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#4AlltheUK shows Wales is nothing more than West England. We deserve better

03 Nov 2018 4 minute read
Picture by Matt Brown. (CC BY 2.0)

Ben Lake, Plaid Cymru MP for Ceredigion

This week, Channel 4 announced as part of its #4AlltheUK strategy that Leeds will be the location of its new National HQ, with Creative Hubs also being set up in Bristol and Glasgow.

It is, of course, great news that such a big media institution is moving out of London, apparently realising that there is more to the UK than just the south east of England.

Channel 4 has committed to increasing spending on “Nations and Regions content” from 35% to 50%, worth up to £250 million more in total. Again, great news.

It is vital that a public broadcasting service represents every part of the UK. With this recent announcement, Channel 4 seems to be pleading for a pat on the back for its heroic efforts to acknowledge that anywhere outside the M25 exists.

Except, it hasn’t really.

The #4AlltheUK approach has failed to look west of Bristol. Its strategy overlooks the fact that there are two other countries within the UK. #4AlltheUK or, more accurately, for #4Allthepartsthatmatter.

This decision by Channel 4 is disappointing, but it is a symptom of an underlying problem, not the problem itself.

The health of our democracy depends on robust public scrutiny, whether by citizens, elected politicians or the media. This ability to scrutinise is reliant on possessing sufficient information, not least details about who should be held accountable for particular decisions or policies.

You cannot know what your representatives are doing if no one tells you, and in this regard our media has a crucial function.

Polling has shown that despite two decades of devolution, less than half of the population in Wales realise that it is the Labour Welsh Government, not the Conservatives in Westminster, who are in charge of our NHS.

Democracy in Wales faces a serious problem if the public are not sure who needs to be held accountable for such important public services.

As has been discussed before, this is in large part due to the lack of a strong Welsh media. The media has not adapted to the devolved, multi-national nature of the UK state.

UK-wide broadcasters still operate as if the UK is one homogenous unit, with one NHS, one education system, and one budget.

Channel 4 has tried to show that it is different, that it is aware of life beyond London, but it has nevertheless fallen short. The fact that a strategy to improve representation in the nations has failed to include half of them tells you everything you need to know.

This is simply not good enough. Without a well-informed electorate, we have – and will continue to have – a democratic deficit.

Yes, the English NHS under the Conservatives in Westminster is in crisis, but what about our NHS in Wales? It is run by the Labour Government in Cardiff, yet you would be forgiven for assuming its problems were solely the fault of the Conservatives in London, for this is the only coverage we see on UK-wide news.

Meanwhile, the government that is actually in charge, the Labour Welsh Government, is spared the same level of scrutiny. We deserve better than this.

We deserve a media that recognises we are our own people, with our own culture, and our own government. This will never come from London.

We must take control ourselves. At the very least it should be the National Assembly that is responsible for public broadcasting in Wales.

It would be a start, and an important step in facilitating greater public scrutiny of Welsh governance. This would, in turn, improve democratic accountability, and help ensure that politicians of all parties are working for the people who elect them.

It is the responsibility of the electorate to hold their representatives to account, but such a task is near impossible without possessing information about what is being decided, by whom, and for what reason.

The devolution of broadcasting would be a first step towards a media that informs the people of Wales, and that, in turn, empowers them to insist on better.

We have no need to latch on to #4AlltheUK, we can do it ourselves. #DrosGymru.

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