Covid-19 has shown that Wales needs its own home-grown media more than ever

‘Stay alert!’ newspaper front pages

Ifan Wyn Jones

‘Stay alert, control the virus, save lives’. That was the slogan plastered on the front cover of almost every newspaper I saw in my village shop in Powys back in May.

The problem was that this slogan – adopted by Boris Johnson on the 10th of May during the Downing St briefing regarding lifting some lockdown restrictions – only applied to England.

In Wales, we have had two different messages. First, stay at home, and more recently, stay local.

Polls show that the people of Wales agree that the Welsh Government’s approach is the right one by a huge margin. In fact, even the English agree.

I have to give credit to Mark Drakeford for sticking to his guns and being confident in charting his own course for Wales.

Unfortunately, however, his efforts have no doubt been undermined by the fact that much of the media people in Wales consume have made little mention of the different rules in place here.

A study by Cardiff University published at the start of the month which interviewed a panel of 200 people found that English newspapers read in Wales, in particular, were contributing to this confusion.

As an example, a headline published by the Daily Mail in May featured plans to reopen schools by the 1st of June, with no mention that this was only in England. This was sent to corner shops and supermarkets all over Wales for people to buy and read. Of course, schools in much of Wales only reopened yesterday.

 

Damage

There is no doubt that people in Wales better understand today who is in charge of health in Wales than they did at the start of the lockdown. But the Welsh Government’s communications team and what little Welsh media we have have had to do a lot of heavy lifting during that time to inform them in the face of a wave of misinformation from across Offa’ Dyke.

After 20 years of devolution, we should not have been in this position. But the public can’t be blamed. Unless you have your finger on the pulse of Welsh politics you’re unlikely to hear much about what powers are devolved and which aren’t.

It has also caused confusion coming in the other direction. There have been some visitors who unintentionally came to Wales unaware that the legislation was different here. Now, there will be some among us who will point fingers and accuse them of ignorance. But if the message isn’t made clear enough, not everyone will receive it or understand it.

The problem is that the media we have here in Wales is currently very weak, and Covid-19 has likely damaged them still further. The few regional news services we do have are hugely dependent on the sale of print editions, which have taken a huge hit to sales and advertising due to the pandemic.

It’s likely that the newspapers that do survive will rely increasingly on content produced outside Wales. ‘Welsh’ newspapers like the Carmarthen Journal and Daily Post are regional papers owned by companies in England.

Even papers like the Western Mail, which describes itself as the ‘national newspaper of Wales’, isn’t independently owned and has a limited readership in the north. The only independent Welsh printed newspaper is Y Cymro, yet readership and circulation are low and publishing infrequent.

Positive

In contrast, a lack of knowledge about national coronavirus restrictions has not been as much of a problem in Scotland, and the reason why is clear – they have their own home-grown media.

The National newspaper only launched in Scotland a few years ago, but is now a major selling paper which publishes a daily print version as well as online, and openly support Scottish independence.

They also publish their own versions of British newspapers, which report on Scottish issues from a Scottish perspective. The Scottish Sun is the complete opposite to that of the British Sun, and take a tone which is more tolerant of the efforts of the SNP government there.

There are questions about whether newspapers are still a viable commercial enterprise – particularly in the face of large-scale job losses at companies such as Newsquest which publishes The National. Wales may have missed the boat in that regard, but we can still aim to bolster its media through now-booming online news as well as broadcast media.

The positive change over the last few years is that we have seen growing calls from people all over Wales for there to be more home-grown Welsh media outlets in order to inform the people of Wales from a Welsh perspective.

Nation.Cymru, for instance, has grown rapidly in terms of readership over the last few months and hopefully that trend will continue. If you can, please donate just a small amount a month to Nation.Cymru in order to help them grow as a company and produce more content.

We need an independent Welsh media service now more than ever, and hopefully, the confusion surrounding the coronavirus crisis will finally persuade a wider audience that we need to make that happen.

For Wales to be its own nation that can act independently, the people of Wales need to know what is going on in this country. For that, we need our own thriving, independent media.

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