When it comes to deciding if Broadcasting in Wales should be devolved, the question to ask is not “should broadcasting be devolved?”, but “how much of broadcasting should be devolved?”
Wales must have more of a say in how broadcasting is funded and regulated if we are to develop a media which properly serves and represents the country. This is the conclusion of an inquiry by the Senedd’s Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee, published in a report today, 11 March 2021.
The inquiry examined how Wales’s voice can be strengthened, especially in decisions around funding and setting the remit of services including the licence fee-funded public service broadcasters BBC Cymru Wales, S4C and ITV Wales, as well as commercial radio licences. It also looked at how Welsh Government could better support journalism in Wales.
Committee Members were unanimous in their conclusion that the Senedd and the Welsh Government must gain further powers over broadcasting – although the opinions on the extent of that further devolution vary – with a determination that this report should provide a concrete starting point for some devolution of responsibilities.
The Chair of the Senedd’s Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee, Bethan Sayed MS, explains:
“The supply of media content for Wales is inadequate. We don’t have the provision of news and current affairs that Wales needs and other areas – such as children’s content, comedy and drama – are also underrepresented, meaning we do not see ourselves reflected on our screens. The growth of global streaming giants has brought a boom to productions made in Wales, but it has done little to increase programming that portrays the lives of the people of Wales specifically.
“The Committee agrees that Wales needs more power over broadcasting, to ensure that we can develop the media we need as a nation; some favouring the full devolution of broadcasting powers to the Senedd, and others more limited new powers in specific areas.
“The evidence we heard from broadcasters, media companies and academics in this inquiry was clear that the current structures don’t work for Wales and the Committee has concluded that Wales needs more of a say in all areas of broadcasting. This includes in particular, devolving S4C and all other public service Welsh language broadcasting matters to Wales. The feeling we gathered from the evidence is that it is only right that decisions about media and broadcasting for people in Wales should be made here and we would like to see a committee with media policy as a central part of its remit established in the Sixth Senedd.
“The recommendations in this report provide a starting point for this venture and the Committee urges a future Senedd and Welsh Government to get to grips with this issue. It’s up to all of us to contribute practical ideas to tackle this deficit – to work together as politicians, media providers and regulators to ensure Wales has a strong voice over the media it needs.”
The report sets out a total of 10 recommendations which includes;
- The UK Government should devolve powers over S4C and other public service Welsh language broadcasting matters to Wales.
- The Committee’s view that enhanced broadcasting responsibilities for the Senedd and Welsh Government would materially improve media provision in Wales. The Welsh Government, UK Government and Ofcom should set out how the provision of media content for audiences in Wales can be improved. If they do not support further devolution of broadcasting, they must explain what changes under the current constitutional arrangement should be made to increase the volume and quality of media for Wales.
- The UK Government should regulate global streaming services to strengthen the public service media ecosystem. Such regulation could include levies to fund public service content, or requirements to carry public service content. The UK government should consider extending levies to include other large online companies, such as search engines and social networking sites.
- The Welsh Government should immediately establish an ongoing central fund to support news journalism in Wales, with arms-length delivery and accountability to secure impartiality
The report will now be considered by Welsh Government and is scheduled for a debate in Plenary on 24 March 2021.