The Welsh Media IX: What do other nations do?

(Title Image: US Department of Defence)

This series of articles is getting closer to looking in more detail at how Wales might approach media and broadcasting policy after independence (or devolution). Before that, it’s worth considering how other nations (and stateless nations in a similar boat to ourselves) do it.

Firstly, I’ll include the vital statistics for Wales to draw comparisons to. In each case, I’m only going to include media that originates primarily from within and directly for the territory.

Wales

  • Constitutional status: Constituent nation of the United Kingdom; devolved government. Broadcasting isn’t a devolved responsibility.
  • Population/Broadcasting Reach: 3.1million.
  • Languages (spoken) used in broadcasting: English, Welsh.
  • Newspapers (national): 0 – nearly all nationally distributed newspapers originate from England editorially, with 6 Welsh-originated daily regional titles and 1 weekly title. All are in English.
  • Public Radio Stations: 3 (BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru 1 & 2), plus access to several pan-UK BBC stations and community radio stations.
  • Commercial Radio Stations: ~13 mainly regional/local services, plus access to numerous pan-UK stations.
  • Public TV Stations: 1 Welsh language (S4C). BBC services – 7 stations in total – originate primarily from England with Welsh opt-outs on BBC 1 and occasionally BBC 2 with shared network programming.
  • Commercial TV Stations: 0 digital terrestrial channels based in Wales except for 3 local TV services (all of which are owned by companies based outside Wales). All other commercial television stations originate from England with Welsh opt-outs for the ITV licence, plus access to hundreds of commercial Freeview, cable and satellite services.
  • Internet and mobile connectivity (2018): ~93% of homes and businesses have access to superfast broadband, 90% of land area has access to “good” 4G connection.
  • Method of broadcasting funding (2018-19): Licence fee of £154.50 (€166.66), estimated to have raised £184million in Wales, with some direct UK Government funding for S4C (£6.8million).

Basis of comparison

To draw up a fair list of comparator nations, there have to be certain ground rules. There’s no point comparing Wales to, for example, the United States, France or North Korea.

  • Broadcasts in at least two languages, one of which needs to be an indigenous (usually minority) language.
  • Must have an element of public funding for public service broadcasters – such as a licence fee, broadcasting tax or direct government grants.
  • Must allow the broadcast of commercial stations alongside public service broadcasters.
  • Ideally a relatively small population (less than 10million people) with a relatively low population density.
  • Doesn’t need to be independent, but must have an element of self-governance.

I selected six nations to compare to (though two have been combined for convenience).

  • Constitutional status: Independent.
  • Population/Broadcasting Reach: 4.9million.
  • Languages used in broadcasting: English, Irish.
  • Newspapers (national): 8 (plus 7 weekly/Sunday titles), some of which are editorially independent Irish versions of UK newspapers; some have Irish language columns or Irish language pull-outs.
  • Public Radio Stations: 9 (provided by RTÉ Radio), one of which is Irish language (RTÉ Radio na Gaeltachta).
  • Commercial Radio Stations: At least 11 national stations, with dozens of regional commercial stations and at least one commercial Irish language station (Raidió Rí-Rá).
  • Public TV Stations: 4 English language (RTÉ 1 & 2, RTÉ News Now, RTÉ Jr), 1 Irish language (TG4).
  • Commercial TV Stations: 3 digital terrestrial channels (Virgin Media 1, 2 & 3), plus limited access to UK digital terrestrial broadcasters as well as UK and European commercial satellite channels – including a domestic subscription service (Eir Sport). There are also at least 2 community television stations.
  • Internet and mobile connectivity: Access to superfast broadband is at about 78%, with government intervention seeking to reach the final 22%. 4G coverage is available in up to 96% of the country depending on the operator.
  • Method of broadcasting funding: RTÉ is funded via an annual licence fee of €160 (£143.78), which raised €189.1million (£170million) in 2018. This was topped-up by commercial activities and advertising which raised €150million (£134.8million) – total revenues of €339.1million (£304.7million – pdf). TG4 received a direct government grant of €36.9million in 2018 (£33.2million – pdf) and raised around €4million (£3.6million) from advertising and commercial activities.

The Republic of Ireland was a fairly late adopter of both radio and television. Until the 1960s, there was only one radio station and no television service (though the Irish could receive broadcasts from Northern Ireland) and between 1961-1978 there was only one television station. Ireland was also a fairly late adopter of commercial services; the first commercial radio station didn’t launch until 1989 and terrestrial commercial television didn’t start until 1998 (though commercial satellite and cable services were available, plus UTV signals from Northern Ireland).

Although Irish language broadcasting had existed since 1972 via RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta (with Irish language TV programming shown on RTÉ), the television service TG4 launched in 1996 with a similar history to the campaign for the establishment of S4C in Wales – though instead of threats of hunger strikes, campaigners set up a pirate TV station.

The public funding contribution towards RTÉ Radio and TV services is similar to what’s spent in Wales, but the Irish seem to get a lot more for their money and have a larger broadcasting budget by allowing advertising on public service broadcasters. RTÉ Radio’s budget (€27.8million or £25million) is less than BBC Wales’ radio budget, yet they get 9 stations catering exclusively Irish audiences, not 2.5 (if you discount Radio Cymru 2 as a full station). TG4’s budget is less than half of S4C’s, yet they broadcast a similar amount of content (alongside some imported programmes). The commercial radio, newspaper and TV sector is much stronger in the Republic of Ireland than Wales and proves that even with a small audience, it’s enough to generally sustain such services (though they’re still affected by issues like a decline in newspaper circulations). The Irish also have full access to BBC and ITV programming rights and some UK channels (though some UK channels are only available through pay-TV).

  • Constitutional status: Autonomous community within the Kingdom of Spain; recognised nationality. Broadcasting is a devolved responsibility.
  • Population/Broadcasting Reach: 2.2million (within a larger Basque region of 3.2million).
  • Languages used in broadcasting: Basque, Castillian.
  • Newspapers (national): 3 Castillian daily, 1 Basque daily (plus access to all-Spain titles).
  • Public Radio Stations: 5 stations run by EITB (the Basque public broadcaster) in a mix of Basque and Castillian (plus access to Spanish public radio stations by RTVE).
  • Commercial Radio Stations: Several, based within the Basque Country and all-Spain networks.
  • Public TV Stations: 4 EITB channels (2 Basque, 1 Castillian, 1 bilingual), plus 2 channels targeted as international audiences. There’s also access to at least 5 RTVE channels.
  • Commercial TV Stations: 0, all commercial TV stations are pan-Spanish networks or provided via commercial satellite companies etc.
  • Internet and mobile connectivity: Around 95% coverage for superfast broadband and 99% coverage of mobile broadband/4G.
  • Method of broadcasting funding: Direct Basque Government funding of €130million (£117million) with around €13million (£11.7million) raised via advertising in 2019.

In 1982, the Basque Parliament established Euskal Irrati Telebista (EITB) as its national public broadcaster. The number of radio stations and TV channels has gradually expanded, with a Castillian language channel (ETB 2) jointing the main Basque language channel (ETB 1) in 1986. There’s a similar set up for radio services, which played an important role in keeping the Basque language alive (Radio Euskadi) after it was repressed by Francoist Spain.

The Senedd’s Culture Committee visited EITB earlier this year and found (pdf – Annex B) that EITB has had its budget constrained similarly to S4C, which has resulted in the breadth of programming being limited – live events, news, sport and magazine shows as opposed to high-end dramas. EITB is also directly accountable to the Basque Parliament.

Like the Republic of Ireland, the Basques seem to get more for their money than Welsh audiences despite having a much smaller budget than BBC Wales and S4C. What’s also worth noting is the relative prevalence and prominence of Basque language media (including newspapers), despite estimates putting fluent Basque-speakers at only around 30% of the population. The important difference between Wales and the Basque Country is that the Basque equivalent of Y Fro Gymraeg includes some major urban areas, while it tends to be the more rural parts of the country that have proportionally fewer Basque-speakers.

  • Constitutional status: Autonomous community within the Kingdom of Spain (disputed); recognised nationality. Broadcasting is a devolved responsibility.
  • Population/Broadcasting Reach: 7.5million.
  • Languages used in broadcasting: Catalan, Castillian, Aranese.
  • Newspapers (national): At least 12, many of which are bilingual or exclusively printed in Catalan. Catalonia also has a news agency (ACN), which is a publicly-owned corporation.
  • Public Radio Stations: 4 stations from Catalunya Ràdio all broadcasting in Catalan, plus a Catalan language station run by Spanish public broadcaster RTVE (Radio 4).
  • Commercial Radio Stations: At least 7, primarily broadcasting in or for Catalonia – plus access to all-Spain networks.
  • Public TV Stations: 6 channels from Televisió de Catalunya broadcasting mainly in Catalan but also Castillian. There’s also access to at least 5 RTVE channels.
  • Commercial TV Stations: 3 (8tv, RAC 105, Barca TV), all broadcasting in either Catalan or Castillian and, in some cases, English – plus access to pan-Spanish networks and various commercial satellite stations.
  • Internet and mobile connectivity: In Barcelona, you can get ultrafast connections relatively easily, but in more rural areas fixed superfast broadband and 4G coverage is patchy. Satellite broadband (WiMAX) covers about 99% of the country.
  • Method of broadcasting funding: CCMA – the Catalan public broadcasting commission – had an operating budget of €329.9million (£296.4million – pdf p12) in 2018 mostly made up of direct funding from the Catalan Government, with a projected €68.3million (£61.4million) coming from advertising.

While the administrative situation in Catalonia is largely similar to the Basque Country, there’s a key difference in that Catalan isn’t a minority language. More than 90% of people living in Catalonia understand Catalan and more than 80% are fluent Catalan-speakers, while pretty much everyone will be fluent in Spanish. The minority language is Aranese – a regional dialect of Occitan spoken by fewer than 10,000 people, yet there are regional opt-out programmes on Catalan television in the language.

Being the largest country (in terms of population) in these comparisons naturally means the print press, public broadcasting and commercial broadcasting are relatively well-developed. In something that’s becoming a bit of a running theme, spending on public broadcasting is similar to that in Wales (once S4C’s budget is added to licence fee income), yet Catalan audiences seem to get more for their money in terms of choice and breadth.

One of the big recent developments is, of course, the fallout from the 2017 independence referendum. TV3, the main public broadcasting channel, has long been accused of bias in favour of independence and has even been on the end of criticism from the Catalan print press for being a mouthpiece of the Catalan Government (which provides a large share of the broadcaster’s budget) – but this criticism has itself come from those opposed to independence.

  • Constitutional status: Constituent nations of the Kingdom of Denmark. Broadcasting is a devolved responsibility in both nations.
  • Population/Broadcasting Reach: Faroe Islands 52,000; Greenland 56,000.
  • Languages used in broadcasting: Faroese, Greenlandic, Danish.
  • Newspapers (national): Faroe Islands – 4; Greenland – 1.
  • Public Radio Stations: Faroe Islands – 1 (Kringvarp Føroya); Greenland – 1 (KNR Radio).
  • Commercial Radio Stations: Faroe Islands – at least 6; Greenland – 2 (mainly local).
  • Public TV Stations: Faroe Islands – 1 (Sjónvarp Føroya); Greenland – 2 (KNR 1 & 2). Both also have access to Danish public service stations and programming (DR).
  • Commercial TV Stations: Faroe Islands – 0, but has access to Danish and other foreign commercial stations via a domestic satellite company. Greenland – 1 (Nanoq TV), plus access to foreign and Danish commercial stations.
  • Internet and mobile connectivity: Faroe Islands – 100% broadband coverage, some of the fastest average internet speeds in the world (though this claim hasn’t been properly tested), near-universal 4G coverage. Greenland – Internet is mainly accessed via mobile phones and there’s near-universal 4G coverage in populated areas.
  • Method of broadcasting funding: Faroe Islands – a combination of a monthly licence fee (totalling 600-1,800 DKK/£72-£216 a year for individuals depending on their circumstances, with a top-up for employers), advertising and a national bingo game; the total broadcasting budget is around £7million  a year (pdf). Greenland – a combination of direct government funding and advertising (revenues of 68million DKK/ £8.1million in 2017 – pdf).

By pure coincidence, Greenland has been in the news more than I would’ve expected recently. Nonetheless, how is it possible that two largely desolate and isolated island groups proportionally outperform Wales in terms of the domestic media?

While it’s fair to say that any newspaper on the Faroe Islands is going to be both local and national by default (due to the small area), the same can’t be said for Greenland – until 2010 they had two genuinely national newspapers: Sermitsiaq and Atuagagdliutit – which have subsequently merged and are available in both Greenlandic and Danish. Wales doesn’t have any national newspapers.

Internet access is another area in which both put Wales to shame. Greenland has near-universal broadband internet access despite being 80%+ ice sheet, while the Faroe Islands is a world leader in high-speed internet despite being hundreds of miles from mainland Europe. Despite the best efforts of the Welsh Government and Openreach, we can’t manage to do that in Wales despite the largest obstacles being some relatively small mountain ranges. It’s a symptom of a British way of thinking – “If something hasn’t been done in the UK before, it’s never been done and therefore can never be done”.

Both the Faroe Island and Greenland are a few steps away from independence from Denmark and you can even argue that apart from some issues like foreign affairs and defence, both are already de facto independent, with a relatively strong domestic media and whilst having access to cutting edge broadband technology. All of that is despite both nations having a population similar to Barry. Regardless of your stance on Wales’ constitutional future, if you’re not embarrassed by this you should be.

  • Constitutional status: Independent.
  • Population/Broadcasting Reach: 4.8million.
  • Languages used in broadcasting: English, Maori plus other minority languages (Mandarin, Hindi).
  • Newspapers (national): 0, there are no genuinely national daily newspapers, though there are 4 weekly national newspapers and at least 20 city-based daily titles. A scheme for the Maori language similar to Papurau Bro (Part IV) ended in the 1930s.
  • Public Radio Stations: 3 English-language stations from Radio New Zealand and a regional network of bilingual English-Maori radio stations (Iwi Radio), plus a strong network of community radio stations.
  • Commercial Radio Stations: At least 26 national and regional stations, some targeted at minority groups, with at least 1 Maori language commercial station.
  • Public TV Stations: 5 English language (TVNZ 1 & 2, TVNZ Duke, Parliament TV, Trackside), 2 Maori language (Maori TV, Te Reo).
  • Commercial TV Stations: At least 17 digital terrestrial commercial stations, plus local stations and commercial satellite and cable services.
  • Internet and mobile connectivity: New Zealand government-backed scheme to roll out ultrafast (100Mbps) connections to 87% of the population by 2022. 4G coverage is available to up to 90% of the country, with plans for a 5G roll-out.
  • Method of broadcasting funding: Licence fees were abolished in 1999 and public service broadcasting has since been funded by direct government grants, distributed via the New Zealand On Air commission. NZ On Air spent NZ$132.1million (£71.5million) in 2017-18 (pdf). TVNZ raised NZ$316.5million (£171.3million) in revenues for 2017, mainly advertising (pdf). Maori TV received NZ$35.4million (£19.2million) from the government and raised just under NZ$1million (£540,000) from advertising in 2018 (pdf).

One thing that immediately stands out in New Zealand – and is equally applicable to Wales – is the lack of daily national newspapers. This doesn’t mean that national politics etc. isn’t covered and having a quick look through the main titles (online), all of them cover national news more prominently than more regional and local stories (it’s usually the other way around in Wales).

There are, however, many key differences – most notably the way public service broadcasting is funded. Money comes directly from the government and is then distributed by an independent commissioning body. This isn’t restricted to radio and TV either, as NZ On Air also funds music promotion and other cultural content. New Zealand also has a highly-developed film industry compared to Wales and punches above its weight behind the camera in particular – so they have the capacity to produce films domestically from start to finish, not just act as a setting for them.

Broadcasting itself is deregulated and broadcasters are mostly self-financing, except for Maori TV (Maori being spoken fluently by around 4% of the population), which was founded in 2004. TVNZ (their equivalent of BBC) is effectively a commercial broadcaster – despite being state-owned – that has to compete with other broadcasters, so the set up is similar to how Channel 4 works in the UK. This means that although there are less than 5million residents, there are a large number of New Zealand-focused stand alone commercial free-to-air channels. Wales doesn’t have any.

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