Over the last few weeks, we’ve been watching the coronavirus pandemic unfold across the world, with day to day changes that impact all of our lives. Keeping up with the news and latest updates has been vital.
Yet how many of the people following the news so intently understand that vital decisions about the government’s response to coronavirus is being taken in Cardiff rather than London? It is so important to remember that Wales has devolved powers over health, education and business.
Yesterday, many waited to hear from the Prime Minister of the UK, Boris Johnson, in his daily briefings and from the Education Minister, Gaving Williamson (above), regarding school closures. However, education is a devolved matter in Wales – the Welsh Education Minister had already announced school closures earlier in the day.
However, there was no breaking news for this on UK-wide news channels and those who do not have access to social media or who closely follow Welsh politics online may have remained largely oblivious.
Furthermore, some of the measures to maintain the economy announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer which have been discussed at length on TV and radio will have no impact in Wales. Here Finance Minister Rebecca Evans and the Minister for Economy, Ken Skates have announced their own new £1.4bn business support package.
Last night we heard the news about how testing was being ramped up to 25,000 a day – in England. Today it was announced that coronavirus testing will be rolled out for all staff – in Wales. How many will know this?
This lack of broadcasting about what the Senedd are deciding and discussing is going to, if it hasn’t already, cause mass confusion. This is, unfortunately, something that people already feel with regards to the Senedd and times like this we can only foresee it will get worse.
Today the First Minister announced that Welsh ministers will be given sweeping new powers which will allow them to force people to self-isolate and shut down mass gatherings. Without the public being informed of what is going on in Welsh politics, how will they know about these decisions? How will they hold these ministers to account?
It is no longer enough to have a Welsh local news segment after the main ‘UK news’. People will be told that the UK Government is doing one thing (usually by journalists who do not differentiate between the UK and England), only to have this message contradicted by a shorter Welsh-specific news bulletin telling them that Wales is taking a different path, if they hear about it at all.
If broadcasting was devolved the dynamic would be reversed. People would still be told what the UK Government is doing but this information would be placed in the context of what measures will actually impact viewers’ lives in Wales.
Given that the coronavirus impacts the health of the elderly to a greater degree than the young, and that they are generally more dependent on traditional media for their news, the need to devolve broadcasting is even more urgent.
We’ve seen so much panic and distress over the last few weeks because people are just confused, no one knows what’s happening from one day to the next, and devolving broadcasting powers to Wales would be a big step towards solving this.
However it is likely over the next few years that global pandemics will be a pressing issue and will loom large in the public consciousness. With health devolved to Wales, people will need to know what the Senedd’s next steps are. We need to know how we, as a nation are going to deal with this pandemic, and others.
As it stands, the coronavirus epidemic has exposed what has been a chronic problem in Wales for too long, which is the weakness off the Welsh media and inability of the Welsh Government and Senedd to communicate its actions to the populace.
It is owed to the people of Wales that during such confusing and strange times that we be properly informed about how our government is tackling this pandemic and future crises.