Television news in Wales

There have been a few articles in the media today about news broadcasting in Wales.

     BBC, Broadcasting future 'looks bleak'
     Western Mail, S4C with English news ‘could lead to BBC cutbacks’

The situation is that the ITV companies are looking to reduce their regional news and current affairs output all over the UK, so what's happening in Wales is not so very different from elsewhere. The danger is that the BBC effectively ends up being the only provider of Welsh interest news. Even though I think the BBC is a fine organization, and don't believe they are (too) biased either one way or the other ( ... or the other) it is never good for one organization to be in a monopoly position.

My view is shared:

The mounting concern over the future of ITV in Wales – the parent company announced record losses of £2.7bn earlier this year – has promoted a flurry of activity by the main Welsh broadcasters. ITV itself has cut programming, and made staff redundant, and is proposing to share some resources with the BBC.

This latter idea, which would see the two institutions share a broadcast site in Cardiff by 2015, has provoked criticisms from MPs, with Hywel Francis, the chair of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, suggesting it could lead to “suffocating” rather than promoting competition.

Rhodri Williams, Ofcom’s director for Wales, said: “Whether the proposal from S4C is the one taken forward by DCMS isn’t really a question for us. The important thing is that we find, and find quickly, a way of maintaining plurality in news provision. What we mean by quickly is by next year.”

I don't have any easy answers to solving that problem in the RUK, but in Wales the big difference is that we have another player besides ITV and the BBC, namely S4C. We can take advantage of this unique situation.

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S4C has indicated that it wants to commission its own news service. They have very good economic reasons to do so. In essence the BBC is obliged to produce a certain number of hours of Welsh language programming for S4C. Different sorts of programmes cost different amounts of money to make. The cheapest programmes are sport and news (you just have to get a camera and reporter/commentator to the events, and link back to a studio presenter). It is much more expensive to produce things like drama and entertainment.

So what do the BBC do? Well, from their point of view they make sure that a very large chunk of what they produce in Welsh is news, because it costs them less than other sorts of programmes would. Also, because they are already committed to producing news in English, it actually costs them virtually nothing to do it in Welsh as well. The same news team goes out and does the same interviews with the same people in both English and Welsh. It then links back to the same studio, with the same studio production team, but the presenter speaks in Welsh (ah, one of the joys of being bilingual ... it's so inexpensive!)

Turning now to S4C's point of view, if they commission their own news instead of having the BBC do it for them, it means they make a net financial gain ... because the BBC is still obliged to produce the same number of hours of Welsh language programmes, which means S4C get more drama or similar high value programmes to broadcast instead.

But, on top of that, exactly the same thing holds true for the company S4C commissions as for the BBC. The same news team can go out and do the same interviews with the same people in both Welsh and English. So they can produce a version of the Welsh news in English at virtually no additional cost.

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Now, that's what I call a near perfect synergy, because it solves the original problem. The BBC are not going to stop producing news and current affairs programmes about Wales any more than for any other part of the UK. So if S4C commission a separate news producer, Wales gets news about Wales in English from two different sources, with two different editorial standpoints.

ITV will of course be obliged to provide the same number of hours of English language programming about Wales as it does for its other regions (even though that is falling all the time). But if S4C does "the news" then ITV can fulfil its obligations in the form of current affairs instead.

The end result is that Wales therefore gets a lot more news about Wales in English than it otherwise would. We also get a three way plurality. That is a win-win-win situation.

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1 comments:

Adam Higgitt said...

Hello

I enjoyed reading this. On a point of information, however, ITV is required to make 90 minutes of programming for Wales per week above and beyond Welsh news. In the English regions this requirement is only for 15 minutes.

Best.

Adam

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