Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Second Report

Supplementary Memorandum submitted by the BBC

  I enclose a paper giving as much detail as is available to date on our plans for coverage of the National Assembly. You will appreciate that the scale of the BBC's commitment to this task is necessarily greater than any other broadcaster because of the complexity of our operation. It, therefore, requires much more complex planning and, as I indicate in the paper, has required us to reassess our whole news and current affairs operation. Hence the fact that this letter is later than you requested, for which I apologise.

  A planning conference for 40 staff from the department took place on Monday of this week and was addressed by Martin Evans, Head of the Devolution Unit at the Welsh Office. This was a crucial stage in testing our thinking and refining our plans. We expect the process to be complete by the middle of February.

Geraint Talfan Davies

Controller Wales

20 January 1999


The Devolution Response

  In December 1998 the BBC's Board of Governors confirmed an allocation of £6 million to BBC Wales to fund a full journalistic response to the creation of the National Assembly of Wales. This represents an increase of more than one third in the total investment in news and current affairs in BBC Wales.

  The scale of the increase is such that it is bound to have an effect on the total organisation and technical resourcing of news and current affairs in BBC Wales. In order to achieve the most effective use of the allocated funds we have instituted a full review of the department's organisation, and the commissioning plans for 1999-00. This review will be completed early in February, when the final commissions for all devolution related output will be confirmed.

  In the meantime the following outline gives as up to date a picture as possible. The allocated funding will cover:

    1.  The BBC's share of the 50 per cent contribution by the three main broadcasters in Wales—BBC, HTV and S4C—to the cost of the host broadcaster operation at the National Assembly building. The contract for the host broadcaster operation has been allocated at an annual cost of £580,000.

    2.  The installation of a BBC Wales newsroom in Crickhowell House, with associated sound and television facilities to serve all BBC outlets. The contract for this installation is currently being tendered.

    3.  The recruitment of political correspondents and associated support staff for all BBC services. The precise numbers of staff will be decided once the review of the department's organisation is completed. It is expected to generate about 40 additional posts.

Live coverage

  4.  While digital services offer untrammelled spectrum space for live coverage, it is the analogue television services that currently deliver the mass audience. This situation is likely to obtain for some years. BBC Wales will, therefore, reformat the current Westminster Live programme on BBC2 on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons during Assembly sessions. The new programmes will be edited and presented from Cardiff, contain live output from the Assembly and, where appropriate, inserts from Westminster. On Wednesday afternoons we will retain coverage of the Prime Minister's Questions from Westminster, although we will need to react to any future changes in the time tabling of key proceedings at Westminster and in the Assembly.

  5.  Radio Wales and Radio Cymru will cover a limited number of key events live. Both stations will respond to any emerging landmark events in the Assembly's calendar.

  6.  Discussions are continuing with network planners on the inclusion of selected portions of National Assembly proceedings in the BBC's Parliamentary Channel.

  7.  Funds have been set aside for unmediated live coverage of the Assembly's proceedings (although it will include editorial input from the BBC Wales' specialists by way of introduction, explanation and summary). This is the only known funding to be made available by any broadcaster for this purpose. We have yet to decide where this output will be placed. The BBC has the option to place the coverage on its new BBC Choice Wales digital channel or to come to an arrangement with S4C to broadcast this BBC Wales coverage on S4C's vacant digital spectrum space. We are also exploring the possibility of an additional placement on existing cable services. The production of such a service as an operation integrated with the remainder of the BBC Wales' Assembly operations would seem to be the most cost effective way of providing the service.

Programmes of record

  8.  BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru will carry highlights of the day's proceedings each morning and evening within their respective news programmes. At present, we expect these highlights to be scheduled between 0700 and 0800 in the morning and between 1800 and 1830 in the evening.

  9.  BBC Wales television will carry a weekly programme concentrating on coverage of proceedings and political developments at Welsh, UK and European levels. This will be achieved through a redesign, strengthening and re-scheduling of Welsh Lobby. The new programme will be scheduled in a mid-week slot where we would anticipate a larger audience than in its current Sunday placing.

  10.  A weekly half hour digest of proceedings will also be provided on BBC Choice Wales, with presentation tailored for a younger audience.

  11.  BBC Wales will produce a similar programme for S4C by a parallel redesign of the Maniffesto programme. The scheduling of the programme is a matter for S4C and is currently under discussion.

  12.  Excerpts from Assembly proceedings will also be included in Despatch Box on BBC2 and Yesterday in Parliament on Radio 4 as merited.

Expanded news services

  13.  BBC Wales will provide an extended late evening news summary at 2300 on BBC2, concurrent with a new news bulletin within Newsnight. BBC Wales has also retained the option to extend this programme until 2320 and is likely to do so whenever the Assembly is sitting.

  14.  The late evening news programme on BBC Choice Wales, available on satellite throughout the UK, will also include Assembly coverage.

  15.  BBC Wales' Ceefax service will include enhanced political coverage.

  16.  This spring BBC Wales plans to launch online news sites for Wales in both languages. This will be preceded by the launch of a BBC Wales Assembly web site to ensure online access to news and background information in the weeks before and during the election campaign period.

  17.  Funds are being earmarked for coverage of regional committees which, at present are included in the host broadcaster arrangement.

Analysis and debate

  18.  A new strand of programmes will be launched on BBC Wales dedicated to the analysis of a wide range of policy issues in Wales. The precise duration of this strand is yet to be decided.

  19.  A new debate strand will be launched on BBC Wales which will bring politicians and other experts together with audiences throughout Wales.

  20.  The BBC-produced Welsh language debate strand—Pawb a'i Farn—will be retained on S4C.

Geraint Talfan Davies

Controller, BBC Wales

20 January 1999

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