17. Memorandum submitted by Dr Richard
The following is a series of points which I
would like to draw to the committee's attention regarding the
inter-relationship between the broadcasting media in Wales and
Welsh political culture. For reasons of time and space, the points
are made in a rather stark form. I shall look forward to expanding
upon them and responding to any points which members may wish
to pursue further during the session in Cardiff on Monday.
Broadcasting and politics (general)
The media has long been considered an essential
element in the political infrastructure of any democratic societyone
might say that the information which the media "moves"
around society is as blood to the human body; without it citizenship
becomes a dead letter. In political terms, broadcasting (and especially
TV) plays a particularly important role. We know that it is from
(terrestrial) TV that most people pick-up their information about
politics. We also know that this is the source of information
that people believe to be most accurate and balanced.
The political infrastructure in Wales
Given the importance of broadcasting in underpinning
democratic politics, the relative weakness of the Welsh broadcasting
media should be a major source of concernespecially given
the imminent establishment of the National Assembly for Wales.
There are two issues which I wish to highlight as being crucial
in terms of the inter-relationship between broadcasting and political
culture in Wales:
1. How many people in Wales watch Welsh-based
2. How adequate is the political coverage
on Welsh-based terrestrial TV?
Given that the former issue is obviously logically
prior to the latter, I will concentrate on that.
How many people in Wales watch Welsh-based terrestrial
One crucial point to bear in mind when considering
broadcasting in Wales is that about 35 per cent of the Welsh population
live in so-called "overlap-areas"that is areas
where signals can be received from transmitters in both Wales
and England. This means that they can potentially view both Welsh-based
terrestrial TV (BBC Wales, HTV Wales and S4C) and English-based
terrestrial TV (Various BBC regional services in England, Granada,
HTV West, C4 etc). The crucial question is what do we know about
how viewers in overlap areas tend to behave? This is of course
an acutely sensitive issue for the broadcasters for all kinds
of commercial and political reasons, therefore it may be useful
to differentiate between what they say and what other evidence
Both BBC Wales and HTV Wales claim that some
85 per cent of the Welsh population are regular viewers of their
programmes. However, information from the 1997 Welsh Referendum
Survey (a large scale and authoritative social survey conducted
in Wales) suggests that 71 per cent of the Welsh population are
regular viewers of BBC Wales with 68 per cent tuning-in regularly
to HTV Wales.
A second issue is what proportion of those living
in Wales cannot receive a signal from Welsh transmitters? Here
the only information I have is from a letter from the BBC in Cardiff
(11.6.98) which stated that 10 per cent of the Welsh population
cannot receive their signal. The situation for HTV Wales is likely
to be similar.
Digital may make things worse
I am not an expert on digital technology but
it has been suggested that despite the desire of the Welsh broadcast
media to embrace the digital age, the coverage of Wales-based
terrestrial digital channels will be even worse. This may well
be an issue the committee will wish to explore.
Does it make a difference in terms of participation
in the political process?
In a word, yes. The 1997 Welsh Referendum Survey
has clearly demonstrated that regular viewers of BBC Wales and
HTV Wales were more likely to vote in the referendum than those
who do not watch Wales based terrestrial TV.
The information deficit
With an eye to the establishment of the National
Assembly, it is clear that lack of coverage of the Welsh-based
terrestrial broadcasters represents a key weakness in the country's
political infrastructure. As Welsh politics develops a character
of its own and becomes increasingly distinct from politics in
the rest of the UK, around a third of the population may well
have little information about what is actually occurring. Indeed
10 per cent of the population simply will not have any access
to the main and most trusted source of information on politics.
The weakness of the Welsh print media means that they are unlikely
to fill this information deficit (only around 13 per cent of the
population read either of the two Welsh daily papers).
If this "information deficit" is not
addressed seriouslyand quicklythe result may well
be the creation of a sizeable minority increasingly alienated
from the political process in Wales. Lack of information not only
effectively precludes active participation in the democratic process,
but breeds mistrust and misapprehension.
Institute of Welsh Politics
University of Wales, Aberystwyth
13 November 1998