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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Reflecting the nation

It has been a long hard slog against impossible deadlines but the Assembly Broadcasting Committee of which I am a member, managed to publish its report on time yesterday, largely due to the heroic efforts of its clerks, the members' research service and the Chair, Alun Davies AM.

Our main conclusion is that Wales is largely invisible on the UK TV networks, all of whom fail to reflect modern Welsh life in their output and fail to take account of the devolution settlement in the way that they deliver news and current affairs programmes.

We have called for greater acountability, with the BBC's Welsh Trustee and the Chair of the S4C authority being appointed by the Assembly, a Welsh member of the Ofcom board, the granting of radio licences being devolved to Wales and a permanent standing committee of the Assembly to scrutinise broadcasters and the Welsh Government on media matters.

The report should be on the Assembly website later today.
It seems pretty clear that despite the BBC's monopoly of the TV license fee the BBC has failed to reflect modern Welsh and Scottish life. The BBC is now a multi-international player - it uses the TV license fee to funnel fund its commercial operations in the USA and beyond. The BBC is now a massive international TV player making huge profits on its international business operations and is buying up private sector assets such as, but not limited to, Lonely Planet publishing.

The BBC is competing unfairly with the private sector, using its monopoly of the TV license fee to kill off competition. The BBC even offers an Internet service against Internet providers who can't possibly compete with the tax payer financed resources of the BBC.

The BBC is clearly operating outside its remit, is failing the British public as a whole, and is engaging in sharp commercial practices both in the UK market place and internationally.

It is long past bedtime for the BBC to loose its unfair monopoly of the TV license fee.
Was it not a coincidence then that on last evening's BBC1 6 O'Clock News, Betsan was delivering an article on the one-year anniversary of the One Wales Government?

Whilst watching the article (from London) gave me a warm glow, I really did try to put myself in the shoes of the average Jo outside of Wales. From that perspective, I would have been very confused. The details as to who's who, explanation of political parties, institutions, were scant and would have left Jo utterly bewildered.

I am not saying that Betsan's reportage was wrong or badly presented...actually it was a rather good piece of actualité and interesting commentary. But it seened to be aimed at a Wales-based audience and not for wider UK consumption.

I think that both the BBC and ITV have a duty to inform the wider UK audience about Welsh affairs, but this needs to be done in a way that engages and educates and not just have a bolted on piece sent in from BBC Wales with no central editing which takes into proper account Jo's perspective!

It may be all well and good to call on the BBC or ITV to make Wales more "visible" but unless this is done as far more than a tick box exercise, it will have been a futile gesture.
Why didn't you ask for responsibility for S4C to pass to WAG? You want to appoint people to boards but aren't prepared to take any real responsibility.
The evidence suggested that the issue with S4C was one of accountability not control. Even the Plaid Cymru Minister was opposed to devolution of broadcasting to the Assembly. There was nothing to show how devolving responsibility for S4C would add any value.
Peter - intrigued by the comment that ”devolving responsibility for S4C would add any value”: I'm off to read the report to see the evidence. But 'added value' is an accountancy notion: there would be, self-evidently surely?, many benefits to be had for more local control of Wales' national broadcasting company? And isn't devolution about taking responsibility - even when you might not want it?
For my money, the devolved nations should be responsible for the BBC as well as S4C in Wales.
But would you be taking control and is it desirable that a TV station should be 'controlled' by politicians. In reality all you would be doing differently would be passing on their subsidy via the Welsh Government rather than DCMS. All the other accountability and regulatory issues can be dealt with via the other recommendations in our report, remembering that these are at arms-length from government as well.

You are right though that it would make no sense in just devolving responsibility for S4C. You would need to take the whole shebang and that then raises boundary issues.
I understand the committee's report was made available to journalists at 3.30pm on Wednesday, but not to others until 6.30pm - this allowed Alun Davies to give a press conference and for plenty of early evening coverage without the key player's who be affected by the recommendations to adequately respond. This doesn't seem fair, does it?
Given that the 'key players' were the ones reporting on the press conference I am sure that there was a level playing field.

All of the key players gave evidence to the Committee and of course this is just the beginning of the process. There is a debate next Wednesday, a statement by the Minister next term on his response plus whatever action is needed to put into effect what is agreed.
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