Language campaigners claim Minister’s letter proves BBC has lobbied against the devolution of broadcasting
Welsh language campaigners have renewed their allegation that the BBC has sought to undermine moves to see broadcasting powers devolved to Wales following the release of a letter written by Deputy Culture Minister Dawn Bowden.
Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society) claims that BBC Wales Director Rhuanedd Richards has been lobbying the Welsh Government to oppose the recommendation of an expert panel that a Shadow Broadcasting Authority should be established in Wales as the first step in a staged devolution process. The allegation is vehemently denied by BBC Wales.
In August 2023, the expert panel chaired by broadcaster Melanie Doel and Professor Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones recommended that a Shadow Broadcasting and Communications Authority for Wales be established within 12 months.
The Welsh Government has already stated that it is in favour of the devolution of broadcasting, as part of its 2021 Cooperation Agreement with Plaid Cymru.
In a letter from Ms Bowden to Ms Richards dated October 16 2023, released following a freedom of information request, the Deputy Minister wrote: “I understand that you recently met with the First Minister and discussed the [expert panel’s] report and your comments with him.
As noted during that meeting, we are keen to continue to engage with stakeholders, including BBC Cymru, as we reflect on the contents of the report and respond to its recommendations. In the meantime, should you have any additional comments or if you would like to discuss this response further, my officials in Creative Wales would be happy to arrange a meeting with you.”
Cymdeithas yr Iaith claims that the letter contradicts BBC Wales’ stated position in response to earlier concerns it expressed to Nation.Cymru, when a BBC spokesperson said: “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.”
Mirain Owen, Deputy Chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith’s Digital Group, claimed the BBC’s earlier statement was “misleading”. She said: “Despite this statement, it is quite clear from the material we have received through our freedom of information request that a meeting took place between Rhuanedd Richards and the First Minister specifically to express an opinion on this important report and the future of broadcasting in Wales. It was misleading to claim that Ms Richards was merely correcting facts.
“It is becoming increasingly evident that the BBC has been running a coordinated campaign to prevent the powers of communication and broadcasting from coming to Wales. First, they tried to play down the letter they sent to the Minister, but now it has become clear that they have been meeting Ministers to lobby as well.
“Several opinion polls have shown that the people of Wales want broadcasting and communication powers in their hands, not those of broadcasters and politicians in London. The establishment of the Shadow Broadcasting Authority would be a decisive step in that direction by laying the infrastructure for full devolution of broadcasting.”
In response to Cymdeithas yr Iaith’s request in October for a meeting with her, Ms Bowden said she would be prepared to meet with the organisation, but not until the new year, after the government has published its response to the report.
Ms Owen added: “The decisions that are about to be made regarding the Doel Jones Report are vital for the future of broadcasting in Wales, together with our democracy and our language. While reflecting on the conclusions of the report and the way forward, the government should receive views from a range of stakeholders and experts. Dealing with the BBC alone is not enough.”
Last month, dozens of people from the broadcasting and academic worlds wrote to the Welsh Government calling on it to implement the recommendations of its own independent report. The open letter included the signatures of prominent figures including Dafydd Iwan, Sharon Morgan, Professor Richard Wyn Jones, Carys Eleri, Professor Tom O’Malley and Meic Birtwistle.
Responding to Cymdeithas yr Iaith’s latest allegation, a spokesperson for BBC Wales said: “It is not true to suggest that Rhuanedd Richards expressed a view on the devolution of broadcasting or that she met with the First Minister specifically to discuss this matter.
“The Director of BBC Wales regularly meets politicians from all parties, including the First Minister, to discuss matters related to broadcasting. The Director had sent a letter to the Deputy Minister to offer further context to matters relating to BBC services which had emerged from the expert panel’s report; a letter which is in the public domain.”
A BBC Wales source suggested that Ms Richards had invited representatives of Cymdeithas yr Iaith to a meeting to discuss their concerns back in November, but that she hadn’t received a response.
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