Language campaigners accuse BBC of ‘undermining’ case for devolution of broadcasting
A row has broken out between Welsh language campaigners and the BBC over the devolution of broadcasting powers to Wales.
Cymdeithas Yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society) has accused the BBC of undermining the case for the devolution of such powers – a claim the BBC denies.
As part of the Cooperation Agreement between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru, the government announced its support for the devolution of broadcasting, and its intention to investigate the creation of a shadow Broadcasting and Communications Authority for Wales as a first step “to address our concerns about the current fragility in the media and attacks on its independence.”
In August this year, an expert panel commissioned by the government and led by the broadcaster Melanie Doel and Professor Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones concluded that the Communications Authority for Wales should be established within 12 months.
However, Cymdeithas yr Iaith claims that the Director of BBC Cymru Wales, Rhuanedd Richards, is trying to undermine the findings of the report, after a copy of a letter she wrote to the government was sent to them following an FOI request.
In the letter to Deputy Arts Minister Dawn Bowden, Ms Richards said in one case that she was “surprised and a little disappointed” with some findings that criticise the corporation. She also said there were “a number of assertions in the report which I think would have benefited from greater context and analysis”, specifically, the alleged drop in hours and quality of news and current affairs, and hours of educational, factual and religious programmes.
Mirain Owen, vice-chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith’s Digital Futures Group, said: “The Welsh Government is now in favour of devolving broadcasting and communications powers to the Senedd. The letter from the head of the BBC in Wales goes beyond simply defending the corporation, and raises valid questions about their impartiality. Surely they know that any letter that attempts to undermine the report is tantamount to an effort to prevent the establishment of the Communications Authority for Wales, an authority that is needed as a first step towards deciding broadcasting and communication matters in Wales for Wales.”
Cymdeithas yr Iaith’s concerns come following a report by the BBC citing an anonymous source claiming that the government had no intention of establishing a Broadcasting Authority. In the emails discussing the story, which were released to Cymdeithas yr Iaith through the freedom of information request, BBC officials said: “We are going to be running a little line that the recommendations from an expert panel earlier this summer that a Shadow Broadcasting Authority for Wales be set up, are not going to be taken forward.”
In response, a Welsh Government press officer said, “I’m not sure where that information has come from… there’s been no change to our position”, and repeated the position which was “We are considering the findings of the expert panel’s report.”
The BBC nevertheless published the story a day later.
Ms Owen added: “The emails we received through the freedom of information request cast doubt on the authenticity of the BBC story. It is clearly dangerous to have a broadcaster like the BBC who privately lobby against a policy, and at the same time run a baseless story on its platforms that supports their lobbying position.
“All this information raises wider questions about all the power and influence the BBC has over the media in Wales and how they use it.”
A spokesperson for BBC Wales responded: “These claims are untrue. The Director of BBC Wales has not offered any view on the devolution of broadcasting nor on the creation of a Shadow Broadcasting Authority. The letter from Rhuanedd Richards to the Deputy Minister merely sought to correct and give context to some of the factual assertions in the published report. The BBC also stands by the news story which is impartial, accurate and well-sourced.”
In her letter to Ms Owain, Ms Richards said: “It is true to say that I expressed an opinion on the nature of the content of BBC Wales dramas, and I offered an explanation for the fall in the number of hours of news broadcast last year. I also disagreed with the panel’s conclusion about the innovation that takes place within organisations. I can testify to the significant work that is taking place in each of the Welsh broadcasting organisations on this issue. This is in no way tantamount to expressing an opinion on the devolution of broadcasting nor the Shadow Broadcasting Authority.
“I can also assure you that BBC Wales is fully committed to impartiality on this issue as it is on other policy and political matters, which is an absolutely central principle for us.”
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