Extend furlough scheme to help secure the future of Welsh journalism
"Democracy requires a healthy press to inform the public and scrutinise the public realm. It is an unacceptable paradox that as the Senedd has gained further powers, public interest journalism has retreated from Wales."
- Helen Mary Jones, Chair of Culture, Welsh language and Communications Committee
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated problems for media and journalism in Wales and put huge pressure on an industry which was already under strain.
However, decisions which could have a detrimental impact on its future should not be made in a time of crisis, says a report by a Senedd Committee. It urges the Welsh Government to request an extension of the UK Government's furlough scheme to support the sector in the short-term.
The Senedd Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee has published its report on the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on journalism and local media, Monday 14 September 2020.
During its inquiry, it took evidence on the quality and accuracy of news reporting, the increase in demand for relevant and informative news, as well as the economic hit on advertising revenue and newspaper sales. Whilst acknowledging that these challenges existed before the pandemic, the Committee is concerned that any changes made now could have a long lasting, devastating effect on journalism and democracy in Wales.
The Committee concludes that drastic steps such as restructuring or job cuts should not be made now during a time of crisis. Instead, it wants to see more support provided to help the sector weather the storm, including the extension of the UK Government furlough scheme as an immediate action whilst encouraging Welsh Government to develop long-term solutions.
Helen Mary Jones MS, Chair of the Senedd's Culture Welsh Language and Communication Committee says;
"There has been an enormous appetite for news during the pandemic and it has been more important than ever to ensure that the people of Wales have access to news that is accurate and relevant to them. But we are also acutely aware that the pandemic has put a huge strain on our news and media sectors, with depleted revenue from advertising and sales leading to job and service cuts.
"We have already seen job cuts at Reach PLC, a major provider of news in Wales with Wales Online, Western Mail, North Wales Live and the Daily Post among its titles. We must act now to prevent further cuts and restructuring which are shrinking Wales' media.
"That is why we are calling on the Welsh Government to urge the UK Government to continue the Job Retention Scheme beyond October 2020 on a sectoral basis in recognition of the fact that the majority of news journalism businesses will not be able to return to pre-pandemic levels of economic activity for some time to come. And Welsh Government should encourage businesses to make use of the Scheme while they explore longer term solutions instead of making employees redundant.
"We therefore urgently call on the Welsh Government to take affirmative action to support news journalism in Wales, and hope to explore this issue in further detail in the autumn term."
In their report, the Committee also highlight grave concerns about the quality of reporting by some UK news providers on devolved matters during the pandemic, and that the dangers of misinformation became all too real when it appeared to undermine efforts to tackle the disease in Wales.
The report contains nine recommendations in all, including:
- The Welsh Government should urge the UK Government to continue the Job Retention Scheme beyond October 2020 on a sectoral basis in recognition of the fact that the majority of news journalism businesses will not be able to return to pre-pandemic levels of economic activity for some time to come.
- The Welsh Government should lead conversations with representatives from the sector to gain a clear understanding of the immediate support required and explore solutions other than redundancies.
- The Welsh Government should urge Ofcom to ensure that broadcasters maintain accuracy and impartiality by reporting on all four UK nations equally, as a matter of course, but especially when it comes to their approach to public health.
- The Welsh Government should provide the Committee with an assessment of the quality of information dissemination about COVID-19 during the pandemic.
The report will now be considered by Welsh Government.