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Saturday, November 05, 2011

The threat to English Language broadcasting

Former BBC Wales Director, Menna Richards is right when she says that the debate on broadcasting in Wales has focussed almost exclusively on the future of S4C at the expense of all else.

She argued in the Welsh Political Archive's annual lecture at the National Library of Wales on Friday that the Welsh political class need to fight harder to protect English language broadcasting. She points out that between 2007 and 2011 the number of hours of English language television programmes broadcast by BBC Wales fell by 16% and contrasts the situation in Wales with that in Scotland:

"The BBC in Scotland is faced with making similar tough savings but I've always found it curious that the level of interest and engagement there is so much more intense.

"Scottish newspapers and politicians complain, write, criticise and attack the BBC's senior management in London.

"The BBC's top team would tend to sigh theatrically at what they saw as an excess of emotion in Edinburgh and Glasgow but you'd know that, usually, Scotland would get some concession just to keep them quiet.

"Because a fuss was being kicked up. There was a public debate. Newspapers were agitated. Politicians were angry.

"The BBC centrally needs to hear from politicians, newspaper editors and other opinion-formers that they are worried about the threat to English language services in Wales as well as the dangers facing S4C.

"You can bet they'd be doing so in Scotland."

Now that the future of S4C has been secured, we will no doubt turn our attention to this issue, however the contrast with Scotland is a little unfair, not least because they have been able to concentrate on the issue of English language content, whereas we have had our work cut-out monitoring proposals for S4C and fighting to get the right deal.

What I need to know more about is what areas this 16% cut in English Language content has fallen in. Is it news and current affairs or drama? How has the gap been filled? How does it compare to England, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

It is fair to say that if it has happened it has been hidden by the big investment in drama production in BBC Wales including the new studios at Roath basin by the Cardiff rivers estuary.

Public service broadcasters are facing huge challenges with shrinking budgets. It is important that as much of that resource as possible goes to providing content rather than administration and bureaucracy. However, because we have a dedicated Welsh channel it is also inevitable that Wales will end up spending more on Welsh language content.

Is Menna Richards asking us to change that balance?
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