Devolution of Broadcasting, Wales

In the midst of the general election hurly burly an important consultation is proceeding in Wales: an inquiry into whether Wales should acquire greater powers over broadcasting. The deadline for submitting evidence has been extended from today, 9th December to Monday, 20th December. Whatever its outcome, this inquiry marks a key developmental stage in the process of devolution in Wales. 

The inquiry is being carried out by the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee (CWLC) of the National Assembly of Wales.

This is an opportunity to tell us if you think Wales should have greater powers in this area and how that might be achieved. What, if any, aspects of broadcasting should be devolved to Wales, and how would this benefit Wales and Welsh audiences?

This committee (see its output here) is the child, if you like, of its predecessors, those other committees which, since the creation of the Assembly, have got to grips with issues of communication within this particular unit of democracy in the United Kingdom.

Since control of broadcasting is reserved to Westminster it seems to me that, in the early years of the Assembly,  politicians in Wales appreciated less than they do now that the country must, or even could or should, step up to advance its own interests in this area.

The value of exploring, within the devolutionary settlement, what media provision is desirable and within reach for this particular country has taken time to root itself in the political mindset. There is no doubt now that a self-respecting and confident assertion of the right to determine a media future for Wales is well established. This should be noted and commended, alongside the healthy cross-party engagement on these issues.

The decision to hold an inquiry into the devolution of broadcasting results, I would surmise, from the the body of work that successive Assembly committees undertaken. The groundwork has been done and the right moment has arrived to look at the bigger picture.

The value and importance of politicians bringing their intimate knowledge of life on the ground in Wales into a  robust collaboration with colleagues in Westminster and  in the rest of the UK can be seen very clearly in the area of broadcasting. This injection of reality punctures stereotypes which, even if well-meant, do little to give Wales what it needs. The involvement of Westminster at committee level obliges representatives of Welsh interests to see where the blind spots (on all sides are) are. The effort to understand how Wales’s broadcasting experience sits with that of Northern Ireland, Scotland and the English regions pushes policy-making beyond self-interest and broadens horizons.

Even clearer is the value of politicians regularly refreshing their engagement with the broadcasting industry, its institutions and its workers. And, since broadcasting is closely linked to other forms of media, such as journalism and film production, every advance in understanding between politicians and professionals in one area helps every other.

Over the years policy-makers have gained a firmer grasp of the importance of seeing broadcasting in English and in Welsh as a service to Wales as a whole, where a genre-broad service in both languages is required.

Areas that the Committee suggests respondents may like to give attention to include:

  • The BBC, including its governance and funding.
  • S4C, including its governance and funding.
  • Other public service broadcasters (ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5).
  • Regulatory functions currently carried out by Ofcom.
  • Commercial and community radio services.
  • How any changes proposed align with the shift to digital media consumption.
  • How any changes proposed would impact on the media production sector.

There is much to be done. The two Media Audits carried out by the Institute of Welsh Affairs in 2008 and 2015 helped to put the spotlight on what was actually going on in the media in Wales. Unless someone counts the beans, the pie can’t be made and neither can policy. The place of broadcasting in the global online economy is a crucial question. Another IWA Media Audit will be carried out in 2020.