Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Second Report


6.  Memorandum submitted by the BBC

  Following a meeting of the Board of Governors, we attach the BBC's evidence to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee.

  The submission has been prepared by the BBC in full consultation with BBC Wales. The submission has the support of the Broadcasting Council for Wales whose role, under the BBC's Charter, is to represent the interests of Welsh viewers and listeners to the Board.

  The BBC looks forward to meeting the Select Committee and answering questions on the BBC's position as Wales's only truly national public service broadcaster.
Sir Christopher Bland
Chairman of the BBC
Roger Jones OBE
BBC National Governor for Wales and Chairman of the
Broadcasting Council for Wales
21 September 1998

FOREWORD

  Wales stands on the verge of significant change in every aspect of its national life—a change that is symbolised in the creation of a National Assembly. The BBC welcomes the opportunity to bring these historic developments to audiences in Wales and across the UK. It is perfectly placed to provide a comprehensive, authoritative and imaginative response, across its many complementary outlets, both network and local, in English and Welsh, analogue and digital.

  In its network output, the BBC has the strength in depth, in news and current affairs, in drama and factual programming, to bring to audiences throughout the UK the full richness and complexity of contemporary Wales: drawing on the varied resources of BBC Wales to provide a unique and vital link between Wales and the wider world.

  In its national output, the BBC can project the image of Wales to the people of Wales, through news, sport, entertainment, music and arts, documentary and education, reflecting the diverse traditions of the principality, in both languages, across television, radio, text and online.

  The BBC is better equipped than any other broadcaster to do full justice to a major new democratic institution, the National Assembly, by educating audiences in Wales and across the UK in what it does and how it works; by broadcasting and analysing its debates; and by setting it in the context of other political institutions, especially at Westminster and in Europe.

1.  BBC WALES SERVICES

  BBC Wales is the national broadcaster for Wales, being the only broadcaster addressing the nation in both its languages and across radio and television. BBC Wales also represents the largest critical mass of programme production skills in Wales. The BBC's service to Wales is diverse and of high quality. It comprises:

    BBC Radio Wales—a national radio service for Wales in the English language, broadcasting on Medium Wave for 18 hours a day throughout the week. Radio Wales will also begin broadcasting on FM in some parts of Wales during November.

    BBC Radio Cymru—a national radio service for Wales in the Welsh language, broadcasting on FM for 18 hours a day throughout the week.

    The two radio services are the only national radio services in Wales.

    BBC Wales Television—broadcasting 12 hours a week of English language television programmes within the schedules of BBC One and BBC Two.

    BBC Wales for S4C—supplying 10 hours a week of Welsh language programmes for broadcast on S4C. This supply is funded entirely from the licence fee.

    BBC Wales Production—supplying a wide range of programmes to the BBC's UK radio and television networks.

    BBC National Orchestra of Wales—Wales' only professional symphony orchestra sustained by the BBC in partnership with the Arts Council of Wales and with additional support from S4C.

  The BBC Wales Television service is wide ranging, covering news, current affairs, Parliamentary coverage, sport, documentaries, arts, music, drama and entertainment. Wales Today is currently the most popular television news programme for Wales. In recent years, entertainment programmes like Satellite City and Wales in the West End have won large audiences for the English-language television service.

  BBC Wales' service for S4C also comprises the whole of S4C's news output and Parliamentary coverage as well as current affairs, sport, drama, documentaries, music and schools programmes. The soap opera, Pobol y Cwm, produced by BBC Wales, has been S4C's most popular programme from the very inception of the channel.

  BBC Wales network output is concentrated on music, documentaries, education and drama for both the radio and television networks. In network television, the output includes popular drama for BBC One as well as prestigious music output, including Cardiff Singer of the World.

2.  BROADCASTING AND DEMOCRACY

  The National Assembly will be one of the first democratic institutions to have been created in the television age. It is being created as a new era of digital technology is launched. This presents a unique opportunity to take account of the importance of broadcasting to democracy in the very design of the institution.

  The BBC is committed to ensuring the best possible service for the public from the Assembly. To this end, in February, the three principal broadcasters in Wales—the BBC, HTV and S4C—submitted a joint paper entitled National Assembly for Wales: Broadcasting the Proceedings to the Public Access and Communications Group of the National Assembly Advisory Group. BBC Wales has sought to give every assistance to the Welsh Office in planning the technical facilities necessary for the provision of sound and vision feeds that will not only serve the broadcasters but also be integral to the Assembly's own internal communications. Negotiations between the broadcasters and the Welsh Office about the funding of these facilities are in progress.

  The National Assembly will develop its own means of direct contact with the electorate, often using the new technologies. But it is broadcasting that will provide the widest and most accessible bridge between the Assembly and the public. Radio and television are now the primary source of information on public affairs for the vast majority of the population.

  The public recognises the seriousness with which the BBC takes this obligation. For instance, on the night of the devolution referendum 69 per cent of the television audience in Wales were watching BBC One Wales while another 9 per cent were watching the BBC's Welsh-language results programme on S4C—that is, 78 per cent watching BBC Wales-produced output. Additional thousands listened to the results services on BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru.

  In the light of the referendum and the creation of the National Assembly we restate that which we said to the National Assembly Advisory group:

    —  we are committed to a substantial editorial response;

    —  we are conscious of the challenge to our journalism;

    —  we are conscious that it will require a heavy new investment within our own operations.

3.  COVERING THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY

Output Plans

  Following the devolution referendums the BBC established a working party not only to shape its response within Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but also to review the way in which network news and current affairs programmes should respond. The BBC believes it is axiomatic that all network political or current affairs strands must be sensitive and alert to the agendas emerging from the new institutions Detailed responses will be finalised during this autumn.

  Newsgathering operations in Wales will be strengthened by appointing additional political staff and specialist correspondents. This staff will service all news and current affairs outlets, network and national, across radio and television and in both languages.

  There will be scope for live network coverage of the proceedings on existing channels and, more extensively, on the new digital channels. In particular, the newly acquired Parliamentary Channel will reflect not only the work of the Commons and the Lords but also that of the National Assembly of Wales, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

  For audiences in Wales BBC Wales will ensure a full service of reportage, analysis and debate related to the National Assembly's proceedings.

  On BBC One Wales and BBC Two Wales we will provide comprehensive coverage using our existing news and current affairs outlets as well as new programmes developed specifically to recognise the new situation. Key debates and occasions will be made available live; and on the new digital service for Wales, BBC Choice Wales.

  We believe that a deeper coverage of public policy issues in Wales is required as well as more regular debate and that the present Welsh Lobby programme should be redesigned and given a more prominent place in the schedule.

  We are very conscious of the need to ensure that, wherever appropriate, coverage of the National Assembly can be properly integrated with coverage of Westminster and of the European Parliament, so that a full context can be given to viewers and listeners. The BBC is a uniquely strong position to provide national and international perspectives on issues and debates which will arise.

  To this end BBC Wales will continue to maintain a presence at Westminster and a full time correspondent in Brussels.

  The National Assembly will operate bilingually. BBC Wales will build on its experience of broadcasting in two languages on radio and television in order to develop appropriate practices and standards in its coverage.

  By March 1999 we will launch a full online news service for Wales. This will be provided bilingually, in effect giving Wales for the first time ever a daily Welsh language "newspaper". This will allow people in Wales, the UK and the whole world, to access news of Wales and the National Assembly with all the depth and authority that the BBC's news service can provide.

  As news provider to S4C the BBC will be crucial to the awareness of the National Assembly in the Welsh—language community. We will continue to supply S4C's news service and main political output, including analysis and debate. BBC Wales will build on the expertise it has developed in its Welsh-language Newyddion team which has, since the early eighties, provided local, Welsh, British and international news, all within its daily programme. This service to S4C will be available on both its analogue and S4C1 digital services.

  We are also co-operating with S4C to ensure that in partnership the publicly-funded broadcasters of Wales exploit the potential of digital spectrum to cover the National Assembly live, meeting the needs of communities across Wales.

Plans for Covering the Elections

  The BBC is committed to reporting the election with all the energy, commitment and impartiality that the BBC has brought to election coverage over the years. We are approaching this with two needs in mind:

    —  the need for educational and information programmes, directed variously at schools, young people and adults, to outline the powers of the National Assembly, its place within the British constitution, policy issues and the background to the new voting system.

    —  the need for campaign coverage that is comprehensive, professional, balanced and mature.

  Campaign coverage of the first National Assembly elections will, in large part, follow the pattern of our coverage of general elections:

    —  an election planning unit will be set up in BBC Wales to address the editorial and operational issues. This will manage coverage, resources and operational needs, following the model successfully implemented during general elections.

    —  another unit will be established by the Regional Broadcasting Directorate to act as a liaison point between Wales, Scotland and the networks.

    —  extensive planning and briefing exercises will be undertaken, not only for staff in Wales, but also for the staff of network programmes.

    —  special emphasis will be placed on explaining policy issues which make the National Assembly election different from other elections.

Cost of Assembly Coverage

  The costs of broadcasting from the National Assembly fall into two categories. The first relates to the added investment in programmes implicit in the plans outlined above. This is likely to be substantial, running to several million pounds, to be borne by the BBC, as part of its commitment to responding in full to devolution throughout the UK. The second area relates to the cost of the technical facilities required to cover the chamber and committee rooms in sound and vision. These facilities will also serve as an essential part of the infrastructure for the National Assembly's internal information systems—electronic Hansard, translating, archiving, Intranet, feeds to public rooms, video-conferencing, regional centres and so forth. They will also service the National Assembly's own direct information service for the public, probably including the Assembly's Internet operation.

  The provision of sound and vision feeds will be the sine qua non of the National Assembly's communication policy. Broadcasters will, of course, contribute to the cost of providing these facilities as well as making a considerable investment in their own dedicated facilities, but would not expect to be asked to carry costs which are related to the Assembly's own communication policies. BBC Wales, with the other broadcasters, is currently in negotiation with the Welsh Office about the appropriate division of costs in relation to the necessary technical infrastructure within the National Assembly building.

4.  A WIDER RESPONSE TO DEVOLUTION

  The BBC believes that its response to the changes in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland should be wider than National Assembly coverage alone. Our total response encompasses four main elements:

    —  Coverage of the Assembly.

    —  Strengthening our services for Wales.

    —  Increasing Wales' contribution to the BBC's UK networks.

    —  Increased marketing of our services in Wales.

  We are currently examining all our services for Wales to see where they need to be strengthened to reflect social, cultural and political change in an increasingly competitive broadcast marketplace.

  Senior managers in BBC Wales are currently also engaged in a discussion with the commissioning controllers of the radio and television networks with the aim of arriving at an agreed network development strategy designed, over three years, to lead to a step change in the size of Wales' contribution. This is part and parcel of the BBC's overall commitment to reflect the whole of the UK in its services.

  BBC Wales aims to concentrate its network contributions in the fields of drama, music and arts, factual programming and education.

  We will ensure that these positive developments are brought to the attention of the public in Wales through consistent and effective marketing.

5.  TELEVISION TRANSMISSION COVERAGE IN WALES

  The topography of Wales makes it the most complex area of the UK in terms of transmission requirements. This has necessitated a massive investment to the extent that Wales has 5 per cent of the UK's population but 20 per cent of its transmitters. Despite this, the percentage of the population covered is inevitably marginally lower than in any other part of the UK for every national radio and television service.

  Recently, much attention has been given to the question of signal overlap in Wales from transmitters based in England—not all of it accurate. The facts are these:

    —  Signals from transmitters in England cover an area of Wales that includes nearly 40 per cent of the Welsh population. The comparable overlap in Scotland covers only 2.8 per cent of the Scottish population.

    —  However, within that area some viewers tune their sets only to Welsh transmitters, some tune their sets to transmitters in both Wales and England and some only to transmitters in England.

    —  A recent estimate is that between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of viewers choose not to access signals from Wales. These are more heavily concentrated in North East Wales.

  This situation has been researched recently, in a joint exercise by BBC Wales, HTV Wales and S4C. The findings have been evaluated and discussions are proceeding with a view to mounting a joint marketing exercise.

  Significant pockets of population in North East Wales cannot receive signals from Wales-based transmitters, although the situation has been significantly improved in the last month by the addition of BBC Two Wales transmissions from the Wrexham-Rhos transmitter, covering 80,000 people.

  We believe that digital television will bring major transmission benefits. The BBC's policy is to make all its free to air services available on all digital platforms.

  Digital Terrestrial Television, which will be launched in November 1998, will cover some 70 per cent of the Welsh population by March 2000. By co-siting all digital terrestrial transmitters with existing analogue ones, the BBC expects that many of the served population will be capable of receiving DTT on existing aerials.

  Moreover, all the BBC's services, including its services for Wales, will be available on digital satellite from September 1998. Digital satellite signals are receivable by virtually all households in Wales (subject to having the appropriate receiving equipment), including many beyond the reach of existing terrestrial services.

  The BBC's objective on the digital platforms is to replicate its existing channels and to add the services of BBC News 24 and BBC Choice—including its version for Wales—plus future services, such as BBC Learning. BBC Choice Wales will be available on DSat throughout the UK. The amount of satellite spectrum space currently purchased means that, at launch, BBC Two will be available only in a UK-wide form on DTT and DSat. Most of the programming for Wales scheduled on BBC Two will be available on BBC Choice.
AnalogueDigital Terrestrial (DTT) Digital Satellite (DSat)
BBC One WalesBBC One Wales BBC One Wales
(available in Wales only)
BBC Two Wales
BBC Two UKBBC Two UK
BBC Choice WalesBBC Choice Wales
(available across UK)
BBC Choice Scotland
BBC Choice N. Ireland
BBC Choice UK
BBC News 24BBC News 24

6.  THE IMPLICATIONS FOR WALES OF DIGITAL BROADCASTING

  The BBC is using its editorial, technical and engineering expertise to help drive the digital revolution. This will not only deliver higher technical qualities, through widescreen pictures and CD quality sound, but also greatly extend the choice available to the viewer through the introduction of new services. Through this, and its continuing commitment to universal services, the BBC will also assist in guaranteeing access for all citizens to the benefits of the digital age.

  It is committed to a presence on all three digital platforms—terrestrial, satellite and cable—so that licence payers can access free-to-air public services easily and on whichever delivery system they choose. A pre-view service has been available on DSat from late June; new services were launched, again on DSat, in September. They will be available in DTT form from November. It is expected that cable operators will begin migrating their customers from analogue to DCable from next year.

  In Wales, we start from the proposition that Welsh viewers want full access to all UK network services and want high quality services for their own national community in addition to, rather than instead of, network services. The BBC aims to provide both. But it will do so within a much more complex marketplace.

  The gain for Wales from the BBC's investment in digital will be substantial:

BBC Choice Wales

  First and foremost is the creation of BBC Choice Wales, launched on DSat in September 1998. This has provided the most significant step forward for English television broadcasting in Wales since the advent of a separate BBC television service for Wales in 1964.

  Hitherto, our television service for Wales has taken the form of individual programmes, scheduled within BBC One and BBC Two. BBC Choice Wales provides the first daily, unbroken block of programmes in English for Wales, creating an unprecedented development opportunity. This will allow us to extend our news service, to extend coverage of major events, to follow up programmes, debates and themes first developed on BBC One and BBC Two, to create themed evenings and to provide another chance for viewers to see BBC Wales output.

  It has begun as a daily two hour block and, as the digital audience increases, more resources will be made available to open up other blocks of time within BBC Choice.

  In addition this service will be made available throughout the UK, so that Welsh people everywhere can have access to news and general programming for Wales. By the same token the corresponding services from Scotland and Northern Ireland will also be available in Wales and across the UK. To guard against deprivation of the UK service, the sustaining BBC Choice UK service will also be available on DSat.

BBC Wales Online

  The BBC has already established one of the most successful online news sites on the worldwide web. BBC Wales will launch a bilingual online news service for Wales by March 1999. This will make the fullest use of its considerable newsgathering resources. BBC Wales has already appointed an Online Development Manager as a first step to building the skillbase within BBC Wales for online, non-linear production.

BBC News 24

  BBC Wales is already making a substantial contribution to the new BBC News 24 service. BBC Wales has led the way, among BBC regions, in terms of the volume of material supplied to the channel.

Education

  BBC Wales, BBC Scotland and BBC Northern Ireland are currently discussing ways in which they can best contribute to meeting the educational needs of their own countries in collaboration with BBC Education and its proposed BBC Learning Channel. BBC Wales and S4C have also been working together on the Digital College for Wales concept with the aim of creating a Welsh hub for the University for Industry and ensuring that the long learning vision is properly tailored to Wales' educational needs.

PUBLIC POLICY PRINCIPLES

  While each individual broadcaster is planning its programme response to the potential of the new technology, the extent of the change being wrought by these technological developments will also oblige broadcasters and politicians to consider the public policy implications.

  The creation of the National Assembly will itself generate a more open and persistent debate about broadcasting issues in Wales. This investigation by the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs is an early sign of that. The situation in Wales requires careful thought since this is the only area of the UK in which two publicly funded broadcasters operate.

  The BBC has sought to identify the public policy considerations that should underlie the pattern of broadcasting in Wales and, particularly, the relationship between the BBC and S4C.

  In short, we believe these should include the following:

    —  Public money should be used to provide services which are complementary not competitive, especially as the market is small and funding is limited, ensuring clear remits for public services and accountability for the use of public funds.

    —  Distinctive, high-quality public services should be maintained for Wales, ensuring that there is a fair balance of provision between both languages.

    —  A broad mix of programmes should be maintained across all services, along with high quality thresholds.

    —  A structure should be maintained for Welsh broadcasting which would allow the most effective use of the Welsh talent pool and ensure that there is a strong production base in Wales.

  The BBC's commitment to the Welsh language lies deep in its history, tradition and its current staff. BBC Wales provides one third of S4C's Welsh-language output and its programmes are the cornerstone of the schedule. With this in mind the BBC remains committed to collaborating closely with S4C to ensure that the above principles can be implemented effectively by our respective organisations, collaborating wherever possible and competing only where it is demonstrably in the public interest to do so. This requires a clarity of remit between the two organisations based on BBC Wales' broad, bi-media proposition and S4C's linguistic raison d'e®tre.

  S4C has indicated that it wishes to safeguard sufficient spectrum space on its own multiplex for a second digital channel and that it wishes to talk to all interested parties about the use of that space. The BBC looks forward to discussing the potential of such space within the principles outlined above.

Digital Radio

  Radio is also going digital. There are seven UK digital radio multiplexes available throughout the UK, each capable of offering a number of radio and data services. Digital radio will also be receivable on broadcast-enabled PCs. The BBC has been allocated space on the five local commercial multiplexes licensed by the Radio Authority, to carry BBC national regional services. The BBC will wish to ensure that the needs of public service radio in Wales are not compromised by the inclusion of BBC Radio Cymru and BBC Radio Wales on a commercial multiplex.

7.  BROADCASTING, ACCOUNTABILITY AND THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY

  The broadcasting industry stands at a moment of transition, on the brink of changes that will transform the media landscape.

  Digital technology is blurring the boundaries between broadcasting, telecommunications, IT and publishing. Geographical boundaries are also shifting. BBC Wales, BBC Scotland and BBC Northern Ireland are about to begin UK-wide satellite transmission of their services for Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish audiences. It is no longer possible to think of a solely Welsh audio-visual space.

  These developments make it significantly more complex to devolve broadcasting regulation by territory; and they weighed heavily with Government in its decision to treat broadcasting as a retained power in Wales and Scotland.

  The BBC also notes that the transfer of responsibility for one broadcaster only, S4C, would create an asymmetric situation, with unpredictable consequences.

  It is recognised, however, that the National Assembly will take a keen and proper interest in broadcasting policy as in other cultural matters, an interest the BBC would wish to facilitate. There is, therefore, a need for all broadcasters to consider how they will relate to this new democratic institution as well as to the public at large.

The Governance of the BBC

  The 1996 Royal Charter established for the first time a clear accountability framework for the BBC. Central to this framework are the Board of Governors and the Broadcasting Councils in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

  The Board of Governors is responsible for:

    —  determining strategy;

    —  approving objectives;

    —  monitoring performance against objectives;

    —  ensuring that legal and contractual obligations are met;

    —  ensuring that complaints are effectively handled;

    —  submitting an annual report to Parliament and public.

  The role of the Councils is to:

    —  understand the needs and interests of audiences in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland;

    —  advise the Governors on the appropriateness of BBC objectives to local audiences in those countries;

    —  advise the Governors in formulating local objectives;

    —  be consulted over the split of the local programme-making budgets;

    —  be consulted on significant changes to the local resource base.

  This clarification of responsibilities has already led to a strengthened partnership between the Governors and the Broadcasting Council for Wales, and new procedures have helped to cement it: among others a new business cycle, an integrated performance review process and arrangements for assessing the reactions and opinions of audiences. Within the Charter framework, development of these processes will continue. The National Governor, Wales and the Broadcasting Council for Wales are actively considering how to maximise their accountability to the BBC's audience in Wales, through more effective consultation and listening procedures.

  The BBC would welcome a constructive debate with the National Assembly over the future of the media in Wales; and the role of the BBC. To this end, it suggests:

    —  the establishment of a committee dealing with culture and broadcasting;

    —  an annual opportunity for the National Governor and the Controller of BBC Wales and, where appropriate, the Chairman and the Director-General, to discuss BBC strategy and policy with such a committee.

  Although the National Assembly will wish to be involved in the appointment of the BBC's National Governor for Wales, this consultation needs to be conducted in such a way that it maintains a healthy arm's length relationship between broadcasters and politicians.

  For the BBC, as a publicly funded UK-wide institution committed to reflecting regional and cultural diversity of these islands, devolution has a particular resonance and potential high impact. The BBC would wish to maintain its role as the cornerstone of broadcasting throughout the United Kingdom, within a single coherent organisation. However, it intends that its response to devolution will strengthen the BBC in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland without weakening the BBC as a strong creative force serving the whole of the United Kingdom.


 
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