. 41 AMs then wrote to Lord Hall to ask when this announcement of funding would be made. We were told, vaguely so, that it would be ‘in months to come.’ However, if the scrutiny with the BBC Wales Director to our committee is anything to go by, it seems that there may be a delay in an announcement of this funding until they have made the savings proposed to BBC Wales, and the rest of the BBC , as part of the cash flat licence fee.  We need to make sure that any new money to come to English language broadcasting in Wales is genuinely new money, and not simply recycled savings from BBC Wales.  

The definition of ‘months to come’ may, therefore, stretch for some time yet. And in the meantime, we wait, while Welsh audiences struggle to make sense of the fact that time and again, we do not have programmes that reflect the Wales that they live and breathe on a daily basis. 

The message this week to Lord Hall is that as a newly established committee we will not let these issues drop by the wayside. Making a speech is one thing, but delivering on the promises it contains is another matter entirely. 

We have a wealth of talent here in Wales. We have a successful, growing creative industries sector, who are waiting for any announcement of progress for English Language programming.

We also demand that Wales has a strong voice within the structures of the BBC, and that network news and current affairs programmes correctly reflects the realities of devolution. We will not go away, and we will rigorously scrutinise the media in Wales to ensure that the people of Wales are represented effectively.

Bethan Jenkins is an Assembly Member for South Wales West. She Chairs the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee in the National Assembly for Wales. Lord Hall, BBC Director General, will appear in front of the committee this Wednesday.

3 thoughts on “Show us the money

  1. Yet another ‘talking shop’ down the Bay which emphasises how the welsh ‘chattering classes’ are obsessed about non- issues for most people. I must be mixing with the wrong type of people as the complaints about BBC Wales are not that we don’t get enough of it,but rather the reverse is the case. The recent survey of radio listening shows that both main stations in both English and Welsh languages are losing listeners,and I believe that Radio 2 is the most popular station in this region of UK.This does not seem to indicate that welsh people are voting with their ‘dials’ on this matter,and the same goes for television as well. The BBC Wales news at 6.30 is far too long and basically the same stories are rolled out,and if another report is made on the ‘single market’ of the EU I think I’ll go mad.There must be huge savings to be made as any rugby story seems to require a visit to MS,rather than simple report in studio,and the same goes for criminal trials which necessitate visit to courts on daily basis,WHY??. I like most people have both SKY/BT and the former are truly ‘world class’ which brings brilliant news/sports,whereas BBC Wales seem obsessed about a collection of cows in Carmarthenshire!!. In conclusion perhaps the segment of our TV Licence fee that goes to pay for S4C should go on services that 90% might want or need.

  2. I’ll just point out; there’s only so much money available for the press and media to provide an essential service. The vital service is, for me, not just entertainment and engagement with Wales and its people, but that vital impartial and fearless scrutiny that the Fourth Estate has historically provided. I wouldn’t be the first to observe that in Wales we are poorly served in this respect.
    We, Wales, are just three million people. We have a parliament with considerable power and responsibility and yet we have no national newspaper that deals with serious issues in a diligent and intelligent way. Over a decade I have watched the Western Mail degenerate to the point where it is wholly preoccupied with sport and tittle tattle with only the notable exception of their education correspondent, Gareth Evans, who takes his brief seriously and offers some evidence of courage in the face of adversity (and perversity) when reporting on the Welsh government’s unique education measures.
    We have an entire Welsh TV channel, S4C, which is now, and always has been, hugely expensive and most useful only in that it has given well paid employment to a generation of first language Welsh speakers of dubious talent. We have a Welsh language radio station that, it seems, caters to such a small proportion of the population that, once again, it must be viewed as a job creation scheme for the indigenous Welsh speaking population rather than a meaningful medium of entertainment or information. In fact we have quite a lot of resources, there is quite a lot of funding, it’s just that it is misdirected and misused by a political establishment obsessed with pandering to the whims of a powerful and selfish minority.

    Do I expect that Bethan Jenkins and her committee will take a good look at the Eliffant in the room? Of course not. They are politically and culturally incapable of doing so…they are themselves an utter waste of funds.

  3. Hear, hear. I hope Lord Hall got a hard time at the Committee but how would we ordinary citizens know? It is not, of course, reported by any of the media who are supposed to cover Wales. We have a dumbed down media for a dumbed down society – but which is chicken and which is egg?

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