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Opinion

The Tories are pulling the plug on the license fee – Wales’ cultural and political future now depends on our own media

16 Jan 2022 5 minute read
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries. Picture by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Ifan Morgan Jones

I had always thought the campaign to devolve broadcasting to Wales was something of a wild goose chase. The BBC as a UK-wide public service broadcaster is so integral to the communal feeling of belonging across Britain that I thought that the UK Government would never willingly give it up.

I was extremely surprised therefore by today’s announcement that the Culture Secretary not only wants to freeze the license fee but abolish it altogether, thereby bringing the BBC’s role as a broadcaster that serves the entire public – not just subscribers of advertisers – to an end.

This all depends on the Conservatives still being in power by 2027, of course, and I think that this announcement actually makes that less likely. Like their opposition to the NHS, hatred of the BBC is a minority pursuit even among Conservatives. They are led by free-market libertarians who aren’t always in tune with the cultural conservatism of their voters.

If Labour can go into the next election promising to save Strictly, Eastenders and The Archers that would make their job much easier but be terrible for the Tories.

However, this move seems to be less about voters and rather about saving Boris Johnson’s premiership in the short term by throwing some red meat to Tory MPs who may have been considering getting rid of him. If he can survive the next month or so, then he can start to worry about what anyone else thinks.

But this desire to get rid of the BBC just adds to my argument that muscular unionism is actually just tearing the UK apart. If they had done their homework, they would understand that the BBC is a key institution in bringing all of UK together while making all its different parts feel valued and included.

It’s not just Welsh culture that needs a public service remit these days. The BBC is essentially the only English language content made in Britain that my family watches, because of its high quality. The rest of the time the content my kids watch is through YouTube and Netflix and is American, Australian or Korean.

Poor

This announcement also puts some of Wales’ foremost cultural institutions in great danger, too. From April S4C will be entirely funded through the license fee. So too is Radio Cymru, BBC Radio Wales, and much of the Welsh content – made in and about – Wales that appears on our televisions and is heard over the radios.

The historian John Davies argued that Wales was “an artefact created by broadcasting”. I always thought this was over-egging it a bit – his seminal book was called The History of Wales, not the History of Somewhere that Became Wales once the BBC Came Along.

But it’s not an over-emphasis to say that the BBC and S4C as cultural institutions have preserved through the 20th century a Welsh cultural distinctiveness which was the foundation on which the nation’s early-21st century political distinctiveness was then built.

They also have a clear role to play as a conduit between those nascent political institutions and the people of Wales. Without the BBC, would Mark Drakeford have even been able to differ in his Covid response from England? Not to play down the important job done by other news services and channels (like this one), but no one else has quite the same reach.

Even if a commercialised BBC survived post-pandemic, like all other such news services it’s likely to have even less of an interest in serving poor old Wales when there’s so much more advertising money and viewers’ eyeballs in the south-east of England.

Voice

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch therefore to suggest that the demise of public service broadcasting in Wales poses something of an existential threat to Wales itself, as a cultural and political unit.

As a result, there needs now to be a real political focus on strengthening the Welsh media. Devolving broadcasting isn’t going to work if there isn’t broadcasting to devolve. We need to think seriously about how we create our own vibrant Welsh media that serves the public interest.

Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour’s deal in the Senedd included a commitment to fund new and existing media platforms in Wales.

That would be a start – but would require some serious financial firepower now to maintain and deliver the kind of independent services that will be needed post 2027.

But whatever the price, it might be cheap compared with the alternative from the point of view of Welsh politicians, which would be no platform and voice to communicate with the public about devolution at all.

And beyond the self-interest of Cardiff Bay, there will be a wider cultural and political price to be paid by the entire nation if we don’t have a media that recognises our existence.


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Reginald Bowler
Reginald Bowler
8 months ago

The thing is that the wretched bbc gets all the licence fee, which we have to pay. No other broadcaster gets any, yet we have to pay the bbc to watch someone else. That’s a wrong. I don’t, for instance, have to pay Tesco to shop at Morrisons. Why should I pay the wretched bbc to watch ITV, or CH4 or whatever? Whatever they propose that supports the current situation (they have suggested a surcharge on council tax, or a levy on internet connections) the fundamental wrong is still there. The licence fee itself has to go, and the bbc… Read more »

Brechfa Smythe _ Rhydderch
Brechfa Smythe _ Rhydderch
8 months ago

Subscription services are fair but don’t look sfter minority interests. How to look after minority interests without pissing off others is important. How would S4C cope as a subscription service? Does it have enough faithful followers to fund its content and delivery. I hope it does.

Cath Hill
Cath Hill
8 months ago

The problem with commercial platforms is they ONLY serve commercial interests. That’s it, nothing else matters, only what the “investors” want: Profit. I personally am refusing to pay my licence fee until the BBC addresses its blatant and disgusting and damaging transphobia and many other problematic areas in its news broadcasting, however, it cannot be denied that the BBC is a vital part of the media establishment that delivers science and wildlife documentaries that are beyond compare, arts and music coverage that is wide-ranging in scope and delightfully diverse in culture (I very much doubt that Amazon or Netflix will… Read more »

Rhosddu
Rhosddu
8 months ago

No, they would still need some funding from the Welsh Governmment. This one of the several reasons for the need for devolution of broadcasting.

Cath Hill
Cath Hill
8 months ago

Well as long as you are happy….?

You seem to be taking a very narrow and short term view …and your response also feels like it has been composed by someone, who if they have read the article, has missed the entire point, no offence like.

Robert Williams
Robert Williams
8 months ago

‘The wretched BBC’, eh, Mr Bowler? I fear you naively reveal where you’re coming from in your opening sentence. If I had private health insurance, and sent my children to private schools, would it be legitimate for me to say, ‘No I’m not paying taxes to support your (wretched) NHS, and your schools, which I don’t use’? The simple fact is that we’re asked to contribute 43p per day, per household to pay for a dazzling range of content – news, national and local, discussion, documentaries, drama, music and arts programmes, soaps – across a vast range of TV and… Read more »

I.Humphyrs
I.Humphyrs
8 months ago

Oh, the Right wing Brexit types have been foaming at the mouth at the beeb for years, and now they are in Downing Street, partying btw, they can get what they want, but will the public go for it? Watch the election results for indications.
Meanwhile, we should back independence.

Last edited 8 months ago by I.Humphyrs
Phil
Phil
8 months ago

43p a day to watch a distorted news agenda, endless cookery programmes which seem to be transmitted between dancing and inane, unintelligible game shows and don’t get me started on Mrs Brown’s unfunny Boys and repeats of Christmas shows by long dead comedians.
Back in the day Minnie Caldwell’s cat going missing was a hot topic on Coronation Street. It now seems we need to have murders, deaths in huge explosions and the resulting infernos in soap operas to attract the watchers’ attention.
And as for the wokeness….. I rest my case!

Nobby Tart
Nobby Tart
8 months ago
Reply to  Phil

Coronation Street is on ITV, not the BBC.

Phil
Phil
8 months ago
Reply to  Nobby Tart

Keen follower, eh?

Malcolm rj
Malcolm rj
8 months ago

The BBC should be renamed the English broadcasting network when i lived ànd
worked in England you would not know that Wales existed the TV license fee that the people in Wales pay should stay in Wales

Stephen Owen
Stephen Owen
8 months ago
Reply to  Malcolm rj

Very true

APM
APM
8 months ago
Reply to  Malcolm rj

£100m+ of the license fee is given to S4C each year. So roughly half ‘stays’ in Wales to fund S4C. Add on the costs of BBC Wales radios stations, BBC Wales TV news etc and I suspect that most of the remainder ‘stays’ in Wales.

Grayham Jones
8 months ago

Stop reading English newspapers and stop watching English news stop being little Englanders and be proud to be welsh it’s time for a New Wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

Brian Clement
Brian Clement
8 months ago

All part of the Tories ‘One Nation, One Culture’ agenda which they see being controlled from London. Wales is facing a variety of threats that will challenge its existence. If people don’t realise this then the future for our nation is extremely grim.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
8 months ago

Auntie becomes Boris’ Bargaining Chip, serves them right…

Robert Williams
Robert Williams
8 months ago

Can I add one small moan – please, Nation.Cymru, take on board that it is a LicenCe fee, not a LicenSe fee. Noun, not verb!

Dafydd ap Robart
Dafydd ap Robart
8 months ago

“The rest of the time the content my kids watch is through YouTube and Netflix and is American, Australian or Korean.”

A yw hynny’n beth drwg (ar wahân i’r gwladychwyr)?
Hepgorodd eich rhestr Sbaen, Ffrainc, yr Almaen, Rwsia, Tsieina, Japan, Brasil, Mecsico, yr Eidal, yr Aifft ac India.
Mae’r rhain i gyd yn cyfrannu llawer mwy at ein dealltwriaeth o’r byd a’i bobl nag y gallai’r BBC byth ei wneud. Pryd oedd y tro diwethaf i chi wylio ffilm Nigeria ar y BBC?

Mawkernewek
8 months ago

“the BBC is a key institution in bringing all of UK together while making all its different parts feel valued and included.” Well, some parts of the UK. On one level, Wales may well get a good deal out of it, given that the licence fee supports BBC Cymru Wales and S4C, and therefore quite a number of jobs etc. However, here in Cornwall things look a bit different. The BBC generally ignores the existence of Cornwall as a historic Celtic nation, its unique constitutional status as a territorial Duchy distinct from England, and doesn’t recognise it as a nation,… Read more »

Andrea J
Andrea J
8 months ago

Let’s be real, the BBC’s output is dreadful these days. It’s boring, it’s Conservative. It’s a neoliberal institution that forces (yes, forces!) people to pay for it. It’s not democratic at all, and it’s not normal in countries around us.

Apart from it, I don’t enjoy it, but these days it’s just so poor. Propaganda and purposefully dull programmes that always have a right-wing agenda (and even the young shows are just annoyingly liberal, rather than leftist). Now it’s time to let it become like a small version of PBS across the Atlantic.

Last edited 8 months ago by Andrea J

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