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Monday, 30 November 2015

Senedd Watch - November 2015

  • Welsh Language Commissioner, Meri Huws, backed calls by the Assembly's Communities & Local Government Committee to protect historical place names in the Historic Environment Bill, following several high-profile name changes to listed buildings from Welsh to English. Deputy Minister for Culture, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), said he “wouldn't shut the door” on statutory regulation, but it would “probably not be workable, or enforceable either”.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Returning Your Deposits

(Pic :

Yesterday, the Conservatives held a debate on something that blights all communities, and likely to be a perennial issue on the doorstep : littering, fly-tipping, graffiti and dog shit.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Groundhog Day : Auditing the Welsh Media

(Pic : BBC Wales)
Last week, the Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA) published a thorough review of the state of the media in Wales....and it makes typically grim reading.

The IWA's online organ, Click on Wales, released drafts of the report's sections throughout October, but the full and final report is now available at around 150 pages long (pdf). It's an incredibly useful analysis, but not anything we haven't heard before.

The state, and decline, of the Welsh media has been discussed on and off for the best part of a decade – such discussions being even more important this year in the context of negotiations on the BBC's Charter renewal. This site's no exception :

As you would expect me to do, I'm going to summarise what the audit found. Overall, it's an incredibly useful analysis, but not anything we haven't heard before.

Television & Public Service Broadcasting (PSB)

  • Digital terrestrial television reach in Wales (97.8%) is marginally below the UK average (98.5%). Virgin Media's cable services only reach 23% of Wales and hasn't changed since 2004, this is well below the UK average of 44%.
  • Wales has the highest proportion of HD-ready televisions and take-up of HD services of the Home Nations (Wales = 76%; UK average = 73%).
  • Made in Cardiff – currently Wales' only local TV station – has a weekly reach of 196,000 viewers.
  • Overall viewing minutes have fallen consistently across the UK – particularly amongst children and the under-35s - but Welsh viewers spend longer watching PSB than any other part of the UK.
  • Over a third of viewers in Wales used "catch-up" services in 2014. BBC iPlayer, Sky, ITV Player and 4OD are the most popular services. Netflix has grown significantly in popularity since 2012. A majority of catch-up services are viewed on television, but increasingly on tablet computers too, while there's a decline in PC/desktop views.
  • BBC Wales, ITV Wales and S4C spent a combined £215.35million on PSB services in 2014-15, a decline of £19.25million (8.2%) on 2008.
  • Since 2008, there've been 545 fewer TV hours produced (all BBC and ITV; S4C saw an increase) and 1,187 fewer hours of radio programming since 2008.
  • BBC and ITV produced 17.5 hours of English language output per week in 2015, compared to 24.5 hours in 1990 – a 48% reduction. ITV Wales now only produces 5.5 hours, compared to 15.5 in 1990.
  • 63% of BBC's English language output was current affairs, news or politics. Just 2.8% was comedy, drama and the arts.
  • S4C's funding fell from £104.4million a year in 2010 to £85.7million in 2014-15 – a reduction of 18.4%. They spend, on average, about £31,000 per hour, though drama productions can cost up to £140,000 per hour.
  • In 2014, 3.2% of PSB network production spend was in Wales, compared to a population share of 4.9%. 65.4% was spent in London and Southern England.
  • BBC Wales and independent producers provided £60.3million worth of UK network shows in 2014-15, primarily dramas.


  • Average listening hours per week in Wales fell from 24.4 hours in 2007 to 22.4 hours in 2014 – however weekly listening hours are the highest of the Home Nations. Radio also had a bigger reach at 94.5% of the adult population, compared to 89.4% across the UK.
  • Wales has the highest share of BBC Network listeners in the Home Nations at 49% of listeners.
  • Reach figures for BBC Radio Wales and Radio Cymru have shown steady declines, from 435k and 155k respectively in 2008-09 to 418k and 119k respectively in 2014-15.
  • Ownership of digital radios (DAB) is also highest in Wales amongst the Home Nations at 47% (UK = 43%). This brings Wales very close to the 50% threshold set by the UK Government whereby they would consider a digital radio switchover.
  • BBC Radio Wales and Radio Cymru spent a combined £20.6million on programming in 2014/15 and cost per hour was near enough the same for each (£1.5k-1.6k).
  • Commercial radio has the lowest listening share in Wales amongst the Home Nations at 39%, compared to the UK average of 43%. Wales also generated the lowest commercial radio revenues of the Home Nations at £14.9million.
  • Only three companies control commercial stations in Wales – Global Radio, UTV and Town & Country Broadcasting. Digital switchover may mean commercial stations are "released entirely" from their local obligations.

Internet & Broadband

  • 78% of premises in Wales have taken up broadband services, compared to 42% in 2006.
  • 79% of Welsh households have access to super fast broadband – more than Scotland (73%) and Northern Ireland (77%).
  • 3G mobile broadband outdoor services reach 97.9% of Welsh households. However, outdoor 4G services currently only reach 62.8%, compared to the UK average of 89.5%.

Press & Online Media

  • Welsh newspapers have seen massive declines in daily circulations since 2008, ranging from falls of more than 50% for the Western Mail, South Wales Argus and South Wales Echo to just a 6.3% fall for the south Wales version of Metro.
  • These numbers are, generally, in line with declines in newspaper sales elsewhere, with some UK papers suffering even steeper declines.
  • Online there's said to be a "more level playing field" between Trinity Mirror and BBC, with Wales Online and Daily Post websites being competitive with BBC Wales Online services in terms of unique browsers. Use of Wales Online has grown by 586% since 2006.
  • 59% of adults access BBC online services, and online services are significantly more popular amongst those aged 16-24.
  • 27% of people said Facebook was now their main source of local news.
  • BBC Wales spent a total of £2.541million on their online services (£399,000 was spent on Welsh language services/BBC Cymru Fyw).
  • S4C Clic viewing sessions had increased by 232% since 2013-14, with an additional 500,000 downloads of S4C mobile apps.
  • With Trinity Mirror agreeing a takeover of Local World, most of the major national, regional and local newspapers in Wales are owned by just two companies - Trinity Mirror and Newsquest.
  • The number of journalists in south Wales has fallen from over 700 in 1999 to 108 in 2013.
  • There are said to be 46 "hyperlocal" websites active in Wales, and research has suggested around half of hyperlocal site owners in the UK have had some form of journalistic training – though most were self-funded and only 13% generated more than £500 a month income.
  • £1.85million in grants were made available to Welsh language publications in 2013-14, compared to £748,000 for English language publications. 50 papurau bro receive grants of up to £1,900 a year from the Welsh Government.
  • S4C launched a £1million digital fund in 2012 to create interactive media and other apps.

Key Recommendations

  • The Welsh Government should establish an independent media panel to monitor media trends and commission studies, working with relevant academic departments.
  • Investment in BBC Wales' English language services should increase by £30million a year, ideally via an increase in the licence fee. This must include programming other than news and current affairs.
  • S4C's funding and editorial independence must be maintained to avoid slipping into a "cycle of decline". Collaboration between BBC and S4C should be maintained, however.
  • BBC 2 Wales and S4C should be broadcast in high-definition.
  • The effectiveness of DAB coverage should be assessed before any decision is taken on a digital radio switchover.
  • Radio regulation should be devolved to the Welsh Ofcom advisory commission.
  • The abandonment of local radio obligations should be reconsidered.
  • BBC Radio 1 and 2 should provide an opt-out news service for Wales.
  • The UK Government should support BBC establishing an interactive online service for Wales.
  • Responsibility for broadcasting should be shared between the UK Government and devolved administrations.
  • BBC Audience Councils should be replaced with National Broadcasting Trusts, which would help shape the delivery of a national service licence.
  • All PSB broadcasters should lay their annual reports in front of the National Assembly.
  • The Welsh Government and Ofcom should commission a joint study into the future of local media in Wales, embracing community radio, papurau bro, hyper-local news websites and local newspapers.
  • The Welsh Government should create a "challenge fund" administered by the Arts Council for Wales and Wales Books Council to help develop new local news services.

What the audit missed

Magazines - Including (ironically), the IWA's own Agenda, Planet as well as others like Cambria, Barn, Golwg and New Welsh Review. It does mention "publications", particularly with regard papurau bro, but there was little evidence provided on the impact of grant funding cuts on English language magazines or their long-term prospects.

Films & Music - The Welsh film production industry only gets passing mentions, along with music. You would've expected music to have been in there considering recent rows between Radio Cymru and Welsh language musicians. Although this certainly crosses into "the arts", it seems the definition of "media" has been set rather narrowly.

"Citizen Journalism"/The Blogosphere – It's admittedly a grey area, reportedly written off by Culture Minister Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South) as "opinion-driven" during the suit-and-sandwich conference because, as we all know, there's little political bias in the mainstream media.

There was a throwaway line about the number of blogs increasing but being "about lifestyle rather than news" - thanks a bunch. I can only speak for myself, and I might get 2% of the South Wales Evening Post's unique browsers on a good day; but I don't know whether being left out is an insult or compliment (sites like Carmarthenshire Planning certainly do count as hyperlocals).

It doesn't really matter because in the absence of public funding, political backing, advertising or publicity it's clear the blogosphere is (relatively) successful and performs a unique function. The Welsh blogosphere's still languishing in the shadows of Scotland's fifth estate; it would take me 20-30 years to match what Wings Over Scotland gets in site metrics in a single year. There's also a high turnover; Green Dragon being the latest political blog to leave the stage. I'm probably not going to be too far behind.

Gaming – The Welsh games industry has grown over the last few years from being practically non-existent to including some breakout companies. It's also one of the most popular mediums around, and as big as, if not bigger, than the film and television industries at present. I'm surprised the IWA and politicians haven't cottoned on to that yet. What do they think people, particularly those under the age of 35, are doing if they're not watching television, listening to the radio or reading newspapers? (See also : More than just a game).

A Warning on Funding

Time for some mathematical gymnastics to serve as a warning on how to interpret the funding figures in the report and how that fits from a "value for money" perspective. The easiest way to do that is to compare the ratio of amount of money spent versus the audience.

Based on the figures provided for BBC's English language web services, for every £1 they spend, they get 85.5 unique browsers. BBC Cymru Fyw gets 11.5 unique browsers for every £1 spent.

For every £1 I spend directly on Oggy Bloggy Ogwr - without a publicly-funded newsroom, television and radio network to back me up and whilst only posting a few times a week - I get 5,272 unique browsers.

Oggy Bloggy Ogwr is, therefore, 62 times greater value for money than BBC Wales Online and 458 times greater value for money than BBC Cymru Fyw. *Jazz hands*

Not bad for opinion-driven non-media. 

Technically speaking, if I put more money into this site its "value for money" would mathematically decrease because the audience is naturally limited and no amount of extra money would change that. Hence that's why complicated political and investigative stories tend to cost a lot of money and get poor returns for broadcasters and publishers, which leads to a downward spiral in coverage.

It also, theoretically, means the "true value" of non-current affairs, non-mainstream television (i.e children's), radio programmes as well as blogs and hyperlocals is likely to be significant in terms of what they bring to the table - perhaps more so than was reflected in the report and in general discussions on the Welsh media.

It's therefore not entirely a funding issue because it doesn't buy you viewers or readers. It's an audience issue and comes down to the quality of the product and how efficiently it's produced.

When you compare what Wales gets from our broadcasters and publishers compared to what the Republic of Ireland gets – utilising similar sums of money and with a similar set up - we're clearly doing something wrong here.


It's an incredibly useful analysis, but not anything we haven't heard before.

Individual AMs have made their own concerns known down the years, but it'll take the closure of one of the major Welsh newspapers – probably The Western Mail – or the subsuming of S4C into BBC Wales to actually force the Welsh Government into action. Calls for challenge funds and independent panels (yet another bloody committee) will fall on deaf ears as ministers can, justifiably, say it's not their problem as broadcasting is a non-devolved issue.

We can never, realistically, expect the UK Government to do anything constructive either; as long as UK-wide network shows continue to be watched or made in Wales, as far as they'll be concerned that's job done. A market failure – and that's essentially what this report implies very strongly – is just something that happens.

So it's worth saying again that it's an incredibly useful analysis, but not anything we haven't heard before.

Television and newspapers will remain important for the time being. However, the only rays of hope for the future, it seems, are online – even though Wales Online is close to becoming a parody of itself, and doesn't generate anything close to the same revenues as Media Wales' print productions – and community radio, which is holding up particularly well and isn't getting the attention it deserves in this debate.

I'm concerned there's too much hand-wringing over Wales being seen at the UK level in network shows when major broadcasters and newspaper publishers can't even harness a captive audience at a Welsh level. The success of Y Gwyll/Hinterland has happened by accident because melodramas about troubled detectives with names like Smegm
ä Smegmässon are in vogue at the moment (to saturation point). That won't last forever, neither will network shows like Casualty and Doctor Who.

Nobody has really explained what they want either. Do they really expect a Welsh political story affecting less than 5% of the UK's population to be given equal treatment to an English one affecting 85% on network news? News bulletins would end up three or four hours long.

There are only two reasons you'll see Wales on the front pages or in the main news bulletins: human tragedy and sport. The murders of April Jones and Tracey Woodford, as well as the Welsh national rugby and football teams, have probably got more coverage and column inches in the UK media than the Welsh Government and Assembly have in 10 years. A BBC network radio news opt-out - recommended in the report - or "Welsh Six" on TV might go some way towards addressing that.

As cynical as it sounds, maybe we just have to come to terms with the fact very little of interest happens in Wales. That's reflected in our politics, our economy and the small-c conservatism that forms the fabric of Welsh society. That's very well represented in our media – including this blog.

So to conclude, the report is an incredibly useful analysis, but not anything we haven't heard before.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Seeing through the Senedd

You can see through it, but how much can you see on the other side?
(Pic :

The ongoing discussion and debate over of transparency and openness within both the Welsh Government and National Assembly shows no signs of abating.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Election 2016 : Six Months To Go

The most exciting thing to happen at the Senedd since....
(Pic : Wales Online)
The thoughts of sitting and prospective AMs will start turning towards the 2016 National Assembly election with only six months remaining until polling day - as indicted by the countdown clock I've added to the top right.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Senedd debates draft Wales Bill

Following the stronger words said on the draft Wales Bill over the last
fortnight it was rightly time for more measured discussion on the issues it raises.
(Pic : BBC Wales)

Yesterday, following the suspension of standing orders, the National Assembly held an extraordinary debate on the controversial draft Wales Bill.