Welsh Government urged to set up ‘Shadow Broadcasting Authority’
Dozens of leading figures from the communications and broadcasting world have urged the Welsh Government to implement an expert panel’s recommendation to establish a Shadow Broadcasting Authority for Wales.
The call comes amid concerns that funding cuts are having a detrimental impact on programme production in Wales in both English and Welsh.
In an open letter to Dawn Bowden, the Deputy Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism, 37 individuals have argued that establishing such a body would be the “single most important and tangible step” towards delivering the Welsh Government’s policy of getting powers over broadcasting and communication devolved to Wales.
Signatories to the letter include Professor Emeritus of Media at Aberystwyth University Tom O’Malley, the former editor of BBC Radio Wales Julie Barton, actress Sharon Morgan, television editor and former Bectu union official Madoc Roberts and independent producer and former National Union of Journalists official Meic Birtwistle.
Since December 2021, the Welsh Government has supported the devolution of broadcasting and communication powers to Wales, as part of the Co-operation Agreement between Labour and Plaid Cymru.
In August this year, a report on the matter was published by a panel of experts commissioned by the Welsh Government. Chaired by broadcaster Mel Doel and Professor Elin Haf Gruffudd Jones, the panel recommended that a Communications and Broadcasting Authority for Wales be established within the next 12 months.
The open letter states: “We write in support of the recommendation to establish a Shadow Broadcasting and Communication Authority for Wales, made in the Doel Jones Report, A New Future For Broadcasting and Communications in Wales.
“The expert panel appointed by the Welsh Government to explore the possibility of establishing such an authority has produced a detailed, evidence-based case. It drew on information and analysis from a broad range of stakeholders and a substantial body of high-quality academic research. It should be commended for the quality and precision of this work and the clarity, caution and workability of its recommendations.
“We understand that broadcasters will have concerns when faced with these first steps towards developing an embryonic communication eco-system for Wales to cater for the country’s specific needs. However, the experience and evidence base used by your panel should reassure and put minds at ease.
“We support the core justification behind the recommendation that ‘it is fundamentally important that the Welsh Government has a body in Wales to turn to for guidance on navigating the changes on the horizon. That body would strengthen regulation and accountability and bring that accountability closer to home.’
“This is especially true given the rapid changes in the communication environment, with the proliferation of social media and artificial intelligence and, in particular, the implications of the Online Safety Act (2023), and the Draft Media Bill now before the UK Parliament.
“In addition, there are widespread concerns, explored in the report, about the impact of these changes on public interest journalism, programming about Wales and Welsh language provision, in particular S4C. There is a pressing need for an authority which would ‘create a focal point for broadcasting and communications in Wales, and … draw key stakeholders and the people of Wales into a strategic conversation’.
“Devolution enjoys strong support in Wales as it has brought governance closer to the people of the country. Communications are vital to the health of public debate in Wales, to Welsh culture and to the growth of a diverse and flourishing community. Establishing an Independent Shadow Broadcasting and Communications Authority for Wales, following the careful and cautious process recommended in the report, will foster this and be a valuable, incremental step in the ongoing process of devolution.
“There have been successive waves of public discussion about the relationship between Wales and communications since the 1920s. These have ranged from those about the BBC and ITV in the Beveridge and Pilkington Reports of the 1950s and 1960s, the call for the devolution of broadcasting by the cross-party Parliament for Wales campaign in the 1950s, through the debates over S4C in the 1970s, to the current issues posed by a rapidly changing communications environment. These discussions gave rise to the step by step emergence of the current system of broadcasting in Wales. The report is firmly within this tradition and is a powerful, and eloquent, advocate of what is necessary to improve the situation.
“We are therefore proud that, 70 years since that cross-party movement, we now have a government in Wales that is taking steps towards the vision of those campaigners.
“Establishing the authority is the single most important and tangible step your government can take to deliver on your belief that broadcasting and communication powers should be devolved to the Senedd. The recent reduction of Welsh representation in the UK Parliament makes acting now even more urgent.
“We trust that the Welsh Government will deliver on the report’s recommendation to establish the shadow authority as the way to bring communications policy closer to the people in Wales, on whose lives it impacts, day by day.”
In September, BBC Wales reported that it had been told the Welsh Government would not be setting up a shadow broadcasting authority because of financial constraints.
Its estimated cost would be £704,000 per year, and First Minister Mark Drakeford has said that budget cuts are unavoidable. The Welsh Conservatives have described the proposed body as a “nationalist talking shop”.
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