Devolution is Under Threat

Auriol Miller explains why apathy might consume Welsh democracy if the Senedd loses focus on the role of media in our democracy. 

Devolution is under threat.

It is under threat from direct attack, but it is also under threat from neglect and apathy.

Despite predictions about how the relevance of the Welsh Government to people’s lives would be clearer than ever because of the pandemic, turnout in the Senedd elections still did not quite break the 50% mark – compared to around two thirds of the population consistently voting in Westminster elections.

Research for DCMS has shown a clear link between local news and voter turnout, finding that an additional local newspaper increased turnout by 1.27%. Yet another argument to support the longstanding calls from IWA and for action to support a stronger media in Wales.

This is a crucial period for our Senedd, as discussions take place behind the scenes which will shape the structure of the committees that will hold government to account, and undertake inquiries to shape Wales’ future over the next five years.

“We called for the Senedd to… undertake two inquiries; into news funding and social media misinformation. All of the parties in the new Senedd gave a commitment to support this call.”

It’s our view that the Culture, Welsh Language, and Communications Committee (CWLC) was an important innovation within the last Senedd. Undertaking, as it did, vital inquiries into news and journalism in Wales – amongst other matters.

In our Media Priorities for the Next Senedd report, we called for the Senedd to retain a committee with a remit over communications, and for that committee to undertake two key inquiries; into news funding and social media misinformation in Wales. All of the parties now represented in the new Senedd gave a commitment to support this call. 

We welcome their support, but the question we are now asking ourselves is ‘who will drive it?’ and the clear answer is the members of the successor to the CWLC.

However, many of the previous CWLC members have now left the Senedd, and the structure of the new cabinet has placed Culture and Welsh Language into separate portfolios.

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We are therefore concerned that the non-devolved matter of Communications may be overlooked, particularly as it does not have an obvious home if committees mirror the new cabinet structure. 

We have therefore been urgently contacting key Senedd Members who have long shared our concerns about Wales media to use their voices to ensure a clear home for scrutiny of communications and media policy in the next Senedd. 

It is our firm view that the Senedd must retain the focus and capacity to work on issues around the role of Wales’ media in our democracy. 

All articles published on the welsh agenda are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

 

Auriol Miller is Director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs.

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