The Big Questions: Media

Social media and disinformation, devolution of broadcasting and funding Welsh media; we ask the parties where they stand.

As Wales’ response to the coronavirus pandemic differentiated itself from other UK countries’, questions once again emerged about the strength of the media in Wales and whether people were adequately informed about where power lies in the UK.

And over the last five years, social media misinformation and disinformation has emerged as one of the most important issues facing any democracy in the modern age.

Today, we publish our Media Priorities for the next Senedd, and we asked Wales’ political parties four Big Questions on issues facing the country over the next few years.

You can read our analysis of the responses received tomorrow and you can also sign up to receive this article, and other Welsh agenda online pieces straight to your inbox here.

The democratic deficit in Wales’ media remains an issue, despite some positive progress over the last five years. The IWA believes the next Welsh Government needs to do more, starting by creating a contestable fund for independent news of at least £1m per year (as set out in our Media Priorities document).

Would your party take forward this proposal in government? What other steps would you take to support Wales’ media?

How would you engage with the development of this new body in opposition?

The Covid-19 crisis has exposed news deserts across Wales, and at a local level we have seen the weakening of local content in commercial radio and the decline of local newspapers.

We will establish a Welsh Media Commission to review the current provision of Welsh news and information provision and to explore ways in which it can be better supported and developed at all levels. Once established, we have allocated £5m of funding to the Commission per year.  

It will be asked to report within 12 months and will investigate:

  • Welsh audience trends in news consumption across television, radio, print and online services.
  • International comparisons of media support schemes, with a view to recommending appropriate support mechanisms for media in Wales.
  • The potential for support for local and hyper-local journalism that speaks to the sense of community and place.
  • The potential for enhancing digital news networks in the English and Welsh languages.
  • A route to conferring ‘asset of community value’ status on local newspapers, ensuring that titles cannot be closed overnight without proper scrutiny.
  • Online provision in which there have been encouraging, although disparate initiatives, on which we should try to build.

We support public service media and broadcasting as well as the development of public interest and not for profit social media platforms. To help these establish we believe a public fund – such as that suggested by the IWA – is required.

Proposals would need to involve a wide range of stakeholders in identifying the issues and possible solutions including the developing local media reporting, podcasts and social media news that has provided Wales with a growing media vibrancy.

In opposition we would continue engagement at a local level to understand what is required from all aspects of the sector and what the political process can deliver.

We also see the potential of Cross-Party Groups as a way to support a wider public conversation on Media.

Part of the remit for such a group should be to open up a discussion of the role of media in supporting and enhancing democracy with more transparency as called for by the Fair Vote campaign.

The Welsh economy needs a kickstart after 22 years of Labour and the impact of the pandemic and core to the Welsh Conservatives economic recovery plan is to create 65,000 jobs. 

Whilst more people have tuned into the news than ever before throughout the pandemic, independent local news sources, especially newspapers, have been severely hit with reduced advertising as businesses were closed. 

Furthermore, reliable, impartial news is a key pillar in any democracy, and that is why Welsh Conservatives support any efforts to strengthen this vital sector.

The fund would make a difference because it would invest in skills and shared resources to grow Wales’ media economy in the long term, as well as support factual coverage and analysis of national issues by both new and existing independent entities.

Every healthy democracy relies on having a vibrant, strong and robust media landscape. The scrutiny and challenge that high quality, independent journalism and media brings is critical to our civic health.

We’ve always produced superb journalists in Wales, but we’ve lacked the quantity and the scale of coverage of national Welsh affairs in recent years and we have, like other places, also been impacted by the rapidly changing pace of media consumption which has hit local, rooted print journalism. 

The Welsh Labour Government has supported news journalism through the Independent Community Journalism Fund and has recently been exploring options to strengthen and diversify the provision of news in Wales, building on the work of the Senedd’s Culture Committee which has highlighted in particular a need to strengthen news and current affairs. 

The Welsh Labour Government has already agreed in principle support to fund an increase in coverage of news, on an appropriate arm’s-length basis.  A new Welsh Labour Government would build on this work and explore these options further, in partnership with others. 

During the pandemic we saw the crucial importance of timely, accurate, and relevant broadcasting and reporting as we waited for the latest updates from the Welsh Government about Covid-19 restrictions.

Welsh Liberal Democrats would establish an ongoing central fund to support news journalism, especially investigative journalism.

Accountability should be a central component of any new fund and it should be delivered at arms-length with fair representation to secure impartiality.

In government or opposition we would engage with the development of this new body to support the goals of a stronger, quality based, independent, media.

We believe there is a clear gap in accountability of Public Service Media organisations (PSMs) to the Senedd around broadcasting.

There should be further devolution of broadcasting policy, but this should be developed through constructive engagement with the UK government, seeking to identify specific changes for specific goals.

Would your party support further devolution of broadcasting? If yes, what specific aspects of policy should be devolved as a priority, and to what end?

If no, what other steps would you take to improve accountability of PSMs to the Senedd?

We will press for the full devolution of broadcasting and telecommunications to Wales, including regulatory, taxation and financial powers. As a first step, we will:

  • Establish a new broadcasting and telecommunications body for Wales independent of government with a remit to include strengthening Wales’ local and national democracy and the Welsh language. The new body will use all the regulatory, financial and other levers available to it in order to fulfil its remit. Its powers will include setting the terms of the next Wales channel 3 license to enhance Welsh media output and ensuring more local and Welsh language content on local television and radio.
  • Establish a ‘Menter Ddigidol Gymraeg’ or Welsh language Digital Initative to improve the use and access to the language in a multi-platform age.
  • Press for a levy on digital and private providers in order to enhance public service broadcasting and media provision.
  • Press for devolution of powers over all Welsh language and English language public service broadcasting, as well as the regulation of commercial radio and local television.

 

We call for further devolution of broadcasting and broadly support the recommendations of the Culture and Welsh Language Committee. 

  • Enhanced broadcasting responsibilities for the Senedd and Welsh government, with the Welsh government, UK government and regulator Ofcom 
  • The UK government should devolve powers over S4C and other public service Welsh language broadcasting matters to Wales
  • A requirement for the Channel 3 licence (held by ITV) in Wales to produce a greater proportion of network content in Wales, and an enhanced role for the Welsh government in setting the terms of the next Wales Channel 3 licence
  • The BBC should provide a better forum for the views of audiences in Wales to be gathered and contribute to the development of BBC policy
  • We also wish to see the UK as a whole work to regulate global streaming services to “strengthen the public service media ecosystem”.

 

Public Service Media (PSMs) outlets are absolutely critical to keep the Welsh population informed of the latest political developments, as well as for holding the Welsh Government to account.

But, given the Labour Government is holding Wales back in all fields—health, education, transport and economy—it has responsibility for, we do not believe that the devolution of broadcasting would improve accountability of PSMs or, indeed, solve other pressing issues facing the sector.

Rather than put up barriers to dialogue, as Labour continually does, Welsh Conservatives would instead engage fruitfully with the UK Government to explore different avenues to see how accountability of PSMs to the Senedd can best be improved into the future.

The priority has to be Wales’ economic recovery not more powers.

What is vital is that we strengthen the quality and the depth of broadcasting in Wales so that it reflects the modern country we live in today.

We have had devolution for two decades, but some of the wider changes needed in civil society to scrutinise and to challenge that new democratic institution haven’t taken place. 

The answer may not necessarily lie in traditional, easy to reach for solutions – such as the full devolution of broadcasting or not – it will have to be a more nuanced examination of the sort of broadcasting landscape we need in Wales in the twenty-first century.

One that keeps the most important aspects of what being part of a wider UK landscape can offer – such as through the BBC – but which isn’t the status quo, either, and which offers more accountability to Wales as a way to help us attain the more robust national and local coverage we need, in both the Welsh and English language and in the context of such a fast-changing environment. 

Positive changes have been made. Wales now has more of a voice and a role in appointing the Wales member of the Ofcom board to scrutinise public service broadcasters on their activities in Wales but there is more that we can and should do, working together, to support and strengthen broadcasting in Wales. 

With many children learning from home, the pandemic and response of the BBC has highlighted the relationship between public broadcasters and areas of devolved competency such as education and the Welsh language, and the value that public broadcasting can add.

Welsh Liberal Democrats will continue to campaign for the devolution of broadcasting, especially over S4C, working with the UK Government to determine further avenues for devolution in this area and ensuring that Wales has an enhanced role in setting the terms of the next Channel 3 license for Wales.

Following the pandemic, we would like to see strengthened rules around news broadcasting ensuring more prominent reporting on decisions made here in Wales affecting people across the country and to promote more made-in-Wales programming.

The creative industries, and the screen sector in particular, are an economic success story for Wales. We believe that Creative Wales should be the home for an ambitious creative industries strategy. 

What policies do your party have to support and grow the creative industries in Wales?

We will create a Welsh Freelancers Fund, a cultural basic income, to assist 1,000 freelance workers to work in the community, offering an income of £1,000 a month for two years.

The impact of imposed austerity has had a harsh effect on the role of local authorities in the provision of arts and culture. In all areas councils have struggled to maintain provision. Even where resources are stretched councils should have a formal responsibility to take a lead in this field. We will require all local authorities to:

  • Act as a convener and enabler of arts and culture within their boundaries.
  • Establish a local cultural consortium to bring local cultural networks together.

 

The creative sector has been a success for Wales in recent years and understanding where policy levers can make a difference is important. Evaluation is needed involving community and sector representatives, with special attention to the unique history and situation of Wales and the Welsh language. 

The Wales Green Party calls for wider recognition of the potential and value of the arts and creative sectors in building back better in our communities. We value the arts for their spontaneity, creativity, and ability to make life worth living, and these benefits should be for everyone in Wales to enjoy.

We want to find ways for local creatives to gain access to closed and disused shops and premises on our high streets, with UBI as a basic support for many new creative business ventures. This means linking support for cultural venues to economic recovery in our high streets.

We prioritise the continued engagement of the Welsh creative sector in European touring and creative ventures, especially for young people at the start of their careers.

The Welsh economy has been devastated by the pandemic, with the creative industries, in particular, being hit hard.

But it’s important to note that the pandemic also exposed what 22 years of Labour government has done to Wales—with our economy being the most sluggish in the UK and industries being hampered by poor economic decisions.

However, the Welsh Conservatives’ ambitious plan will kickstart Wales’ economic recovery post-pandemic. 

To allow our creative industries to bounce back, we will abolish business rates for small businesses and reform the outdated tax on growth, create business rate free zones as part of our Covid Community Recovery Fund and ensure no new taxes will be imposed.

And, for the Welsh language creative industries, we will establish a Digital Initiative to promote Welsh language broadcasting and online services, as well as protect funding and the editorial independence of S4C.

Our robust plan will build a better Wales by strengthening creative industries.

 

With active Welsh Labour Government support we have helped make Wales a powerhouse in the creative industries over the last decade; established Creative Wales and helped us grow our reputation in areas like film and television.

Welsh Labour is committed to helping support the Welsh economy create the jobs of the future by building on its natural strengths – a clear and obvious one is our cultural richness.  

Our manifesto sets out major proposals to work with partners in TV, film and education to establish a new Creative Skills body to support home-grown excellence in the industry, particularly among young people and also plans to explore a Creative Industry Research and Development Fund. 

Of course it’s important these things happen in a rich and vibrant cultural landscape more generally and that’s why we have also set out plans for plans to support a new National Music Service; set out our commitment to implement the new Curriculum for Wales, as well as a new £65m scheme to address the UK Tory Government’s failure to secure participation in the Erasmus Scheme, through a new International Learning and Exchange programme for 15,000 individuals to go on overseas exchanges over the next four years. 

 

Misinformation and disinformation through social media are increasingly recognised as a factor in modern elections. 

Voters in Wales should have confidence that all parties in elections are playing by the same rules. The IWA believes the successor to the Senedd’s Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee should undertake an inquiry into the use of social media in the 2021 Senedd election, to explore whether this is a problem in Wales. 

Parties should commit to supporting such an inquiry before the election, making clear that the purpose of this is not to bring the result into question.

Will you commit to supporting such an inquiry in the next Senedd?

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, Political Parties have had to rely more than ever before on online campaigning rather than on the doorstep.

Social media can be an incredibly powerful tool to communicate with the public but it can also be used to spread dangerous misinformation. 

Voters must be given provided with correct, accurate and up to date information – a key part of any healthy democracy. 

Therefore Plaid Cymru would support such an inquiry.

We agree that there is a need for a wider social conversation about the rise in social media and issues around “fake news”.

We support an inquiry for the appropriate Committee to consider undertaking post the Senedd election but would want to see this take in a wide selection of evidence including from critical media studies research for example.

Again, we would like to see our universities, colleges, schools and civil society groups involved in debating these questions.

Where do we get our information in this era of mass communications and what does this mean for our democracy? What are the views of the electorate about the means whereby parties communicate? What are the issues of fairness and transparency and corruption that the people of Wales want to see addressed?

All these are topics that critical media education and inquiry can address along with the need to balance freedom of expression and safeguarding of children and vulnerable people.

We believe that everyone must play by the same rules. 

It is simply unacceptable for any disinformation and misinformation stemming from any political party, movement or individual to be aired via social media, or through any other method. 

Welsh Conservatives categorically condemn such gratuitous actions being used.

For that reason, we firmly support the IWA’s recommendation for holding an inquiry in the next Senedd.

Clearly, any inquiry of this kind would be for the next Senedd to decide upon, but the next Welsh Labour Government will play a full, active and appropriate role in working with partners like the Electoral Commission, the UK Government and media outlets to support all our elections at every level to go on being open, free and fair.  

If the next Senedd decides to undertake an inquiry of this kind, the next Welsh Labour Government would play a cooperative and collaborative role in it.

In our manifesto we have committed to work with organisations such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter to tackle hate crime and misinformation, particularly to protect our children and young people from hate crime and bullying.

Free and fair elections are an essential part of our democracy, yet the rules governing elections haven’t always kept up with technological developments and innovation in campaigning. 

Welsh Liberal Democrats will support an inquiry into the use of social media throughout this election campaign.

We would welcome wide consultation as part of this inquiry shaping recommendations that provide a stronger level of transparency but do not inadvertently create barriers to participation in the political process.

We approached nine of the parties fielding candidates in the election, and five of them responded.

You can read the parties’ response to our Big Questions on the economy here.

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Ymunwch â ni i gyfrannu at wneud Cymru gwell.

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