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Friday, September 03, 2010

All the news fit to print

Anybody reading the lead article in this morning's Western Mail, reporting that Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt has signalled his intention to allow ITV to ditch its commitment to regional news, could be forgiven for thinking that there has been a major government announcement. However, the second sentence in the article gives the game away. It reads:

Mr Hunt confirmed he is to persevere with a policy of introducing a network of smaller, city-based local broadcasters, freeing ITV up from its obligation to provide a Wales-wide service.

In other words the Culture Secretary is following precisely the same policy, unchanged from when he came into government. How ironic that a lead newspaper article on news provision is not in fact news.

Nevertheless, there are some important issues raised by the piece, and Alun Davies, the Labour Assembly Member who is persisting with this agenda has some valid points.

He is right that the reduction in the number of hours on ITV Wales for news and current affairs threatens diversity and effectively hands the BBC a monopoly of provision. He is right that the public service obligation should continue to be part of the ITV franchise when it is renewed in 2014. He is right in his assertion that devolved government in Wales makes it a special case and he is right that the flirtation with city-based local broadcasters is entirely inappropriate in Wales both culturally and in terms of affordability and scale.

As I have said before, the transmission problems posed by Welsh geography and the development of a distinctive Welsh political culture around devolution made it particularly appropriate for an Independently Funded News Consortium pilot to go ahead here, irrespective of what happened in England. It was regrettable that the Culture Secretary did not consult with his partners in Wales before deciding that this was not going to happen.

It is also worth noting that all the cuts in news and current affairs provision happened under a Labour Government without any decisive intervention by the then Secretary of State. ITV has indicated that, for the time being, it is not going ahead with further cuts in news provision in Wales so there is no immediate threat. However, there are future issues that need to be addressed and it would do the Culture Secretary some good to come here and see for himself how different Wales is and why his policies are not appropriate here.
All very good points regarding Wales being a special case, the challenges with it's geography and the need for a BBC alternative.

I would suggest that the relative success of the yourCardiff, yourPontypridd and Guardian Cardiff hyperlocal sites are an example of how scrutiny and Welsh News can be produced and transferred to a multi-platform environment, without the needs for tens of millions of pounds. DCMS need to try and address the lack of competition in News in many areas of Wales. If they don't, the Assmebly should step in and start offering more financial support, or an area in which we could excel in Wales will suffer.

Perhaps it's something that could be built into the review of the communities first scheme? volunteers young and old + professional journalists + an increasingly media savvy public = huge reduction in the cost of producing news.

Would welcome anyone else's thoughts on this...
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