Plaid Cymru debate: Broadcasting

Feb 28, 2018 | Articles, Assembly Business | 0 comments

Plenary 28th February 2018

16:56
Watch on Senedd TV

Motion NDM6669 Rhun ap Iorwerth

To propose that the National Assembly for Wales:

1. Recognises the importance of broadcasting to the sustainability of viable democracy in Wales;

2. Is concerned by the significant decline in ITV Wales’s broadcasting hours, and significant cuts to S4C and its current uncertain financial position;

3. Is also concerned about the position of Welsh-language and Welsh broadcasting on commercial radio and local television, along with the impact of the UK Government’s proposals to further regulate the radio market;

4. Notes that Wales needs to be at the forefront of the development of media technologies and that Welsh-language and Welsh broadcasting needs to be on a broader number of platforms and modes of producing, publishing and distributing content;

5. Agrees that full consideration needs to be given to the devolution of responsibilities for broadcasting to Wales;

6. Calls on the Welsh Government to investigate the feasibility of devolving powers over broadcasting to Wales and to report back to the Assembly within one year.

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Thanks to Plaid for bringing today’s debate. We in UKIP agree with many of Plaid’s points today. We lament the cuts to the budget of S4C and also the cuts to ITV Wales’s broadcasting hours—both English language and Welsh language broadcasting in Wales need adequate provision—but we don’t go along with Plaid in their demand for the devolution of broadcasting.

We feel that there have been a lot of successes in film and tv production in Wales in recent years. I believe that two of the most successful BBC productions in terms of export markets currently are Doctor Who and Sherlock, both made in Wales—I think Doctor Who was mentioned earlier in the debate. For economic reasons, we—

Dai Lloyd AM

Dai Lloyd AM

Party: Plaid Cymru

Gareth, would you take an intervention?

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Yes, sure.

Dai Lloyd AM

Dai Lloyd AM

Party: Plaid Cymru

We’re all pleased that Doctor Who is produced here in Wales, but, actually, looking at the content, it could be produced anywhere. I’m not asking for bilingual Daleks or anything, but just a mention of Wales would be handy.

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

That’s an interesting intervention, Dai. I refer in the speech to what you said last time we debated these subjects, which was a debate brought by the culture committee, and I do actually return to the points you just made, so I’ll expand on them a little bit later.

I think, for economic reasons, we do need to get as much production as we can located in Wales, and as many jobs in film and production created here as we possibly can. We don’t want to jeopardise those aims by going towards the devolution of broadcasting, which could ultimately lead to less production being carried out here. That is the possible problem with going down the devolution route.

I mentioned just now that we debated these issues a year ago, when the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee brought a similar debate, and Dai made some interesting points. He complained that there was no real portrayal of Wales in the broadcast media. He talked about what he just mentioned again: having production of Casualty and Doctor Who here in Wales is all well and good, but these programmes don’t actually attempt to provide us with a picture of Wales. He memorably summarised on that occasion by saying that he didn’t want bilingual Daleks, but he did feel that the hospital in Casualty should have bilingual signs. The problem is that Cardiff and BBC Wales—we successfully lobbied for the production of Casualty to come from Bristol, which is where it was being made originally. Casualty had already been going for more than 20 years before it switched to Wales. It’s actually set in the fictional city of Holby, in the fictional county of Wyvern, which is supposed to be in the west country of England, so it would be a bit odd if they now started to feature a lot of Welsh speakers or if they had bilingual signs on their walls.

As for Doctor Who, we could have bilingual road signs now and then in Doctor Who, but the trouble—

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM

Party: Plaid Cymru

Will you take an intervention?

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Sure.

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM

Party: Plaid Cymru

Thank you for taking an intervention. I think we’re getting off the point here. [Laughter.] I’m not sure I agree with Dai about the bilingual signs in Casualty either, and I’m delighted that we have a strong broadcasting sector in terms of its economic potential, but what about the potential for strengthening the way that we talk about ourselves as a nation and generate through broadcasting that debate on our future as a nation?

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Well, I suppose the point that I’ve raised, or I’ve tried to raise, is, ‘Does one thing impinge on the other?’, so that may be what we need to consider.

Now, we do have this—. Right, Doctor Who, we could have bilingual road signs in Doctor Who, but, obviously, we’re not going to go there. They go to planet Mars. It’s clearly not supposed to be set in Wales.

So, we have this perceived problem of programmes being made in Wales not being specifically about Wales, which is what we’ve been talking about, but it is questionable, I think, if a massive percentage of people in Wales will be really interested in watching programmes made about Wales, which is a point that Suzy Davies touched on earlier. After all, since the 1970s we have had things like Radio Wales and Radio Cymru, but it’s still a fact that today more people in Wales listen to Radio 1 and Radio 2 than they do to Radio Wales and Radio Cymru. There is an old saying that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. You can provide these services, but you can’t force your listeners to listen to them.

Now, these issues are not new by any means. In the 1970s we had issues where people in south-east Wales had to choose whether to tune their tv sets into the Mendips transmitter or to Wenvoe. I grew up in a household in Cardiff where we were tuned into the Mendips, so that the Welsh channels were all fuzzy and we didn’t really watch them. So, we had BBC West instead of BBC Wales, meaning that we watched Points West from Bristol as our evening news programme, rather than Wales Today, which sounds ludicrous today, but that’s what we did and that’s what many other people did, too.

So, the thing is that you have your Welsh-speaking areas in the west of Wales. [Interruption.] Yes, you have Welsh speakers in Cardiff, too. But the point is that east Wales is culturally not too dissimilar from England. Culturally speaking, people in south-east Wales and north-east Wales have virtually no separation from people in north-west England and south-west England. Now, with the advent of devolution, as well as digital tv, you might have thought there would be more of a Welsh cultural focus in Wales. But digital tv means you’re not restricted to just a handful of channels, so people are watching all sorts of things. It’s not just that more people in Wales are watching Eastenders and Coronation Street instead of Pobol y Cwm; you’ve probably got more people in Wales watching The Walking Dead than Pobol y Cwm, so we may slowly be becoming a cultural colony of the USA.

So, these are the problems we are having to grapple with in the modern world. I don’t think you can hamper film and TV production by having greater Welsh Government involvement in broadcasting. There is a potential problem of too much state involvement in the media.

The Llywydd

The Llywydd

You do need to bring your contribution to an end now. I’ve been very nice.

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

We may ask for different portrayals of Wales, but an old adage is that no good art was ever created by committee. Thank you.