Wales has a media problem – and this is the solution to it
Angharad Mair, Barrie Jones, Beti George, Betsan Powys, Bethan Jones Parry, Euros Lewis, Marc Webber, Nia Ceidiog, Owain Gwilym and Rhisiart Arwel, Members of the National Communications Council
The National Communications Council has a credible solution to an issue that continues to blight our identity as a nation – that issue being the weakness of our media.
There are great disparities between what is portrayed in the media and the present public mood in Wales. There is considerable grassroots interest in announcements made by the Welsh Government and in understanding the differences between us and other nations. This interest is to be celebrated and it demonstrates that now is the time for a change.
The core issue is that Wales, despite an obvious need and appetite for knowledge and scrutiny is largely being fed a version of itself through the filter of an English owned media perspective. Despite post-devolution successes and the increasing responsibilities of the Welsh Government there is now little if any coverage that can be described as hard-edged journalism where the wheels of democracy can be seen turning.
The National Communications Council believes strongly that such problems are wholly inevitable and will persist while all the decision making and regulation for our media in Wales is decided by another country’s companies and government. This is unjust – and nonsensical.
It is essential that the media in Wales becomes a real Welsh media, and it could. The overarching priorities of English and American companies who serve us their content is to make a profit and not to ensure that Wales has a media structure that reflects its pride and ambitions as a nation.
The Council believes that the Welsh Government has a critical role to play in correcting this imbalance and that any concerns about their involvement in a media project should be set aside. We call on our Government to support the devolution of all powers over broadcasting and assist the initial creation of a quality media project for our nation across all platforms where the decisions are made in Wales – and for Wales.
The autonomy and independence of this service would need to be – and be seen to be – ‘holy’ across the political spectrum with reliable devices in place to ensure it could report as impartially as any outside agency. The commercial realities dictate that this can no longer be birthed successfully wholly as a business venture. But this in no way lessens its urgent importance for our future.
No other nation would even have to ponder or demand such an obvious solution.
What is important is that we have a true Welsh media in Wales that relates effectively to the situation that exists here – one that holds our Government to account and does so many other things. But to even start making this possible there are fundamental musts. Control of broadcasting in this country must be devolved and a serious and practical plan instigated to build a worthwhile Welsh media across all platforms. Everything is then possible – but we must start there.
A member of the Senedd commented this week that such is the weakness of the current media in Wales, it has led to an ‘unacceptable and unsustainable democratic deficit’ and that the majority of us do not even have basic information about Welsh Government.
Delyth Jewell, was responding to a study that found that only 50% knew that education was devolved and only 49% knew that health was, too. The study also suggested that only 6% of our population read Welsh newspapers, while the corresponding figure in Scotland was 46%.
The Covid-19 crisis has illustrated the difficulties perfectly in that Welsh Government’s strategic approach has been completely ill-served by English media companies who publish and broadcast in Wales and who have regularly confused the message without a thought for the substantial differences of perspective and policy that apply in a devolved nation.
If anything has ever highlighted the need that something be done to legitimise our media landscape on this side of the border, then surely this pandemic is it.
Our First Minister has voiced his concerns several times. It is now time for his Government to formulate and prioritise action.