The devolution of broadcasting is essential to creating a functioning Welsh democracy

Liz Saville Roberts

Founding father, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a handwritten letter to the Welsh philosopher, Richard Price in 1789:

 “…wherever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them right.” (Jefferson, 1789)

These words remind us that we politicians are answerable to those who elect us and that our citizens are intrinsic to our democracy in holding our representatives to account.

Our citizens act as a counterweight on the scales of democracy, without whom, our government and legislators will be unchecked and left to become an aristocracy.

The success of our democracy, therefore, relies on our citizens, and relies specifically on them being well-informed so that, “whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them right.”

With the self-styled “national newspaper of Wales” getting circulation figures of around 15,500, and despite the hugely valuable forum provided by this website reaching substantially more, our citizens remain largely reliant on broadcast media to keep themselves informed on Welsh affairs. Broadcast media that is, who are focussed on Westminster.

Despite the 19 years of devolution, the media is yet to adapt to the devolved, multi-national nature of the UK state. UK-wide broadcasters still operate as if the UK is one country, with one NHS, one education system and one budget.

The population of England compared to that of the other three countries makes it the dominant focal point for all UK-wide broadcasters.

No doubt, a major crisis in the English NHS or education would grab UK-wide headlines, including in Wales, whereas a similar story in the context of Wales would have repercussions for only the small number of people resident in Wales and would therefore not be eligible for coverage on UK-wide news bulletins or current affairs programmes.

This not only deprives the Welsh electorate of significant and important information, but potentially also misleads the Welsh electorate into taking English-only matters as being applicable to them.

Polling has reflected this concern. A poll for the BBC in 2014 found that fewer than half the population realise the Welsh Government, rather than Westminster, is in charge of the NHS in Wales. More people are aware that education is devolved but almost a third still think our schools are run by the Tories in Westminster.

Damaging democracy

This democratic deficit is perhaps most explicit in the context of current affairs and debate programmes such as Question Time and Newsnight.

In the case of Question Time, Welsh viewers will frequently find themselves watching a debate on very important and emotive issues such as (English) education reform or the privatisation of the (English) NHS that have no relevance to them as Welsh citizens.

It is clear that the BBC are aware of its frequent irrelevance to Wales and other devolved nations, because when broadcast from Wales, audience members are told that they are not allowed to ask questions on these policy areas because they will not be relevant to the majority English audience.

That one of the most popular current affairs programmes broadcast in Wales is prevented from covering devolved matters – that is, those matters that are of most significance to the people of Wales – is clearly damaging to Welsh democracy.

The cross-party Commission on Devolution in Wales (Silk Commission) recommended the devolution of S4C funding. For me, and for Plaid Cymru, there is no question that decisions relating to Welsh language broadcasting should be made in Wales in our own democratic institutions. There is no reason why Westminster should have control over S4C.

Neither is there a reason why Welsh speakers should be treated differently to non-Welsh speakers. We are all citizens of Wales – what is news to a Welsh-speaking citizen is news to a non-Welsh speaking citizen.

It is worth noting that Welsh speakers have access to the BBC-produced, Newyddion, shown on S4C, the content of which is on a par with the six or ten o’clock English language news services, rather than regional programmes such as the BBC’s Wales Today, in that it covers global events, not just domestic matters, and those domestic matters it does cover are the domestic matters of Wales, not those of England.

This BBC-produced service should be available to non-Welsh speakers too, offering all viewers a truly “national” service that is relevant to them.

It should be considered a duty on broadcasters, and on the BBC especially as a state broadcaster, to facilitate democratic accountability and at the very least offer the equivalent of the service provided to Scottish viewers in allocating a twenty minute slot within Newsnight, providing Welsh viewers with an in-depth discussion of Welsh political affairs every evening on BBC Two in English and on S4C in Welsh.

To have daily, public scrutiny of Welsh governance would drastically improve democratic accountability in Wales and would go some way in addressing Wales’ democratic deficit. Ultimately, it is the people of Wales who are tasked with setting the government right when things go wrong but without being well-informed, the people of Wales simply cannot be expected to trust themselves to do so.

Articles via Email

Get instant updates to your inbox


  1. Capitalist and Welshnash

    Black out all English roadsigns in Welsh-speaking areas in protest. If you’ve never lived amongst the British Establishment, I assure you this will scare them more than a Welshman not eating for a week.

    Because In their eyes, if you’ve ever worn their shoes, English being the world’s Lingua Franca is the crowning jewel of their imperial splendour and glory. And they don’t want to lose it.

    • Not sure that kind of action should be undertaken as a protest, but rather as a matter of principle. Welsh speakers need an area where their needs are seen as paramount, and though Welsh only roadsigns, (and hopefully all other signage) would only create a psychological emphasis on the Welsh language, it would be a very important step forward, and underline that at least in some places, Welsh speakers are not regarded as second class citizens. It would also act as the kind of ‘nudge’ that many who have moved here to learn our language. Tourists and other visitors would soon adapt, as they do in France, Germany or Spain. And anyway, most Welsh speakers would still be prepared to speak English to those that don’t speak Welsh, so no real problem.

      I agree though, this kind of action would be far more effective than someone fasting for a week, and it’d create far more controversy. Sadly, the Welsh language still needs to be contraversial, as it’s only when it is that proper attention is paid to the needs of the language and those who speak it.

  2. Diolch Liz Saville Roberts:: cytuno cant y cant.

  3. Richard Perkins

    It is a very fair point that Wales should have an English language equivalent of Newyddion with Welsh, British and international news from a Welsh perspective and a corresponding Newsnight equivalent. It would then be up to the producers and journalists to engage their audience sufficiently to persuade them not to switch to an England channel. Success would not only serve to reduce the democratic deficit but bridge any gap between those who are more comfortable viewing in English and those who prefer to use Welsh.

  4. Mari Strachan

    Cytuno gyda bob gair

  5. This is true of course, all of it. But the clue to why both Labour and the Tories don’t want it is that it would, well, create a better-informed populace and address the democratic deficit. What’s in it for the London parties? Nothing, that’s what. Quite the opposite.

  6. Mae LSR yn gywir, a dw i’n cytuno gyda hi. And yes, a serious Welsh news programme on a devolved channel should also be in English, even if Welsh once again becomes the language of the majority. How else are the Welsh people going to engage in an informed debate on what is best for this country and how to solve its myriad of problems? This matter is now as important as the constitutional question of devolution was twenty years ago. The lack of information on Welsh politics available to the Welsh electorate is Part Two of the democratic deficit, and needs addressing. Bring it on!

  7. An example of how different the standard of journalism between S4C and BBC News Wales. During the referendum in Cataluyna, S4C provided some of the best journalism & current affairs programmes of recent times. On S4C news you had live reporting, guest Catalan speakers who’d also learnt Cymraeg, ex pats who’d made Cataluyna their home and were married to natives – children spoke English, Cymraeg, Català & Spanish (all though of course Cymraeg speakers are insular and backwards). The current affairs programme, Byd ar 4, visited a Welsh lady who’s husband’s family had been killed by Franco’s troops and had waited their whole lives for the day to arrive. On the other hand, the reporter visited businesses all over the region that were happy with the status quo and were going to vote No.

    Now let’s compare this to Jamie Owen’s World News Service. As events were unfolding in Cataluyna, we were treated to a main news headline of a woman’s unfortunate complaint letter to a local Council, which read ‘I turned on my cooker and my knob fell off!’ or something similar of great importance. Why couldn’t BBC Wales News find a Welsh angle to this significant story, and found English speaking Welsh people with a personal story to events in Cataluyna? Why is it only for the main BBC News to provide English speaking Welsh people with a grown up and intelligent perspective of world events? This perpetuates the problem of English speaking Welsh people having no visibility, no representation – which is surely a complaint of the people ‘left behind’? On the rare occasion a BBC Wales News reporter gets to leave the Country is to cover Sport, shouldn’t we demand more than this?

  8. CambroUiDunlainge

    It won’t be devolved. Ever. The control and dissemination of information is what keeps the UK together – see the BBC and Scotland. Westminster doesn’t want a functioning Welsh democracy – they want it to fall on its face so they can say for a generation “We told you you were to small, too poor and too stupid”. They know all they have to do to control Wales is influence the English speaking part – how do they control them? Media, education.

  9. It will never, ever happen. Sorry LSR.

  10. Unfortunately I don’t see it happening anytime soon, to the majority, the UK is a country a sovereign state, regardless of whether we agree with them or not, and to them Wales is nothing more than a constituent country, like a state or devolved region. The UK government wish to keep it that way.
    I think the media themselves too, even if mediavwas devolve would attempt to put their political preferences in the background when it comes to news and politics.

    In Scotland they have the same problem, so they’re creating their own non government funded Scottish media, like TrulyScottishTV and BroadcastingScotland.

  11. I saw this discussion online about Radio Cymru reaching far into England. Would this be seen as more of an issue if broadcasting was devolved? Plenty of countries have land borders and deal with these issues, but we’re talking about England here. What if the Welsh Broadcasting Service decided to create their own ‘world service’ that broadcast a ‘Radio Free Cornwall’?

  12. Graham Hathaway

    ” Communication is the absolutely indispensable leadership discipline” it seeks to build trust, inspire loyalty and lead effectively. Why do we have media Moguls. Why is there so much money devoted to advertising.
    Why is there a passion for simple few words strap line and slogans. ” For the many not the few” “Strong and stable”. Titter even LOL. I remember vividly the first up commercials on B/W tv. ” Omo washes not only white but bright ” Enter smiling white toothed Mother holding up the family whites , it had to be since their was no colour then. And started singing a catchy tune. What mother or father goes around singing a catchy tune when doing the washing! Give me a break!
    I welcome your comments Liz. It actually, for once, describes the democratic deficite in Wales in language that we all understand. Without causing offence, by a rather studious look at first, where the Welsh language might fit in as an equal, without pushing the nose out of joint of the snow flaked reader ready to pounce at the very mention of the Welsh language, and the importance, in either language of the enormous benefit for fairness and democracy of greater coverage of Welsh affairs. A nifty piece of writing.

    Now then oops I’ve mentioned directly or by implication, the Welsh language, Welsh affairs for the Welsh on parity with Scotland, greater funding for extra dedicated broadcasting of Welsh interest, the justification for such, and the importance for improved democracy and knowing points of polical importance that is often not appreciated , emanating from the Bay and W/M but is lost in dominance of the English drum beat.
    It is the mind set that deliberately ignores the culture of Wales and its history of once a free country. With its own laws, customs, language, literature, poetry, traditions and belonging. United of sorts, and distinct.
    If I was to lapse into a one liner mentality then the best I would offer is the deliberate and conscious attempts
    ” to erase the distinct nature of Wales in favour of a UK identity”.

    It was this specific cultural shift away from a UK sovereignty towards an EU identity that caused Brexit . No more than more control.
    In specifics:
    There are fine examples quoted in the article with reference to the Health service in Wales. Not known widely that Wales runs its own service. Yet how frequently visited was this when senior politicians at W/M maligned the Welsh service as underperforming, even recently on the Andrew Marr show when Andrew chose to reference the Welsh health service in discussion as with problems of management.

    Sadly we are in the conditioning and control mode. We will often fail in seeking our own independent country, and for this I would put at the feet of our Broadcasting regime, that like others I cannot see changing.
    But would not support any form of defamation of buildings, signposts or post boxes. Let’s move on.
    But would support any form of non violent protest. I think one has been proposed.

  13. Love it. Let’s give all the kids a narrower world view.

    • Graham John Hathaway

      Not even worth answering. How do you spell prejudice. I think it grows on trees. Re-read the article. It suggests the opposite. 💤

  14. Any nuze on how Elfed is?

Leave a Reply