Monday, 5 January 2009

Don't switch off

Posted on Bevan Foundation blog on 5th January 2009
Later this year the first of the Welsh television transmitters will be switched off.

By March next year all seven analogue transmitters will be off line and without the ability to receive a digital signal you won't be able to watch telly.

The arrival of digital TV was heralded as the dawning of a new era of choice. But if it's programmes made in Wales about our communities your after, there's not much choice.

More than two-thirds of the people living in Wales don't consume Welsh daily news. And it's getting worse.

The obligation for ITV to provide Public Service Broadcasting is being gradually being wound down. Their Political Unit in Cardiff Bay has been shut down, with only one reporter dedicated to Welsh politics remaining. Further cuts in ITV's current affairs unit are expected this year.

If the prospects of winning a referendum on further powers look bleak now, wait a few more years and there'll be even fewer sources of information about Government in Wales.

In an excellent post on the IWA blog former BBC Wales Controller Geraint Talfarn Davies underlines the extent of the decline. "By the end of this year in English language television for Wales" he says, "sport will account for more hours than the combined total devoted to drama, music, arts, factual and light entertainment programmes".

But he suggests there are reasons to be optimistic:

The arrival of the first all-Wales commercial radio broadcaster is imminent with Real Radio about to complete its Welsh coverage by taking over the licence for north and west Wales;

The creation of the first local TV station covering Cardiff and Newport presages a new age of local news

ITV's coverage will be thrown a lifeline. "Almost every observer expects ITV’s news service for Wales to be rescued by some means or other"

Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, no doubt. But it leaves significant challenges. Commercial radio has not yet shown an appetite to invest in original journalism. Local TV may well prove popular, though the quality is unlikely to be inspiring. But the decline of national coverage threatens the viability of a devolved tier of Government engaged with its communities.

As Geraint Talfarn concludes, Wales needs a complete television service in English as well as in Welsh. Achieving it without additional public subsidy is the tricky bit.

This is an updated version

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