Support our Nation today - please donate here
News

Current global media landscape poses ‘profound’ threat to democracy – BBC top boss

16 Nov 2023 4 minute read
Headquarters, BBC Wales, Cardiff by Roger Cornfoot is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Chris Haines – ICNN Senedd reporter

The current global media landscape poses a “profound” threat to democracy, the BBC’s top boss has warned a Senedd committee.

MSs on the Senedd’s culture committee took evidence from the BBC and ITV about public service broadcasting in Wales.

Blaenau Gwent MS Alun Davies highlighted a lack of media coverage of devolved politics, suggesting it is damaging Wales’ democracy.

The Labour backbencher raised concerns that the BBC is becoming increasingly London-centric, both structurally and culturally.

Democratic deficit

Responding, Tim Davie – the BBC’s director-general – described the threat to democracy as profound as he recognised the need for transformation.

“I’m pretty obsessed by it, this threat to democracy,” said the media executive.

Mr Davies told MSs the BBC is becoming less focused on London, not more, arguing that the evidence for this is overwhelming but stressing that the broadcaster is not complacent.

He said: “I couldn’t be more personally proud of what we are doing in this area.”

Rhuanedd Richards, director of BBC Cymru Wales, said she is saddened by the decline in media coverage of the Senedd.

She said having more BBC network journalists in Wales is starting to make a real difference.

Plurality

Llyr Gruffydd, for Plaid Cymru, raised the risk of the BBC “undermining” commercial news providers such as Reach-owned WalesOnline.

Ms Richards said pluralism is important: “We don’t want to be the only player in the market.”

While stressing the BBC does not want to step on toes, she told MSs that the broadcaster wants to step in for the benefit of audiences where there is market failure.

Mr Davie praised WalesOnline’s journalism amid “ferociously difficult” market conditions, saying: “I’m not interested in the BBC not being part of a thriving, plural creative industry.”

‘Disengaged’

Mr Davie raised concerns about research showing many people are disengaged.

He said: “I think we have really got to work hard on relevance as much as some of the stuff we’ve done for years. I think that is a real challenge.”

The director-general told MSs that the BBC can use artificial intelligence and data for good, citing the example of serving up content based on location.

“That could transform, I think, the relevance of the BBC in a wonderful way,” he said.

Mr Gruffydd asked why radio listening in Wales has declined more than the UK average.

Ms Richards explained that Wales started from a higher level: “The good news is that this year we are seeing the beginnings of that recovery.”

Acknowledging competition from streaming and digital music providers, she said investment into network radio in Wales has doubled.

Elan Closs Stephens, who was appointed acting chair of the BBC in June, pointed to a trend of people being less likely to listen to talk radio.

Pointing to competition from Spotify, Dame Elan said: “That’s the choice of the individual – there’s not much anyone can do to bring them back.”

Funding

Peter Fox, for the Conservatives, asked why the BBC spent less in Wales in 2022-23 compared with what was raised from Welsh licence fee payers.

Ms Richards said it was an unusual year and the gap of about £2 million was due to Covid.

She pointed out that the licence fee also pays for S4C and told MSs that 95% of commissioning money in Wales is spent with Welsh companies.

Ms Richards raised concerns about the tough financial climate with a flat licence fee amid hyperinflation in drama and other parts of the production industry.

She told committee members she does not want to see a separate BBC Wales channel similar to BBC Scotland, preferring to invest in Welsh content instead.

Asked by committee chair Delyth Jewell whether the Draft Media bill will sufficiently modernise media regulation, Mr Davie described the plans as a welcome step.

He warned MSs that public service broadcasting is on the back foot globally.

Magnus Brooke, ITV’s director of strategy, policy and regulation, also welcomed the draft bill.

He said: “You’re going to end up with a small number of online TV platforms who determine what people can see, what people can watch and also the commercial terms.”

In the meeting on Thursday November 16, Phil Henfrey, head of news at ITV Wales, said the bill will mean audiences can more easily find Welsh-specific content on global platforms.


Support our Nation today

For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
3 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Sarah Good
Sarah Good
5 months ago

The bbc also poses a profound threat to democracy

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
5 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Good

Agree, the BBC does pose a threat to democracy. Their political agenda is not in the interests of democracy or ordinary people

Jeff
Jeff
5 months ago

The way that the BBC has been dealt a few blows to funding by the Conservative Party has absolutely led to a threat to democracy. The flagship politic shows fail to hold Conservatives to task, and placing choice people at the top of the organisation has a trickle down effect it swaying the questioning and clouding their view. I see in Welsh reporting as well. Remember Dorries meddling? Remember Boris tried to put Paul Dacre at the top of OFCOM, Davie in post, Sharp in post (remember the Boris loan?). The issue remains in a big part that is a… Read more »

Our Supporters

All information provided to Nation.Cymru will be handled sensitively and within the boundaries of the Data Protection Act 2018.