(Title Image: BBC Wales)
Following another Twitter vote last October, you chose media and broadcasting as the next subject to feature in-depth on State of Wales. Here it is, across 12 parts and 14 articles. Although I’ve covered this subject before (in 2013), this turned into a real slog to write having been a stop-start process from the beginning – the final seven articles were written in the last four weeks or so but I’ll let you be the judge as to whether it’s up to standard.
Remember you can donate to support the continuing work here.
Today, I’ll give you an idea of what’s going to be covered over the next few weeks.
What won’t be covered
- Arts, Music & Literature – I’m not going to look in any great detail at cultural policy or the music industry (even though all of it counts as part of the media). It’s probably best dealt with separately and to a certain extent is a matter of personal taste.
- The entertainment industry and programme commissioning decisions – Likewise, I’m not going to look in any great detail at talent, acting, or go into any depth on the specific films, programming or publications produced in, by or for Wales (though they will get mentions). I recommend you look up Wales in the Movies for at least some of this.
- “Adult Entertainment” – I’ve looked at this in more detail before, so I won’t be coming back to it even if pornography, like it or not, makes up a chunk of the media – though it does get a mention regarding media regulation (Part X).
- Broadcasting minutiae – Don’t expect me to draft mock TV or radio schedules or channel logos or anything like that (Part XIIc). I’m not that much of a hopeless cause. If you want to do that yourselves, go for it.
What is “The Media”?
This series concentrates on mass communication. By and large, this is going to mean news and information about Wales and how this information is delivered to the public.
This can be done in physical written form (newspapers, magazines, books), an online written form (online news websites, blogs, e-books, social media), via audio (podcasts, radio), visually (television, photography, online streaming, film or physical media like DVDs/Blu-Rays) or interactively (video games).
Each method of information exchange is usually associated with a particular type of information.
Broadcast journalism is almost always via television or radio, but most other types of journalism are in written form – whether in print or online. You can’t play a video game over the radio and you can’t stream a TV series through a book.
Nevertheless, the internet has blurred the lines quite a bit and you could probably do all of those things through a tablet, PC or phone. This has changed how we consume the media, how much trust we place it it and why we consume the media that we do (Part III, Part IV, Part VIII).
A Brief Overview of the Welsh Media
“Print media”, in the context of this series of articles, clearly means more than just newspapers and includes magazines and periodicals.
Newspapers in Wales can be placed into three broad categories:
- Pan-UK titles – These are all the newspapers produced, edited and published outside of Wales but sold within Wales, ranging from tabloids such as The Sun and Daily Star, mid-market tabloids like the Daily Mail and i newspaper, broadsheets like The Times, The Telegraph and The Guardian and current affairs magazines like Private Eye and The Spectator. In the case of newspapers, they’re said to make up the majority sold in Wales though it’s difficult to pin down accurate figures.
- National and regional daily titles – Newspapers produced, edited and published within Wales on a daily basis – though there’s no genuinely “national” daily Welsh newspaper. This includes Reach (formerly Trinity Mirror) publications like The Western Mail, Daily Post and South Wales Echo. Alongside these are larger regional titles like the South Wales Argus, Wrexham Leader and Evening Post.
- Weekly and hyper-local newspapers – This is an all-encompassing title which includes local weekly titles owned and published by larger companies, such as the Glamorgan Gazette and Llanelli Star. It also includes the larger independent news websites which may have had limited print runs (i.e. Caerphilly Observer) and Welsh language Papurau Bro.
Beyond this, there are several English and Welsh language current affairs magazines and periodicals such as Planet, Barn, Golwg, Wales Business Insider and The Welsh Agenda.
Radio (Part VI)
There’s further background on this from a Senedd Culture Committee inquiry which was published towards the end of 2018 – more details here.
Radio plays an important, perhaps understated, role in guaranteeing media plurality in Wales. Like newspapers, radio services in Wales can be broadly divided into three main categories:
- Public service radio – Radio stations funded at least in part from the licence fee, including BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru 1 & 2, as well as all of the BBC’s pan-UK stations such as Radio 1, Radio 2, 6 Music, Asian Network etc.
- Commercial radio – These can be further subdivided into, firstly, pan-UK commercial radio stations (broadcasting on both analogue and digital) mainly focused on popular or specific single music genres or talk radio (Classic FM, Heart, Capital, Planet Rock, Talksport etc.). Secondly, there are local commercial radio stations such as Bridge FM, The Wave, Nation Radio, Radio Carmarthenshire etc.
- Community radio – Community radio stations are non-profit stations serving geographically small areas. As of 2018, there were 9 licenced community radio stations in Wales, including GTFM (Pontypridd), Bro Radio (Vale of Glamorgan), Radio Cardiff and Radio Tircoed. Universities and hospitals often have voluntary-run radio stations.
Radio broadcasting across the UK is licenced and regulated by Ofcom.
Television (Part VII)
As of 2010, all television services in Wales are provided digitally.
BBC is the main public service broadcaster, providing seven UK-wide TV channels, 2 Scottish-specific channels and 1 online channel (not including HD services) funded in the main by the licence fee. BBC Wales provides regional programming as well as specially-commissioned programmes for the pan-UK network, like Doctor Who, Casualty and Keeping Faith.
S4C is the commissioning body which has responsible for Welsh-language public service television since 1982. Their regulatory body is the S4C Authority, but the method of funding S4C has incrementally transferred from the UK Government to the licence fee.
Channel 4 is an independent public service broadcasting commissioner – similar in set up to S4C – providing content for five free-to-air digital channels, funded mainly by advertising/commercial means.
The main commercial TV broadcaster is ITV (with ITV Wales as a “nation region” franchise), which has six digital terrestrial channels. Other commercial channels include Channel Five and its offshoots, as well as smaller broadcasters available on Freeview like Dave, Yesterday, Really and Drama. Wales is also served by subscription-funded satellite, digital terrestrial and cable TV services from Sky, Virgin Media and BT as well as other providers.
There are three local TV stations in Wales as of 2019: Cardiff TV, That’s Swansea Bay and That’s North Wales.
Like radio, television services are regulated by Ofcom, while advertising on commercial TV stations is self-regulated (in part) by the Advertising Standards Agency (Part X).
The New Media in Wales (Part VIII)
The internet has radically transformed the media landscape across the world and it’s quite remarkable how quickly things have changed since the last time I wrote about this in 2013.
The biggest development has been the growth of paid streaming services from Netflix, Amazon Prime and Sky (Now TV), as well as the increasing popularity of catch-up services like BBC iPlayer, 4OD, ITV Player and Sky Go.
Most Welsh newspapers have an online presence, with Wales Online becoming as big if not bigger than parent company Reach’s local print titles. There are also several significant independent news websites such as Caerphilly Observer, Golwg360, Wrexham.com, Deeside.com, the Bangor Aye and Cwmbran Life, all of which attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors a week between them – Nation.Cymru is the most commonly cited example (and was recently awarded Wales Books Council funding), but not the only one.
The Welsh blogosphere is somehow still going. While the number of blogs and subject-specific websites in Wales has declined, the quality and presentation have improved. You could include Click on Wales, Senedd Home, Y Clwb Pel Droed, Dai Sport, This is Cardiff etc. as well as more politically provocative/polemic sites alongside popular podcasts from Desolation Radio, Martin Shipton and Golau (Wales Governance Centre) – more in Part V.
Five Immediate Pressures on the Welsh Media
I’m going to look at all of this in more detail, but for the sake of summarising, what are the big problems facing the Welsh media now?
The decline of the Welsh print press (Part IV) – Almost every print newspaper in the UK has seen staggering declines in sales and circulation over the last 20 years, as freely-available internet news and 24-hour news channels have left newspapers reeling as an almost antiquated medium – though that’s not necessarily true. Wales has lost several local print titles and local editorial offices, while a lack of plurality has left remaining titles in the hands of one or two corporations. There have been attempts to fight back via hyperlocal and independent news sites but the business model for online journalism hasn’t, to date, made up for the loss of advertising income resulting from declining print sales.
“The Democratic Deficit” (Part V) – For the best part of a decade or longer, there’ve been complaints about a lack of prominent coverage of the Senedd. Senedd Home has been one small individual way of trying to fill this gap. The general lack of coverage and awareness of devolved politics has meant the public at large are unclear on what the Welsh Government are responsible for (many still think health is run at a UK level), while lines have been blurred by lazy reporting by the UK media, which often conflates English issues in health, education etc. as being pan-UK ones.
Programming for and about Wales in English (Part VII) – Wales is, very clearly, good at making TV programmes. While there’s a strong independent production sector making programmes for and about Wales focusing around S4C, on UK television and radio networks you’re unlikely to see much programming about Wales in English. Usually, it’s either shunted off to an awkward hour or follows a tried and tested cheap formula which involves someone walking around Wales in some way, shape or form. There’s the occasional break-out hit like Y Gwyll and Bang, but these are the exception.
Digital (radio) switchover (Part VI) – Wales was one of the first UK nations and regions to switch wholesale to digital terrestrial television and a switchover to digital radio (DAB) is on the cards. According to a Culture Committee report published in December 2018, a key threshold to trigger a switchover (50% of radio listeners using digital) was likely to have been met during 2018. At the moment DAB only reaches around 79% of Wales and is expected to increase but there were concerns that a switchover will happen before Wales is ready in terms of infrastructure.
4G connectivity (and the introduction of 5G; Part II) – While there has been some work to try and close the mobile connectivity gap with the rest of the UK (covered in an inquiry by the Senedd’s Economy & Infrastructure Committee at the start of 2019), Wales could well be left behind by the introduction of 5G – a so-called “Internet of Things” where “smart” household appliances are connected to the internet. Issues around height restrictions on mobile masts and Wales’ topography have been blamed.