In addition to her widely reported roles as a member of the Electoral Commission, former chair of S4C and emeritus professor of communications and creative industries at Aberystwyth University, Dame Elan Closs Stephens is a Fellow of the IWA.
Following the significant reputational damage caused to the BBC during the chairmanship of Richard Sharp, it is important that the corporation is overseen by an experienced, widely respected and politically neutral expert on broadcasting such as Dame Elan Closs Stephens.
As a representative of Wales at the BBC since 2010, first as member for Wales on the BBC Trust and latterly as the Welsh member of the BBC board, Dame Elan Closs Stephens – with her deep understanding and knowledge of Welsh language and culture – will be in a position to set an agenda of reform. We are delighted that our country will have a strong voice at the corporation’s top table.
While the BBC continues to dominate the British media landscape, particularly in Wales, declining audiences can be attributed to rapidly falling levels of trust in the corporation as well as to changing patterns of news consumption.
While we welcome this particular decision by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), our most recent report on broadcasting regulation, published in February 2023, calls for the transfer of some functions relating to broadcasting, including all appointments to boards governing broadcasters, from DCMS to an independent commission composed of representatives from the four nations of the United Kingdom. Such an arrangement would offer an important safeguard against future conflicts of interest and political interference in relation to the governance of the BBC.
Our report also calls for the Welsh government to set up an Institute for Media in Wales before the end of the current Senedd term in May 2026. This would be an independent body with a remit to serve the interests of citizens and audiences in Wales. It is therefore pleasing to read Dame Elan Closs Stephens’ statement in relation to the priorities of the BBC board, to ‘champion the licence fee-payer across all of the UK’.
We also note that, as a member of the Electoral Commission, the appointment of Dame Elan Closs Stephens to this important position implicitly acknowledges the link between the health of our media and that of our democracy. We urge the BBC to work closely with the Electoral Commission and other partners to ensure that citizen engagement in our democratic culture and electoral processes, becomes an urgent priority – including specific regard to devolved matters.
While we also welcome the stated emphasis on ‘driv[ing] change to make the BBC fit for a fast-changing media landscape’, we note with concern the reference to ‘maintain[ing] trust’. While the BBC continues to dominate the British media landscape, particularly in Wales, declining audiences can be attributed to rapidly falling levels of trust in the corporation as well as to changing patterns of news consumption.
As Dame Elan Closs Stephens herself notes, ‘there is much work to be done’, and at the IWA we look forward to working with the BBC and other partners to ensure audiences and citizens in Wales are well served by public service broadcasting.
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