THE WELSH ASSEMBLY AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR
1. The establishment of the Welsh Assembly
is a measure supported without qualification by BECTU. The specific
implications of the Assembly for broadcasting are as yet less
clear but are already the subject of an emerging debate within
our sector. It is an appropriate time for the union to take at
least an initial view on some of the relevant issueswith
the immediate qualification that we are currently at the start
rather than the end of what will be an unfolding debate. This
position paper looks first at the specific role of the Assembly
itself and then at the development of the major broadcasting organisations
in Wales. Any policy positions we take now should be subject to
continuing scrutiny and review.
2. The Welsh Assembly (National Assembly
for Wales) will be fully functioning following the first Assembly
elections in May 1999. It will be able to pass secondary but not
primary legislation. It will have no separate fund-raising powers,
but will control a government bloc grant of approximately £7b.
3. Under the current proposals, broadcasting
remains a reserved subject ie a sector which will remain under
direct control by central government (via the Department of Culture,
Media and SportDCMS). Of those areas in which the Assembly
will have a specific remit, the one closest to but not encompassing
broadcasting is that of the arts, culture and the Welsh language.
4. A recent announcement has made it clear
that the Assembly will operate through a "cabinet-style"
administration ie departments headed by elected Assembly members
who would collectively form an executive council. It had earlier
been thought that the model would be closer to that of local authorities,
with departments governed by committees of elected members rather
than individual "cabinet-members".
5. It is still anticipated that the Assembly
will have committee or working groups monitoring particular areas.
However, there are apparently no current plans for a specific
broadcasting committee, and it is possible that the sector would
be included within the scope of a committee with a broader remit
for culture and the arts.
6. The only formal role currently anticipated
for the Assembly in relation to broadcasting is to replace the
Welsh Office/DCMS roles in the appointment of the BBC National
Governor for Wales and S4C Board members ie the Assembly would
be consulted and in effect would be able to nominate new appointees.
7. What view should BECTU take on the Assembly's
role in relation to broadcasting? This cannot be discussed in
isolation from specific organisational questions (eg whether to
preserve a unitary BBC), and these are addressed below. However,
it is possible to adopt some broad principles in relation to the
(a) Realistically it is not within our power
to influence or amend the basic constitutional framework (eg no
power of primary legislation). We should therefore accept this
for at least the short and medium term.
(b) Within this framework, and subject to
our policy stand in relevant areas (eg no break-up of the BBC),
we should press for the fullest possible strategic consideration
of broadcasting by the Assembly through:
a standing committee or working
group with a specific remit to consider broadcasting and media
issues. When official proposals emerge for the structure and remit
of Assembly committees, we should seek to argue for a sufficient
priority for media issues (specifically including broadcasting
and film) within any given remit (and if necessary a break-up
and rearrangement of that remit).
the right of industry organisations
such as BECTU and the FEU (Federation of Entertainment Unions)
to suggest subject areas for inquiry by the relevant Assembly
committee; to given written and verbal evidence to such inquiries;
to suggest expert co-optees or advisers where appropriate for
the right of the Assembly
to nominate for and/or scrutinise key broadcasting appointments
the right of the Assembly
to receive reports from all key broadcasting bodies (certainly
BBC Wales, ITC Wales, S4C) on at least an annual basis; to debate
such reports; and to question representatives of those bodies
on their reports.
8. In parallel to whatever activity the
Assembly eventually undertakes (or fails to undertake) in relation
to our sector, it will be useful if BECTU and/or the FEU gives
systematic consideration to such developments through periodic
and scheduled reports and discussions. Our effectiveness will
be maximised not by forming initial views in the abstract and
sticking to them blindly but by an informed and evolving process
of policy development which matches the development of the Assembly
9. The BBC has a Broadcasting Council for
Wales (BCW), whose Chair, as the National Governor for Wales,
sits on the BBC Board of Governors. However, all major policy
decisions and key appointments (eg Controller of BBC Wales and
Welsh Board of Management) are taken corporately through the Governors
(overseeing the corporate Board of Management), reporting to Parliament
and Government. There is no separate structure of policy making
and accountability in Wales.
10. The BCW is itself currently selected
from among "the great and the good" by a selecting panel
of the BBC's General Advisory Council and is ultimately subject
to the Board of Governors approval.
11. BBC Wales is of considerable significance
for the Welsh economy. A recent report by the Welsh Economy Research
Unit of Cardiff Business School indicated a direct impact of approximately
£70m turnover and 1000 jobs and a total direct and indirect
economic impact (ie accounting for commissions and outside spending)
of £140 turnover and 2,500 jobs. Not all of this would fall
within BECTU's area of interest and we might debate specific figures
but this places the BBC within Wales's top 40 businesses. There
is therefore every reason for the Assembly to take a specific
interest and to require greater and more direct accountability
for the activities of BBC Wales.
Devolution and Greater Accountability
12. Some specific devolutionary policy options
are listed below. These are close to those initially developed
in the BECTU Research report to the NEC on the Scottish Parliament
(subsequently reproduced, with additional material, in Stage,
Screen and Radio, and applied to Wales in the "Media Working
PartyInternal Discussion Document").
A strengthened BCW (or an equivalent
new body) with delegated powers on BBC Wales policy matters/BBC
strategy in Wales and a direct dialogue with the BBC corporately
on the resources needed to implement this (including the issue
of whether the BBC's Welsh language commitments mean that other
programming will suffer without additional resources).
The BCW to report to the Assembly
(or the relevant Committee of the Assembly).
Appointments (either the entire BCW
or the post of Chair) to be subject to nomination and/or scrutiny
by the Assembly.
The key executive post of Controller
to be subject to scrutiny by the Assembly.
The composition of the BCW to be
structuredformally or informallyon a representative
basis taking account, for example, of political parties, key interest
groups (including trade unions), gender, race, language groups).
Greater news and current affairs
coverage of Welsh affairs (including the Assembly) by BBC Wales.
13. An alternative to these devolutionary
options is that of the full-scale separation of the BBC's operations
in Wales and the establishment of a Welsh Broadcasting Corporation
funded by Welsh licence fee revenue (possibly with a proportion
of other income eg from BBC Worldwide).
14. BECTU has been and remains wholly opposed
to any measures contributing to the break up of the BBC as a unitary
public service organisation. Unless this policy is changed, we
would be as opposed to a separate Welsh Broadcasting Corporation
as we are to a hived off or privatised BBC Resources Ltd.
15. The difficult questions which proponents
of separation would have to answer include:
Would a "WBC" be forced
to duplicate current BBC operations, with a loss of economies
of scale on both sides?
Would a WBC be forced to buy in programming
(from the BBC) and transmission services (from CTI on a separate
basis to any current BBC deal) on a basis which would endanger
its viability? Proponents of separation would need to provide
comprehensive and accessible cost/benefit figures which have not
so far been forthcoming.
What would the impact be on the remaining
BBC organisationboth in terms of jobs and in the BBC's
current role as a major force for public service broadcasting?
16. There seems no reason to alter BECTU's
current policy position of root and branch opposition to the break-up
of the BBC
The Current Regulatory Structure
17. Commercial broadcasting in Wales ie
analogue and digital terrestrial, satellite and cable iswith
the exception of S4Cregulated by the ITC (and, of course,
the Radio Authority). The ITC is accountable to the DCMS, with
no separate accountability in Wales. Commission members are appointed
by DCMS and all senior staff are appointed by the ITC corporately.
18. A previous anomaly has been corrected
in that there is now a Director of the Regions and Public Affairs
with a seat on the ITC Management Board. However, this post covers
not just Wales but Scotland, Northern Ireland and the English
regions. There is no direct representation of ITC Wales on the
19. ITC Wales has no separate policy making
powers. It selects members of the Viewers Consultative Council,
which acts as a sounding board on programming issues.
Devolved or Separate Regulation?
20. One option would be to devolve more
power within a still unitary ITC structure. This could include
direct representation for Wales on the ITC Board of Management
and more influence in local licensing and monitoring.
21. A further step would be the separation
of ITC Wales from the ITC in order to operate on a parallel basis,
but within the overall framework set by primary legislation (ie
the Broadcasting Act etc). This would not have the same serious
implications as the break-up of the BBC, since the ITC remains
purely and simply a regulator rather than a broadcaster. Nonetheless,
there would be inevitable difficulties in respect of duplication
of duties and the financing of the operation. Creating a wholly
separate Welsh ITC could increase the cost of regulation in Wales
and could therefore potentially increase the fees charged to Welsh
licence holders. As with the BBC, the cost/benefit figures on,
for example, HTV's financial relationship to the ITV Network simply
do not as yet exist in comprehensive and publicly accessibly form.
22. A more fruitful approach might be to
focus on the role of the Assembly as a focus for accountability.
From this viewpoint, if the Assembly worked effectively in this
area, it could remove any need for a wholly separate ITC Wales.
23. The role of the Assembly in relation
to the ITC could encompass:
Receiving an annual reportboth
written and verbalon ITC activities in Wales.
Scrutinising the appointment of a
Commissioner for Wales and of key executives posts in ITC Wales.
The right to initiate independent
inquiries and take evidence on issues within the ITC's area of
24. A striking difference within ITV is
that whereas the franchise holders in Scotland are (with the exception
of Border) owned and controlled from within Scotland, this is
clearly not the case in Wales, where we have a very well-established
single franchise-holder that is now owned and controlled by a
conglomerate (United News and Media) based outside Wales.
25. The Assembly has no powers to alter
commercial ownership patterns. With sufficient focus on broadcasting
issues it could, however, play a role in holding HTV to as devolved
a Welsh identity and programme-making remit as possible:
by taking evidence directly from
HTV on its activities in Wales;
by publicly examining any proposals
for a weakening of local franchise obligations;
by encouraging (through ITC Wales
and HTV directly) increased local news and current affairs coverage,
not least of the activities of the Assembly itself.
26. S4C is a broadcaster in its own right
and falls outside the regulatory scope of the ITCwith the
Chair and Board members appointed directly by DCMS. Funding is
by central government grant in aid based on 3.2 per cent of net
TV advertising revenue (£75m for 1998), supplemented by S4C's
own advertising and other commercial activity. Channel 4 is, of
course, not available on an analogue basis in Wales (outside of
transmission overlap areas), although C4 programming is provided
by S4C outside of peak hours.
27. Through its wholly owned subsidiary
S4C Digital Networks (SDN), S4C has won a licence to operate one
of the new multiplexes for digital terrestrial broadcasting (to
be shared with C5). While the company's enterprise is forging
a role for itself in the future technology for terrestrial broadcasting
is to be welcomed, there are serious concerns that without additional
funding, the proposed additional digital hours will place undue
strain on S4C's ability to continue undertaking its existing PSB
responsibilities ie will future digital expansion be at the expense
of the existing jobs base (in the independent sector servicing
S4C) and existing programme range and quality? Despite wide agreement
on the nature of the problem there is as yetdespite the
floating of proposals such as a levy for Welsh PSBno broad
consensus on a solution.
28. As with the other major broadcasters/regulators
in Wales, the Assembly could take on a role of requiring local
accountability and focusing debate through:
Receiving an annual report, written
and verbal, on S4C activities.
Nominating and/or scrutinising the
appointment of the S4C Chair and Board members.
Initiating independent inquiries
and taking evidence on relevant issues.
29. However, devolving grant-making powers
in relation to S4C from central government to the Assembly would
not necessarily be helpfuleven if it were constitutionally
feasible. Unless this was ring-fenced there would be a real danger
of competing demands from other, perhaps socially more pressing
areas such as education, housing and health. If it were ring-fenced,
then in the absence of additional tax raising powers (not available
in the foreseeable future), the Assembly would seem to be left
as a funding channel, but with no meaningful additional power.
30. The Assembly should be encouraged to
build an awareness of and a concern for the independent production
sector in Wales, and obviously not just in relation to S4C.
31. We would therefore argue for the Assembly,
through the relevant Committee, to hear representations from representative
bodies within the sector and to initiate inquiries and take evidence
on relevant issues.
32. The above discussion encompasses some
of the main issues arising from the establishment of the Welsh
Assembly and suggest some initial views which BECTU might take
on the role of the Assembly and on the development of the principal
Welsh broadcasting organisations. We should regard this as a starting
position which is itself open to review and reconsideration as
the debate unfolds and as the Assembly actually develops.