Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Second Report

Updating Memorandum submitted by the BBC

  1.   Digital Audio Broadcasting—I have enclosed separately a briefing note on the digital radio position. Basically (See Annex), I believe that asking the BBC and the Radio Authority to share a multiplex is trying to mix oil and water. We are seriously worried here that if Radio Wales and Radio Cymru have to wait years before being able to cover Wales—while network services are rolled out relatively quickly—the services for Wales will be seriously disadvantaged when compared with UK services. This will not serve properly the information needs of the people of Wales in its new situation.

  2.   The opening of the Assembly—BBC Wales is on target to complete the first phase of its installation at Crickhowell House in time for the first sittings of the Assembly in the week beginning 10 May. If the Assembly sits for the first time on 12 May we also plan to start live coverage of the proceedings via S4C2 on that day. (See below.) The completion of the second and final phase of the installation will be done during the Assembly's summer recess.

  BBC Wales will give full coverage to the range of events on 26 May at Llandaff Cathedral, the National Museum, Crickhowell House, Cardiff Castle and the open air concert in Cardiff Bay that evening. BBC Wales is, in fact organising the programme for the evening event, which represents a sizeable investment for us—as does the rest of the day with its widely dispersed locations.

  The BBC's networks will also be taking some part of the coverage.

  3.   Live coverage—I am delighted to say that the BBC and S4C have reached agreement on the provision of a service of live coverage of the Assembly's proceedings[2]. This is likely to be announced shortly. The background is this:

  When the BBC's Board of Governors decided on the additional annual investment of £6m in Wales as a response to the creation of the Assembly, within that figure was a sum of money intended to cover the cost of providing live coverage.

  We have now reached agreement with S4C on a collaboration, by which this service will be provided by BBC Wales' News and Current Affairs department and be broadcast on S4C's second digital service S4C2. We shall be advertising for an Editor for this service within the next week or so. He or she will report to the Head of News and Current Affairs at BBC Wales.

  Editorial control will remain with the BBC, but we have agreed to set up, with S4C, a Joint Editorial Board which will agree on the strategic direction of the service and monitor its performance.

  This means that the Assembly—plenary sessions and committee sessions—will be on air from the time it opens to the time the sessions close in the late afternoon. There will be a bilingual element in the coverage, eg explanatory captions will be carried in both languages.

  Initially, I anticipate that the coverage will be akin to the coverage that which you see on BBC Parliament, although as the functionality of the digital set top boxes develop it will be possible to use the inter-active potential to establish more innovative direct contact with the audience.

  This development demonstrates three very positive things:

    (i)  that the public service broadcasters in Wales can collaborate;

    (ii)  that the BBC Board of Governors decision to make the funds available means that the service can be provided without having to divert existing broadcasting funds in Wales;

    (iii)  that the service is being delivered in the most cost effective way possible, by building on BBC Wales' very considerable investment in staff and facilities for coverage of the Assembly.

  4.   BBC Parliament—Discussions are still proceeding on the way in which the BBC Parliament channel will incorporate material from the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish bodies. Given that live coverage will be available through the day on our service for S4C2 my main concern is to ensure that there is a full summary of the main debates of the week at the weekend.

  5.   BBC2—Digital channels provide the main opportunity for continuous unmediated coverage of the Assembly, but we are conscious of the fact that in the next few years analogue television will still provide the largest audiences. With this in mind we shall be providing live coverage of the Assembly on BBC2 on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, although we will retain the capacity to mix coverage of the Assembly and of Westminster in these slots. We will retain our coverage of Prime Minister's Questions from Westminster on Wednesday afternoons.

  6.   Six O'Clock News—The situation is unchanged, despite what you may have read in The Times. The Six O'Clock News and Wales Today will retain their distinct identities. There are three essential developments:

    (i)  There will now be an unprecedented degree of liaison between the network news editors in London and the newsroom in Cardiff. The Head of News and Current Affairs in Cardiff now participates in the daily network planning meetings either by telephone or video link;

    (ii)  The Six O'Clock News is already making an even greater effort to ensure that its viewers everywhere are informed about significant developments in all the countries of the UK;

    (iii)  Within the Six O'Clock News, Wales Today—and its counterparts in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the English regions—will be given the opportunity to promote itself by a short headline sequence at the top and in the middle of the programme.

  7.   BBC Wales budget 1999-00—BBC Wales' total turnover is now more than £89m, including the income from network programmes. The total devolved budget for radio and television services in Wales this year is £73.6m-£67.6 core budget plus the £6m allocated for the response to devolution.

Geraint Talfan Davies

Controller, BBC Wales

23 April 1999

2  See evidence page 154. Back

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Prepared 11 May 1999