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Welsh Government to fund Senedd reporter

29 Jun 2023 6 minute read
The Welsh Government has provided funding for a reporter to cover proceedings at the Senedd

Emily Price

The Welsh Government has recently announced that it will fund a full time reporter to cover proceedings at the Senedd as part of a new pilot – here’s everything you need to know.

The project will run for 12 months under the leadership of the Caerphilly Observer and the Independent Community News Network.

The news stories produced will be made available to other media outlets, in a similar way to the BBC-funded and council-focused Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS).

The Caerphilly Observer is already the contract holder for the LDRS covering Caerphilly and Newport and the editor, Richard Gurner said he intends to run the Senedd reporter project along similar lines.

The Welsh Government will provide £36,500 to cover the salary and expenses of the journalist who takes on the role.

Richard Gurner has said that regardless of where the funding comes from, the news stories will be editorially independent from the Welsh Government.

He also said that the Welsh Government will have no say in the hiring process of the reporter and the Caerphilly Observer will deal with advertising, shortlisting and interviewing with the final selection made by the editor himself.

The journalist selected to carry out the role will be expected to attend the Senedd four days a week and spend one day a week at the Caerphilly Observer office.

It’s hoped that the reporter will be able to provide 25 – 40 news pieces every month which can be used by other news outlets.

The Welsh Conservatives have opposed the pilot and branded it an “ill thought out project”.

During plenary on Wednesday (June 28), the Shadow Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport, Tom Giffard said that press that is “bought and paid for” by the Welsh Government is “bad news for democracy”.

He said that although Richard Gurner had stated he wouldn’t be involved in the project if he thought there would be editorial interference by the Welsh Government, it would be “difficult to maintain” that distance on a day-to-day basis.

Responding to Mr Giffard, the Deputy Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Dawn Bowden described the Tory MS’s comments as “ill-informed nonsense”.

She said: “I can understand why the Tories want to resist this, because I can understand that you don’t want to see scrutiny of the nonsense that you often spout in this Chamber, but let’s be clear: Welsh Government welcomes any additional scrutiny, and we have nothing to fear from additional scrutiny, and we welcome this kind of democracy reporting, which will do far more for our democracy than we’ve seen up to now.

“The content will be made available to all news publishing outlets right across Wales, with responsibility for translation sitting with the recipient publication.

“It’s going to be expected to deliver 25 to 40 news pieces every month. That is something that is not being reached at the moment, and this pilot project is about trying to spread the local democracy reporting across Wales, so that more people can access independent reporting of the operations and the work that goes on in our Welsh Parliament.”

Scrutiny

The journalist who is hired to cover proceedings at the Senedd during the fixed term contract will be required to scrutinise both Welsh Government ministers and Members of the Senedd from other Parties including the opposition.

During the plenary session Tom Giffard stated that Hefin David MS and the Deputy Minister, Dawn Bowden had alleged that he had called into question the impartiality and the neutrality of the Caerphilly Observer.

Speaking to Nation.Cymru after the debate, Mr Giffard said: “In the Senedd today, the Minister responsible falsely claimed that I had impugned the integrity of the Caerphilly Observer and its journalistic staff, when the record shows I did no such thing.

“I raised the point that, although I know the team at the Caerphilly Observer have the best of intentions, on a day-to-day basis there’s a risk that any aspiring journalist seeking to take on this job may feel an indirect or subconscious pressure considering that the Welsh government is the source of their own funding, especially when it comes to publishing stories which may be viewed as negative or critical towards the Welsh Government.

“Instead of a thriving media sector driving greater scrutiny, this ill-thought-out project just shows Labour and Plaid spending money on the wrong priorities.”

The award winning Caerphilly Observer is run from Hefin David MS’s constituency and during yesterday’s plenary session he said: “Richard Gurner is held in huge respect by the population of Caerphilly, and the only people who accuse him of any kind of bias are the people who are held to account by his newspaper, which includes Plaid Cymru, the Labour Party, the Conservatives and every other political party – when in fact what he is offering is impartial, unbiased journalism.

“It’s really unfortunate that the Conservatives are attacking that kind of journalism in this way, and I will not stand for it. I’m absolutely confident that the journalist that will be employed by the Caerphilly Observer through this scheme will be absolutely impartial and will do their job with professionalism and diligence.”

Reacting to criticism on social media, Richard Gurner said that although as project editor he will have the final say on story content, he will also consult with others through daily and weekly discussions with the reporter and with other publications who will use the copy.

Following the debate, Mr Giffard posted a video to social media in which he said that the project was “Labour telling you what to think about their record”.

Responding to the video, Richard Gurner said: “This is inaccurate and implies Welsh Government has editorial control over the project. I have already explained this will not be the case, and will do so again when we meet to explain the project in more detail.

“It’s not just to cover the work of the Welsh Government, but of all Senedd Members – including committees chaired by members of your [the Welsh Conservative] party.”

Tom Giffard told Nation.Cymru: “I’m deeply sceptical about the idea of a government funding its own press. For example, the Canadian Government has subsidised print media to the tune of over $600 million since 2018/19, which has prompted significant concerns regarding editorial independence.

“I personally don’t consider this to be an effective use of taxpayers’ money, and is no substitute for a free and independent press which regularly scrutinises Senedd activities and holds the Welsh Government to account.”


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Cat
Cat
9 months ago

Its a bit rich the Tories calling out the media for lack of independence. And I don’t really think £35k equals $600m Canadian dollars. Mr Giffard is going to be furious when he finds out that his own party is supported by media owned and controlled by American multi millionaires and English aristocrats living in France who pay no tax in the UK.

Adrian Meagher
Adrian Meagher
9 months ago

A parliament paying for itself to be reported? Does that happen elsewhere in the free world? Perhaps the Welsh Government can name 3 countries where it does happen?

Richard
Richard
9 months ago

Wow 😯

A path full of ethical challenges and dangers for sure but the direction is undeniable.

An accredited Senedd press corps perhaps might be better – logically supported / hosted though not open to the obvious
“ He who pays the piper etc “

Jon Coles
Jon Coles
9 months ago

I’m up for that but the WG wouldn’t dare, Martin

Jon_S
Jon_S
9 months ago

The wider issue is that evidently the media believe that the Senedd isn’t important, and not worth reporting on. Or at least not investing overly in the reporting of. This probably reflects, sadly, the general feeling of a substantial proportion of the population. See the turnout in the last Senedd election – less than half bothered to vote. This, despite the wider powers the Senedd now enjoy, which means that people should be sitting up and taking notice, taking an interest. Is the lack of charismatic politicians to blame? A lack of engagement? I don’t know, but I’m not sure… Read more »

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
9 months ago

I too believe news reporting should be impartial, but I would like to ask the Conservative party if they consider the Express, the Telegraph, the Times, the Sun, the Mail to be impartial with no connection to the Conservative Party?

Last edited 9 months ago by Mr Williams
Huwevo
Huwevo
9 months ago
Reply to  Mr Williams

Tom Giffard states that there is ‘no substitute for a free and independent press which regularly scrutinises Senedd activities and holds the Welsh Government to account.’ In principle, I agree. But without initiatives such as this how is that situation going to arise? One of the noticeable features of a UK (London) centric media is that Welsh Government and Senedd affairs are not scrutinised as they should be. The free market has noticeably failed to step in and remedy the deficiency (witnessed, for example, by the demise of The National). Also, it is not as if Welsh Government support for… Read more »

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