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Why a new £200,000 fund is critical to supporting independent journalism in Wales

06 Apr 2019 4 minute read
Bethan Sayed. Picture by the National Assembly (CC BY 2.0)

Bethan Sayed AM, Chair of the National Assembly Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee

This week marks a first step in the right direction in how we support local, community-based journalism in Wales.

It will be no secret to many of the readers of this site that journalism in Wales – and across large swathes of the world – is facing a crisis. Journalists are increasingly made a scapegoat or even an opposition party, for those with authoritarian tendencies. They’re put out of work due to the vastly changed nature of our news media landscape.

The result is that people across the world are feeling increasingly disconnected from the truth and from news.

As someone who takes a big interest in this area, I’ve been concerned for some time that while people are increasingly connected on a global level, sharing videos and content from around the world, people are, at the same time, losing a sense of connection to what grounds them in their communities.

It’s amazing that social media has been a big driver in helping to facilitate a larger global debate surrounding climate change, democracy, animal welfare and war, amongst other important topics.

But it concerns me that in Wales, in parallel to this, more and more people are completely unaware of what is happening just down the road.

I said at a Plaid Cymru conference a few years ago that the problem in Wales is often not so much fake news but no news. Period.

There are some great examples of people and groups trying to change this situation. This site is no exception and since its founding, it’s provided an invaluable space for people interested in Welsh politics to discuss and read about news and issues they might have to look pretty hard to find elsewhere.

There are others in Wales where hard work, often on a voluntary basis, is taking place to provide the same service.

Our smaller, independent publications are important sources of what goes on in our country and our democratic and civic institutions. But I think more needs to be done and more support offered – where it’s appropriate.

Critical support

That brings me to this week, which has seen the launch of a £200,000 fund to support independent journalism in Wales. It was a recommendation made by the Assembly’s Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee report “Read all about it”. It was then negotiated as part of a Plaid Cymru budget deal in 2017.

I was proud that Plaid Cymru were able to facilitate this.

While this fund will not be a magic bullet, it does offer a lifeline for those publications, both on and offline, to be able to support themselves in an increasingly difficult time for local journalism.

In Wales, I believe it’s also critical to support some more plurality of news in a country where just two companies control the overwhelming number of local titles and where our national broadcasters have, overall, cut back over the last 15 years – We know that investment in Welsh current affairs programming is still not on a par with Scotland.

The fund is in its infancy and my ambition would be to see it expand over time. The Canadian Government, for example, has in the last few months announced significant tax breaks and law changes to support news media, making it easier for local journalists to register for charitable tax status. They have also provided direct support for local journalism. It’s now commonplace in a number of countries to offer direct support for news and current affairs

In an ideal world, Wales would have numerous titles, on and offline, competing against each other in a dynamic and commercially successful landscape.

Perhaps that day will come, but in the meantime, I believe it essential that we start offering support on a local level, to help us begin moving in that direction. Helping small publications and independent journalism is a good place to start.

If you would like help and information on accessing this fund, you can contact Business Wales on 03000 603000 or myself on [email protected]

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