15. Memorandum submitted by the Institute
of Welsh Affairs
The National Assembly will be born as Britain
enters the age of digital broadcasting. This will present a new
range of challenges and opportunities which the National Assembly
will wish to consider.
Broadcasting, and especially television, has
played a significant role in the development of Welsh identity
in the twentieth century. As Wales has developed more effective
means of communication, a clearer sense of identity has grown,
and political institutions have developed to meet the challenges
which this sets. Television in particular has both fed those developments
and responded to them
There are unique features to the Welsh broadcasting
landscape, not least issues of language, culture and topography,
which the National Assembly will wish to consider in making representations
on issues which affect broadcasting in Wales.
Wales has great advantages in television production
which the National Assembly should encourage through its economic
development responsibilities in particular.
While broadcasting remains a reserved item with
responsibility remaining in Whitehall, there are areas of broadcasting
policy where the National Assembly could over time assume responsibility
without undermining the principles of the proposals set before
the people of Wales in the referendum.
However, it will always be likely that there
will be different levels of broadcasting regulation, some in Wales,
some at UK level and some at European level.
The National Assembly should seek to gain an
understanding of the broadcasting environment in Wales, and in
particular the preferences of viewers and listeners. This information
will help the Assembly make judgements inter alia about how best
to ensure that its own proceedings are covered in ways which the
audience finds attractive.
The Committee will want to assure itself that
preparations for Broadcasting the National Assembly are being
planned in such a way as to maximise the effective use of on-line
systems. The National Assembly's telecommunications facilities
need to be planned alongside the broadcasting arrangements. The
National Assembly should be accessible and on-line public access
to proceedingsand the ability to conduct a meaningful dialogue
between the public and their representativesmust not be
handicapped by inadequate telecommunications or technology provisions.
As far as coverage of the National Assembly
is concerned, we hope that the Committee will press the broadcasters
to demonstrate how they plan to provide coverage of the National
Assembly which facilitates understanding of its proceedings, and
encourages an active response from viewers, listeners and surfers.
To create a climate in which these aspirations
might be realised the submission draws attention to six areas
of immediate concern which the Committee might wish to address:
(i) that the HTV license levy, which has
been arbitrarily set, should be substantially reduced to encourage
it to extend coverage of Welsh affairs in relation to the Assembly;
(ii) that all the broadcasters in Wales should
be encouraged to collaborate to create a dedicated digital space
for a separate English language public service channel for Wales;
(iii) that the BBC should be properly funded
through the Licence Fee settlement to enable it to fully reflect
the new civic challenges that will come as a result of the creation
of the National Assembly and the changes brought about generally
in the UK as a result of devolution;
(iv) that S4C should continue with sufficient
funding to enable it to produce the necessary critical mass of
(v) that, pressures from network schedulers
notwithstanding, all the broadcasters in Wales should be encouraged
to collaborate on their scheduling in order to maximise the Welsh
(vi) that all the broadcasters in Wales should
be encouraged to collaborate on a project to raise awareness and
debate in Wales on the future of broadcasting.
The Welsh Affairs Committee's decision to hold
an inquiry into Broadcasting in Wales and the National Assembly
could not be more timely. It is not simply that the creation of
the National Assembly provides a new dimension for the discussion
of broadcasting policy in Wales. Nor is it the broadcasting challenge
facing broadcasters in terms of the need to provide resources
to cover a new institution. The National Assembly comes into existence
at a time of revolutionary developments in broadcasting driven
by digital technology. That coincidence of timing offers real
opportunities to the National Assembly. The National Assembly
will be one of the first new democratic institutions of the digital
age. The technology offers real opportunities to create new ways
of relating the National Assembly to its viewing public. At the
same time, the power and potential of the technology provokes
many questions about the relationship between broadcasting and
the public, many of which are unlikely to be resolved for many
years. Above all, the creation of digital technology means the
end of the spectrum scarcity which has dogged broadcasting, and
particularly television, in its first half-century. In theory,
we can have as many channels as we like. No longer do we need
to think of just one Welsh-language channel for example. An English-language
channel dedicated to Wales is now entirely feasible. The digital
age should mean an end to "opt-outs" for Welsh broadcasting.
In the twentieth century, broadcasting has become
the main vehicle through which nations and whole societies see
themselves. Broadcasting has allowed communities far distant from
one another to develop understandings of each other not possible
before this century. It has shaped the understanding of what it
means to be, and experience being, British. Radio provided the
means of holding together, educating and communicating to the
nation at war. The development of television, largely post-war,
has been marked by a range of shared experiences, from the Coronation
to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. As Professor Stuart
Hall has said of the BBC in its earliest days "far from the
BBC merely `reflecting' the complex make-up of a nation which
pre-existed it, it was an instrument, an apparatus, a `machine'
through which the nation was constituted...The BBC as a national-cultural
institution was one of the principal means by which `the nation'
was produced as a symbolic unity out of its many differences,
conflicting identities and diversities." 
In Wales specifically, as the historian John
Davies has written, "broadcasting has played a central role,
both positive and negative, in the development of the concept
of a national community." It
is possible to argue that the development of television broadcasting
in Wales and the achievement of greater democracy in Wales have
grown up alongside one another. The Council of Wales was established
in 1948. BBC Television arrived in Wales between 1949-51. The
Ministry of Welsh Affairs was established in 1951. Commercial
TV was receivable in Wales in 1956. BBC Wales was launched in
1964: so was the Welsh Office. After the failed devolution referendum
of 1979 came the launch of S4C in 1981 and then a wide range of
quangos created during the early 1980s to extend decision-making
in Wales, though not its accountability. Digital broadcasting
comes to Wales in 1998, and the Assembly in 1999. Of course, it
is possible to force these parallels too far. But it provides
some evidence of the increasing development of a meaningful concept
of Wales being given some shape by the broadcasting institutions
which serve our country, and the need of elected politicians to
find some form or forms of public administration which respond
to that concept.
In relation to the press broadcasting has been
disproportionately important in Wales in helping to shape a sense
of a national community, particularly when compared with Scotland,
which has a more clearly defined "national" press. Only
10 per cent of Scots buy morning newspapers produced outside Scotland:
87 per cent of Welsh people buy daily morning papers produced
in London. This does not mean that there is complete consistency
in broadcasting and particularly television consumption in Wales:
again, 40 per cent of the Welsh population live in areas of Wales
where broadcasting transmitters overlap with England, whereas
only 2.5 per cent of Scots do so.
British broadcasting grew up largely through
a centralised institution, the BBC, and much of the history of
Welsh broadcasting has been the history of campaigns for increasing
autonomy for Wales, from the achievement in 1937 of a specifically
Welsh Region of the BBC with its own wireless frequency to the
creation of BBC Wales as an entity in 1964, the emergence of HTV
Wales in the late 1960s, and the successful launch of S4C in 1981.
Wales has some unique features in its broadcasting
landscape. Notably, the existence of two publicly funded public
service broadcasters, BBC Wales and S4C, a third commercial broadcaster
operating as a public broadcaster due to regulation, HTV Wales,
two official languages, and a terrain that requires fairly complex
transmission arrangements. The issues of language and reception
have been constants in the broadcasting debate in Wales over 70
It is true to say, as the Controller of BBC
Wales, Geraint Talfan Davies, has argued, that "if we were
not a bilingual nation we would be weaker in broadcasting than
we are" (Annual Lecture to the Celtic Film Festival, 1996).
Language has been one of the key reasons why Wales has been able
to argue for additional resources for broadcasting: the terrain
has determined additional resources for transmission.
The specifically unique features of the broadcasting
environment in Wales mean that it is perfectly possible to argue
for devolution of broadcasting to the National Assembly for Wales.
No matter how technically difficult, and we will return to this,
it is feasible to envisage a system in which many aspects of broadcasting
are devolved to the National Assembly. It is likely that the National
Assembly will grow to take more and more of an interest in broadcasting
policy, and that consequently we will, over time, see decisions
over a wider range of issues connected with broadcasting policy
being taken in Wales.
3. THE REGULATION
Regulation of television and radio broadcasting
operates within a range of laws and regulations determined at
UK and European level, and is governed by a myriad of statutory
bodies. These include the Broadcasting Standards Commission (BSC),
the only organisation within the regulatory framework to cover
all radio and television. The BSC's three main tasksas
laid down in the 1996 Broadcasting Actare: to produce codes
of practice on "standards" and "fairness";
adjudicate on complaints; and monitor and report on standards
and fairness in broadcasting.
The Radio Authority (RA) oversees all non-BBC
services and licences and regulates all independent radio services,
national, cable, satellite and restricted services (the latter
includes short-term, special event radio and highly localised
permanent services, like hospital radio). The RA is responsible
for monitoring the performances of licensees and to regulate programming
and advertising, with the power to apply sanctions to rule-breakers.
RA Board members are appointed by the Department of Culture, Media
and Sport and its operating costs are met by annual fees paid
by licence holders.
Commercially funded television services in and
from the UK are licensed and funded by the Independent Television
Commission (ITC). Its "Programme Code" aims to ensure
"quality and diversity" in programme content and the
ITC publishes an annual review commenting on the performance of
its licensees. The terms of HTV's licence includes a commitment
to producing a minimum number of hours of programming specifically
for Wales. The ITC has a regional Office in Wales (Cardiff) and
a Viewers' Consultative Council for Wales (whose role is purely
advisory), and a Commission member who represents Wales. The ITC
works with other regulatory bodies when considering licence applications.
For example, bids are assessed for "technical acceptability"
in conjunction with the Office of Telecommunications (OFTEL) and
the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). Part of the ITC's
remit is to identify areas for new local delivery services and
to advertise and assess franchise bids. Its income derives mainly
from fees paid by licensees, while Commission members are government
appointees. Recently, the ITC was given responsibility to establish
Digital Terrestrial Television, which will feature services provided
by the BBC, HTV and S4C.
The BBCas a public service broadcaster
- operates under Royal Charter; the current Charter, awarded in
1996, runs for ten years. The government have recently announced
that the licence fee will remain in place for the duration of
the Royal Charter. Broad policy guidelines are laid down by the
Board of Governors (appointed by government), with day-to-day
decisions taken by the Executive Committee and Board of Management.
The Governors' responsibility for programmes is shared, in Wales,
with the Broadcasting Council for Wales, which advises the Board
on programmes and services. There is a BBC National Governor for
Wales who sits as a member of the Board of Governors.
S4C is accountable to the seven member Welsh
Fourth Channel Authority which monitors management and programme
policy. Authority members are central government appointees. The
Welsh Fourth Channel Authority was established by statute. Its
aims are set out in that statute and its level of funding is fixed
by statute, and is set out in the Departmental Budget of the DCMS.
Viewer feedback on S4C output includes audience research, running
a "Viewers' Hotline" and holding public meetings at
various locations around Wales.
Additionally, there is a significant European
dimension. The overall framework for a single market in broadcasting
was laid down in the European Union's Television Without Frontiers
Directive of 1989. This directive was updated in 1997, in part
to take account of developments in digital technology. The 1995
Advanced Television Transmission Standards Directive set out elements
of a regulatory framework for digital decoder boxes and influenced
the drafting of aspects of the Broadcasting Act 1996. Copyright
regulation has developed through a variety of directives and there
are current proposals for a new Directive in this field. A significant
agenda relating to the development of The Information Society
has been developed over the last five years sponsored by Commissioner
Bangemann, culminating in the December 1997 Green Paper on Convergence,
recently followed up by an Action Plan. EU Competition Policy
sets out the framework within which issues of media concentration,
vertical integration and related matters may be addressed. There
has also been a continuing debate since 1992 on the possibility
of a directive on media concentration. The 1997 Amsterdam Treaty
includes a Protocol on Public Service Broadcasting. This recognises
the positive role of Public Service Broadcasters in every Member
State and the competence of national governments in defining their
remit. Their public service mission would have to be taken into
account by the Commission and the Courts when applying the Treaty
of Rome in relation to the funding of public service broadcasters.
In short, at least four EU Directorates have a significant input
to the making of policy affecting broadcasting: DG IV (Competition);
DG X (Information); DG XIII (Telecommunications); DG XV (Internal
Market), and several European Parliament Committees are actively
involved in the relevant debates.
4. THE IMPACT
In its 1997 Green Paper, the European Commission
defined convergence as both "the ability of different network
platforms to carry essentially similar kinds of services"
and "the coming together of consumer devices such as the
telephone, television and personal computer". The Green Paper
notes the development of industry convergence, underpinned by
the tendency for operators in one element of the value chain to
seek to move into other areas in partnership with players from
different elements of the value chain. This industry convergence
is a response to the technological convergence.
The Commission notes a number of changes to
the different markets sectors where digital technology is having
new programme services;
and wider choice;
new Internet-based services;
mergers and alliances reshaping existing
competition policy: the need to keep
(new) markets competitive.
The Commission states that convergence will
be at the heart of growth, competitiveness and job creation in
the EU. It notes the development of a changing pattern of consumption
with consumers increasingly spending time with PCs and Internet
services previously devoted to TV. 
The British government's Green Paper Regulating
Communications: approaching convergence in the Information Age
notes that "The Information Age products and services
supply sectors are already making a major contribution to UK growth
Digital technology challenges this regulatory
framework at least to justify itself. Digital technology blurs
the boundaries between broadcasting, telecommunications, information
technology and publishing. As the Government notes "Convergence
challenges the current regulatory framework in three key ways."
These include pointing up overlaps and gaps in regulation; pointing
up internal inconsistencies in regulating different media; and
pointing up different burdens of regulation for different services.
In broadcasting, the new developments mean that
new services are increasingly regulated by bodies which formerly
were seen to be relevant to other sectors such as telecommunications.
For example, OFTEL is now an important player in the regulatory
field for broadcasters, laying down standards for regulation of
conditional access systems and electronic programme guides and
for ensuring effective competition.
Changes in the regulatory environment caused
by the development of digital technology (but which could to an
extent have occurred in the analogue environment through cable
and satellite transmission) also involve a shifting of geographic
boundaries. Viewers in Wales will be able to view services from
BBC Scotland and BBC Northern Ireland on digital satellite, and
viewers in Scotland, Northern Ireland and England will be able
to view BBC Wales' programmes. S4C will also be viewable over
the whole of the UK. And Channel Four will henceforward be received
in Wales on digital services. (It is already receivable on cable
and some terrestrial homes choose to tune to receivers to obtain
C4). Welsh viewers can of course already receive broadcast services
on the Internet or from international satellites, as well as cable.
The multichannel universe already exists in Wales, with 28 per
cent of Welsh homes receiving cable or satellite services in 1997.
has interesting consequences. Already, in Cabletel homes in Cardiff,
S4C is in fact S98C: it cannot be obtained on button four: instead,
it is available on cable channel 98. The digital revolution confirms
what has been true for some time. There is no such thing as a
solely Welsh audiovisual sphere.
Meanwhile, broadcasters who have largely been
self-regulating will in future find that some of their services
are licensed/regulated by other bodies. The BBC has already experienced
this with its commercial channels: now S4C, through its involvement
as a shareholder in the digital multiplex operator, SDN, and as
a digital channel operator, faces a similar experience. There
is now no broadcaster wholly regulated in the Principality. All
broadcasters are subject to UK and EU legislation, and accountable
to UK-wide regulators. Given the international nature of most
distribution services, this is likely to be the case in the future.
5. WELSH BROADCASTING
Wales has a significantly-sized broadcasting
sector given its share of the UK population. Cardiff is the biggest
media centre outside London. There are something like 100 independent
production and facilities companies in Wales, several independent
radio stations, and important telecommunications companies such
as BT and Cabletel investing in services related to broadcasting,
as well as the traditional broadcasters BBC Wales, HTV and S4C.
Multi-media companies are an important and developing source of
investment in Cardiff Bay. The Welsh Office Economic Strategy
Pathway to prosperity: A New Economic Agenda for Wales has
drawn attention to the importance of Wales's media and cultural
industries as potential job-creators and as a skills-base for
attracting significant inward investment. 
However, there are significant problems in the
independent sector, in terms of developing the ability of companies
to find a diverse source of work and revenue. Sgrin, the Media
Development Agency for Wales, is undertaking this task with the
support of the Welsh Development Agency. The new WDA should ensure
that this work is a priority for the organisation.
The essential issue in Welsh broadcasting in
the digital age will not be the availability of channels. Digital
technology provides the capacity for a wide range of channels
and other services. The real issue will be content, and the abilityincluding
resourcesto fund an expanded range of programme content.
This presents a challenge for the existing broadcasters, in a
world in which talent costs and costs of rights (for example,
for sports) are increasing significantly, at the same time as
they have more channels to fill. For Welsh broadcasters, operating
in an economy with a GDP below the UK average, with a consequent
impact on advertising and subscription revenues, this presents
a real challenge. The bid by HTV to renegotiate its licence fee
will be an important test of this argument.
Wales does have the major benefit, unavailable
in other regions or nations of the UK, of two public service broadcasters
funded from different sources of finance. This has been a prime
factor in the growth of the production sector in Wales, and in
part explains the strength of Cardiff as a media base. In a broadcasting
world facing severe financial pressures, we believe that the National
Assembly will see it as imperative that there is real cooperation
and greater coordination between Wales's two public service broadcasters,
rather than competition.
6. THE WELSH
When it comes to media policy, the first task
for members of the National Assembly is going to be to gain an
understanding of how the digital environment is likely to impact
on Wales, and what Welsh viewers and listeners want to see. Consumer
research appears to suggest that Welsh viewers want a diverse
range of programmes: we know that they would like to see more
programmes from and about Wales, but they do not want to be cut
off from the rest of the UK in their viewing habits. They want
to be able to watch Coronation Street, Eastenders, Birds of
a Feather, or share in the UK News or watch Premier League
Football. They also enjoy hit programmes from overseas.
Digital will certainly change the ecology of
broadcasting in Wales, though how far it will do that is too early
to say. What are the implications if S4C begins English language
services? Will the difference of linguistic spend on television
programmes made in Wales be addressed? As things stand a far higher
share of public and private funding for TV production in Wales
goes on programmes made in the Welsh language. This should be
addressed, but not at the expense of Welsh language broadcasting.
S4C should continue with sufficient funding to enable it to produce
the critical mass of Welsh programming. Given the small size of
its potential audience, for S4C to produce Welsh language programmes
of sufficient quality to compete with the other channels, will
never be a commercially viable operation. Subsidy of the kind
that has enabled S4C to thrive will be necessary whatever governance
arrangements may in future develop.
The health of Welsh broadcasting will depend
largely on the preferences of its young. For children in multichannel
homes in Wales viewing is likely to include Nickolodeon or Cartoon
Networkand increasingly, Sky One, with its early opportunity
to view new series of The Simpsons, The X Files and Friendsas
well as the BBC, HTV or S4C. How is the new generation using the
new technologies? Kids in Wales are already up to speed with the
Internet, sending e-mail from Cardiff to California. Primary school
pupils in Cardiff have established Roath Village on the World-wide
Web with their elders, telling the story of their area through
multi-media technology. There are also Welsh language school sites,
like that for Ysgol Treganna, also in Cardiff. This is a generation
which may demand more of its broadcasters than others before it:
the right to interact directly with programme services, as we
move from a generation of couch potatoes to one of mouse potatoes.
7. THE NATIONAL
The government's approach to devolution has
been in essence to ensure the transfer of the vast bulk of the
existing powers of the Secretary of State to the Assembly, plus
the granting of the power to amend the quangos. Since Labour's
policy documents in Opposition there has been a supposition that
appointments to broadcasting bodies of representatives from Wales
will be an issue on which the Assembly would express a view, and
this was confirmed in the White Paper, A Voice for Wales, and
in debates on the Government of Wales Act in its passage through
Parliament. The general responsibility for broadcasting will still,
however, remain with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media
and Sport and his department.
The Secretary of State set out the government's
view on this at the Commons Committee Stage of the Government
of Wales Bill. He told the Commons that "there will be a
general power to debate, and that will extend to make representations".
The National Assembly would have the power to invite representatives
of broadcasting-related institutions to give evidence, though
not to summon them. An order would be introduced under secondary
legislation specifying that the Assembly must be consulted on
appointments of members of the S4C Authority and the BBC Governor
for Wales by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
The concordat to be agreed with the Department of Culture, Media
and Sport would also cover broadcasting.
There are areas of the Secretary of State's
statement which require clarification, especially when seen against
the statements which have been made by Scottish Office Ministers.
First, the Secretary of State did not refer
in his speech to the position of the ITC representative from Wales.
However, in debates on the Scotland Bill the Secretary of State
for Scotland made it clear that there would be consultation with
Scottish Ministers over the appointment of the Scottish ITC representative.
We therefore assume that the Assembly will be consulted on the
appointment of future ITC representatives.
Second, it is not clear to what extent Assembly
members will be consulted on appointments to other broadcasting-related
organisations. The Secretary of State for Scotland said that there
would be consultation over the appointments of Scottish members
of the BSC and the Radio Authority.
Third, it is understood that the BBC Annual
Report will be laid before the Scottish Parliament (and we assume
the ITC Annual Report). No similar statement has yet been recorded
publicly for the National Assembly.
Fourth, the existing anomaly concerning the
relative positions of Gaelic Broadcasting and Welsh language broadcasting
is perpetuated post-devolution. Gaelic broadcasting funds are
already part of the Scottish block so they will be transferred
to the Scottish Parliament. Funding for S4C is still held centrally,
even though the amount of the funding is determined by statute.
The following arguments which have been advanced
for devolving broadcasting to the National Assembly largely focus
on specifically Welsh factors which require resolution in Wales.
distinctive cultural issues;
analogue reception problems.
It is also frequently argued that Wales needs
a voice in issues such as:
delayed digital roll-out and reception
local franchise allocations in radio
and cable and independent television.
Finally, it is often suggested that broadcasting
institutions are not sufficiently accountable to Wales or do not
take Welsh interests into account.
Amongst proposals which have been put forward
Transferring S4C to the National
Granting S4C additional revenue from
Co-ordinating English language channels.
Holding accountable institutions
like the Broadcasting Council for Wales.
Dealing with reception problems.
Ensuring digital terrestrial coverage.
Power to pressure Westminster.
Setting objectives or developing
a blueprint for the media.
Creating a Welsh Broadcasting Authority.
Creating a Media Register.
Reviewing the financial resources
available to the Assembly.
Collaboration between public broadcasters.
Development of independent producers.
We said above that there was a case for devolving
broadcasting to the National Assembly, no matters how difficult
in technical or policy terms, but that it was unlikely that broadcasting
would ever be fully devolved. However, structures for broadcasting
do not have to be administered on a UK-wide basis. While there
would be an overriding concern to avoid political control of the
media and to preserve editorial independence, that could be dealt
with through arms-length institutions given specific tasks by
the National Assembly. Nor is size an issue. A country such as
Ireland, not that much bigger than Wales, administers its own
broadcasting system. There are other examples in Europe and its
regions. While it is essentially true that it is not clear to
what extent satellites and the digital revolution observe the
boundary between Wales and England, it is not in principle impossible
to envisage a system of regulation which allocates certain frequencies
within the UK to particular regions, rather than to UK-wide channels.
The real test should be what works and what extends choice for
On a practical basis, "devolving broadcasting"
could mean many things. Broadcasting is subject to a variety of
laws and regulations in various fields. It would be possible to
distinguish between cross-border bodies and institutions and others
wholly managed within Wales. However, that could set up unfortunate
distinctions and contradictory rules. Existing regulatory structures
governing broadcasting, including its delivery across telecoms
services, already range across a variety of regulators, even without
including Europe, as the table below shows.
|Telecom services||DTI/ Home Office (obscenity); ICSTIS (self-regulation)
|Conditional Access Systems and Electronic Programme Guides
OFTEL/ITC (shared on EPGs)
|TV||DCMS/ITC Home Office (obscenity) BBC/S4C BSC
||DTI/OFTEL/ RA/DCMS/ ITC/OFTEL||DTI/OFTEL/M MC/ITC
||DTI (hardware) DCMS (programme production/broadcast services)
|Radio||Home Office (obscenity) BSC BBC
||DTI/OFTEL/ RA/DCMS/ITC||DTI/OFTEL/ OFT/MMC/DC MS/RA
||DTI (hardware) DCMS (Production and broadcast)
|Film and Video||Home Office BBFC
Adapted from table in DCMS. Regulating Communications:
approaching convergence in the information age. London. July
It is perhaps not surprising that the Government is consulting
on the form and content of regulation. This is an area in which
the National Assembly will need to grow its level of understanding.
Nevertheless, it is possible to see a number of areas of
broadcasting policy which could in due course be devolved to Wales,
within the current framework for devolution approved in the 1997
Referendum (that is, without tax-raising or law-making powers):
Responsibility for funds used for Welsh language
television programme-making, currently devoted to S4C, transferred
from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to a Welsh Broadcasting
Authority accountable to the National Assembly.
Responsibility for making appointments of the
BBC Governor, the ITC Representative, and all members of the Welsh
Fourth Channel Authority, and
Other relevant bodies (either to be held by the
Assembly or its Executive Committee).
Implementation of all 1990 and 1996 Broadcasting
Act responsibilities of Welsh Fourth Channel Authority transferred:
S4C Annual Report laid before the National Assembly as well as
the UK Parliament.
BBC Annual Report and BBC Wales Annual Report
to be laid before the National Assembly for debate.
ITC Annual Report to be laid before Assembly for
Power to summons UK-wide bodies such as BBC Governors
and OFTEL to give evidence.
Additional Welsh representation on regulatory
bodies where no "territorial" representation currently
exists, eg OFTEL appointed by the Assembly or its Executive Committee.
Full accountability for the Arts Council, meaning
a greater say in film funding and for Sgrin.
The major issue in this area is likely to revolve around
whether responsibility for the funding of S4C should be devolved
unilaterally as it were to the National Assembly. This prospect
has already been raised in some political quarters, for example
by Conservative Party spokespeople in Wales. Our view is that
it would be anomalous to devolve just one part of the broadcasting
system in this way. Responsibility needs to be taken in the round.
This is especially the case where the arguments for an English
language channel dedicated to Wales are concerned. As argued below,
there is a strong case for all the broadcasters in Wales to collaborate
on producing such a channel. This will not be made easier if government
funding and regulation responsibility for the broadcasters is
split between different tiers of government.
9. THE POSITION
OF HTV WALES
The case being made by HTV Wales for its annual £23
million levy to be substantially reduced should be supported.
The levy was imposed in an entirely arbitrary way. The amount
was dependent upon competitive bids. In some areas where there
was no effective competition for the franchise the levy that resulted
was negligible. In Scotland, for example, where STV was the only
bidder, a token £2,000 was offered and accepted.
This is not just a commercial matter, HTV is operating in
Wales with one hand tied behind its back. The whole Welsh community
is thereby disadvantaged. In the new situation post-May 1999,
when the National Assembly is underway, the case is even stronger
for HTV to be encouraged to extend its Welsh programming, especially
in relation to coverage of the National Assembly, by having its
levy substantially reduced. Such a reduction should be tied specifically
to an extension and improvement of Welsh programming.
HTV is facing a number of significant commercial issues.
The Channel 4 rebate that HTV receives due to its advertising
revenue exceeding an agreed threshold, is coming to an end. It
was set out in legislation at the time of the original competitive
bid and will amount to an excess of £4 million in 1998. In
addition, HTV, as part of a federal structure, has had to commit
to a significant increase in the ITV UK programme budget, the
cost of this being several million pounds to the company. By themselves
these issues provide an argument for HTV to have its levy reduced.
The need, and HTV's desire to improve its service to viewers in
Wales in response to the coming of the National Assembly adds
qualitatively new weight to the argument.
10. THE CASE
An English-language channel dedicated to Wales is now entirely
feasible. As stated in the Introduction, the digital age should
mean an end to "opt-outs" for Welsh broadcasting. There
is now plenty of space to create an English language channel specifically
for Wales. It is anomalous that English language television should
not have this in the digital age. Digital terrestrial broadcasting
already supplies 30 channels and digital satellite 140. It seems
that every conceivable minority interest will be catered for except
the majority viewing interest of the English speakers in Wales.
It may be argued that in the new digital world there will
be the opportunity to be guided to English-language programmes
of interest to Welsh viewers on one or other channel at most times
of the day. However, unless you have a dedicated channel you don't
have the freedom to schedule programmes, and especially news and
current affairs, according to the requirements of the Welsh agenda,
or at times specifically designed for the audience in Wales. Without
a dedicated channel, the continued provision of Welsh programming
will necessarily be in the form of opt-outs from channels whose
primary remit is to serve a much wider audience. This means that
the scheduling of English language Welsh programming will necessarily
continue to be subject to requirements outside the control of
The provision of such a channel could, in theory be undertaken
by any of the broadcasters. As the lead public broadcaster BBC
Wales might be thought the most appropriate organisation to take
the lead in this direction. It has set something of a precedent
by establishing an opt-out Welsh slot, between 10pm and midnight,
on the new UK BBC Choice channel. This should be regarded as a
useful staging point in progress to a new channel specifically
targeted at the English speaking Welsh audience.
It could also be open to HTV Wales to take an initiative,
along the lines of Scottish Television which is planning a dedicated
digital channel for Scotland. However the large size of the levy
currently imposed on HTV, a levy we argue below should be reduced,
means that it is unlikely to contemplate by itself the investment
that would be involved.
Meanwhile, S4C already have the available digital space that
would be needed to establish a channel. The 1996 Broadcasting
Act allocated S4C digital capacity in Wales on a par with other
broadcasters, technical developments since then mean that this
capacity allows it the possibility of delivery of more than one
S4C was guaranteed access to half a multiplexa bonding
together of broadcasting space sufficient to carry at least two
channelsfor public service purposes. In addition it applied
to run the whole of that multiplex in association with two partnersNTL
Communication and United News and Media (owners of HTV). Each
of the three organisations have a third share in the multiplex.
Of S4C's two channels, S4C1 will carry S4C the programmes seen
on the current analogue channel, plus additional Welsh language
programmes to fill out a large part of the space vacated by Channel
4. This will leave sufficient capacity for one extra channel from
Wales to be provided.
S4C's intention is that the spare channel should allow the
possibility of a second service from Wales, with public service
objectives, based primarily on production of Welsh origin, and
allowing the opportunity of developing an English language service
from Wales. In the first instance S4C has indicated its willingness
for this airspace to be used for broadcasting of live coverage
of the National Assembly and for additional broadcasts by the
Welsh Digital College.
S4C has stated that they do not have the resources at present
to develop this service much further. However, it has declared
that if their other commercial activities are sufficiently successful
in delivering profits, then the development of such a service
is an objective to which they would like to contribute. In any
event, they have stated that they are not planning to develop
the service beyond Assembly coverage and the Digital College before
There is an open door here for all the programme producers
and broadcasters in Wales to come together to see if they can
find ways of using this digital space to create a dedicated English
language channel for Wales. We already have the precedent with
S4C of programmes from a variety of sourcesBBC, HTV and
independent producersbeing scheduled together to produce
a dedicated Welsh language channel for Wales. We believe that
this should be a precedent for the broadcasters to do the same
so far as a dedicated English language channel is concerned.
However, S4C need not form a precise model for the creation
of an English language channel for Wales. There should be a clear
separation between ownership of the spectrum and editorial management
of any channel which could be jointly in the control of all those
participating. It would be inappropriate for the management of
an English language channel for Wales to be largely in the hands
of the Welsh-speaking community who already have ownership and
management of S4C.
11. COVERING THE
Welsh broadcasters appear to have taken the onset of the
National Assembly very seriously, and have been involved in discussions
with the Welsh Office on a range of issues including both policy
technical matters connected to the broadcasting of the National
Assembly. It is not our role in this paper to second guess the
broadcasters. However, we wish to set out some of the ways in
which we believe that the National Assembly could be brought to
the homes of viewers, listeners and surfers.
We are aware of concerns expressed by broadcasters about
camera positions, cabling and other matters and hope that these
are fully addressed by the Welsh Office.
We hope that now a new site has been chosen for the National
Assembly building, steps will be taken to ensure that it is effectively
equipped for the digital age.
As far as coverage is concerned, in principle, we hope that
viewers and listeners will have access to unmediated live and
as live coverage of the National Assembly and its specialist committees,
and that broadcasters will in due course be able to make the most
effective use of the digital spectrum to facilitate this. We hope
that there will be space on analogue services to cover a wide
range of Assembly output on both radio and television. We also
hope that National Assembly coverage will be carried on broadcasters
web-sites, or that the National Assembly has its own web-site
featuring live coverage.
Digital services will not reach a clear majority of the population
for some time, and it is important that we do not create an information
rich and information poor division in Wales. It will be important
for viewers and listeners to find coverage of the National Assembly
within the ordinary analogue schedule. This might include:
late night summary programmes/early morning "Yesterday
in the Assembly" programmes;
extended news reports in news bulletins and magazine
expanded opportunities for political comment;
dedicated party political broadcasts for Wales;
programmes dedicated to committee coverage;
phone in programmes for Assembly Secretaries.
We hope that in due course there will be regional opt-out
coverage of the different regional committees, so that local communities
can tune directly to their own Committees.
We also believe that it is important that a new British political
institution such as the National Assembly should be explained
to the audience in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well,
and should be featured within national network political programmes.
We welcome the suggestions by the National Assembly Advisory
Group that the Assembly should utilise the latest technology.
We also welcome the commitment given by Ministers that this will
be the case. We are aware of a research project being undertaken
by the Institute of Public Policy Research which is examining
how the public might be drawn more directly into dialogue with
the National Assembly and its members, to ensure that Wales becomes
a full-fledged "Digital Democracy", and look forward
to seeing the results of this work. As a minimum, we would expect
to see the National Assembly "Hansard" available on-line
with effective search machines; National Assembly members to have
publicly available e-mail addresses; and the opportunity for direct
links to schools and colleges. We believe Assembly Secretaries
and the First Secretary should be available from time to time
to participate in electronic "town hall" type activity,
with on-line public question-times.
We hope that the broadcasters will play an active role in
helping to shape understanding of the National Assembly in advance
of the elections next May, and will help explain the new electoral
system that will be used.
12. MAIN RECOMMENDATIONS
Broadcast coverage will be an important vehicle for the National
Assembly, and it is important that the Assembly establishes an
effective relationship with the broadcasters from the outset.
The National Assembly will need to develop its own understanding
of the conditions affecting broadcasting in Wales, and establish
its own relationships with the regulators, as UK regulatory policy
in this field comes under scrutiny. Clearly there are areas of
media policy which could, in theory, be regulated in Wales. Equally
clearly, there are matters that need to be dealt with at UK or
European level. The National Assembly will want to express a view
on the roll-out of digital transmission in Wales. It will want
to consider how best to support and strengthen Wales's content-generators,
including the independent producers, ensuring that they are able
to build up their businesses and generate employment.
There are some immediate areas of concern which the Committee
might consider, as follows:
(1) The case being made by HTV Wales for its annual £23
million levy to be substantially reduced should be supported.
The levy was imposed in an entirely arbitrary way. The amount
was dependent upon competitive bids. In some areas where there
was no effective competition for the franchise the levy that resulted
was negligible. In Scotland, for example, where STV was the only
bidder, a token £2,000 was offered and accepted. This is
not just a commercial matter. HTV is operating in Wales with one
hand tied behind its back. The whole Welsh community is thereby
disadvantaged. In the new situation post-May 1999, when the National
Assembly is underway, the case is even stronger for HTV to be
encouraged to extend its Welsh programming, especially in relation
to coverage of the National Assembly, by having its levy substantially
reduced. Such a reduction should be tied specifically to an extension
and improvement of Welsh programming.
(2) All the broadcasters in Wales should be encouraged
to collaborate to create a dedicated digital space for a separate
English language public service channel for Wales. In a multi-channel
world a dedicated spectrum place for Wales in the English languageto
complement S4C's work in the Welsh languageis necessary
as well as desirable. At a time when niche channels are being
developed or launched to cater for every conceivable interest,
the case for an English language channel for Wales is unanswerable.
(3) The coming of the National Assembly means that extra
responsibility will be placed on all the broadcasters to reflect
the new civic context in Wales. This is especially the case with
the BBC as a leading public service broadcaster in both languages.
The BBC should be properly funded through the Licence Fee settlement
to enable it to fully reflect the nations and regions of the UK.
(4) S4C should continue with sufficient funding to enable
it to produce the necessary critical mass of Welsh programming.
Given the small size of its potential audience, for S4C to produce
Welsh language programmes of sufficient quality to compete with
the other channels, will never be a commercially viable operation.
Subsidy of the kind that has enabled S4C to thrive will be necessary
whatever governance arrangements may in future develop.
(5) Despite the pressures of the ITV and BBC networks,
all the broadcasters in Wales should be encouraged to organise
their scheduling in order to maximise the Welsh audience for Welsh
(6) All the broadcasters in Wales should be encouraged
to collaborate on a project to raise awareness and debate in Wales
on the future of broadcasting.
15 October 1998
Hall, "Which public, Whose service", in Wilf Stevenson
Ed, All Our Futures, BFI, London 1993. Back
Davies, Broadcasting and the BBC in Wales, University of
Wales Press, Cardiff, 1994. Back
Commission, Green Paper on Convergence, Brussels, 3 December 1997. Back
Regulating Communications: approaching convergence in the information
age, London, July 1998. Back
S4C 1997 Annual Report. Back
Office, Pathway to Prosperity, Cardiff 1998. Back