Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240
MONDAY 7 DECEMBER 1998
(Mr Davies) I think for decades there has been that
competition in the early evening and, frankly, I find that degree
of competition actually rather healthy.
241. You consider it competition?
(Mr Davies) It is a competition for quality of service
and I am glad to say, at the moment, we are winning it.
242. Are you personally persuaded of the arguments
for a full Welsh hour?
(Mr Wyatt) The executive committee, of which I am
a member. Have made our recommendation to the Board and it is
the one that the Board said, after their last meeting, they are
minded to accept.
243. In the earlier session, my colleague Mr
Livsey raised the question of how impartial the coverage would
be of the various parties and points of view represented in the
Assembly and I asked a point about the impartiality provisions
of the agreement between the BBC and what is now the Department
of Culture, Media and Sportand I suppose I had better retrospectively
declare an interest as in the 1980s I was somewhat involved in
some of the framing of this legislation in the media monitoring
unit. Am I right in thinking that, whatever the new regime in
Wales, the impartiality provisions of that agreement (which are
identical to those put into the 1990 Broadcasting Act for independent
television and radio) will be carried forward and applied in the
(Mr Wyatt) Impartiality is indivisible as a principle
in terms of all our coverage so, yes, they would be. Precisely
how they will be manifested in practice will depend on the make-up
of the Assembly and so on but, clearly, it is indivisible; we
must be impartial.
244. But they always had a nod in favour of
impartiality prior to 1990. The fact is that these provisions
have been codified in a much more precise way and, in practice,
nationally over the last eight years, and what I am asking is
whether there will be the same degree of precision and whether
the same code will be applied.
(Mr Wyatt) The code will apply to all our broadcasting
in Wales or of Wales concerning the National Assembly. It is fair
to say we have followed that code with some rigour since it was
introduced and intend to do so in these circumstances.
245. Fine. Turning to the coverage of the Assembly,
will you tell us your plans for covering the Assembly itself,
both inside Wales and across the UK network and, in particular,
do you have plans for live coverage of the Assemblyfor
example, on BBC 2 Wales?
(Mr Davies) Certainly, we do. I have already outlined
to Mr Caton some part of our programme plans but, in terms of
live coverage, there are many options here. The key, if you are
talking in terms of accessibility for the audience, for all the
discussion there has been of what can be done on digital, what
is going to matter for the audience will be the service on analogue
for the next few years and we intend to provide live coverage
of the Assembly on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons on BBC 2 analogue.
We would also be supplying some live coverage on Radio Wales and
Radio Cymru but not so much on a regular basis as coverage of
key events. That is on analogue. On digital, as you know, S4C
have said there is a spectrum space available on their multiplex
which could be given for live coverage. We are in discussion with
S4C as to how that might be supplied. Any decisions on other digital
outlets will wait until those discussions are complete. There
is, clearly, not a lot of point in providing live gabble-to-gabble
coverage in more than one place. However, we also have the BBC
Parliamentary channel and I would expect to see coverage of all
of these democratic institutions being integrated in that channel.
Lastly, online: it is our intention to establish a bilingual news
online site in the new year and I would expect that that online
site will also reflect the full political coverage we give and
may well include some audio coverage on the Internet as well.
246. Thank you very much for that comprehensive
reply. Turning to my last point, looking at the submission you
have given to this Committee, I see in the forward you refer to
the BBC being better equipped than any other broadcaster to do
full justice to a major new democratic institution, by broadcasting
and analysing its debates. In section 1 you talk about Parliamentary
coverage; in section 2 you talk about the unique opportunity to
take account of the importance of broadcasting to democracy in
the very design of the institution, and you talk about broadcasting
providing the widest and most accessible bridge between the Assembly
and the public and the document goes on very much in that vein.
In other words, you seem to be extremely enthusiastic about broadcasting
the proceedings of the new Welsh Assembly to the public in Wales
and what I have to ask, particularly Will Wyatt, is how seriously
are we expected to take this commitment when we bear in mind that,
despite the representations of all the main political parties
and of Madam Speaker at Westminster, the broadcasting of the UK
Parliament has been turfed off FM radio and is confined to AM,
which many people have difficulty in receiving. So is it the case
there will be similar treatment after an initial period of novelty
of the broadcasting of the Welsh Assembly and, if not, why do
you consider broadcasting the Welsh Assembly to its people more
important than broadcasting the UK Parliament to the people of
the UK as a whole?
(Mr Wyatt) We do not think it is more important. This
hinges on whether you consider the moves we have made in Parliamentary
broadcasting to be a downgrading of our coverage at Westminster.
I can see you and others may disagree with what we did. There
are many members of the House of Commons and Lords who made it
clear to us they agreed with the policy and thought it was fine.
We have said we will do this for a year and after that we will
submit a full report of the effect of it to the Board of Governors
of the BBC (who asked to us do that in the late spring of next
year) after which, if necessary, we will review it. At the time
we did that with Yesterday in Parliament, we increased the coverage
of Yesterday in Parliament during the week; we also have taken
over the Parliamentary channel from the cable operators (who wanted
to dump it, frankly), and we will run that and will find opportunities
there to include the Assembly within it. We also have, nightly,
live television coverage of the day's political events too. So
I think, overall, the depth and comprehensiveness of the BBC's
coverage of Westminster is sustained and we would wish, in due
proportion, to reflect that within Wales and the coverage of the
247. I do not think you can deny that the footprint
in terms of the numbers of the people reached by the coverage
is much reduced. Not only did Madam speaker oppose it and most
of the parties but, indeed, I believe in the previous session
Mr Roger Jones himself said he thought it was a mistaken decision.
Coming back to it, what guarantee have we got that a similar fate
will not befall broadcasting from the Welsh Assembly, once the
novelty wears off?
(Mr Wyatt) I would say you have the guarantee that
this will be a public promise when we finally make our plans clear
and they are signed off by the Board of Governors. They, I know,
will make sure this is something under their eyes and they will
expect proper review of that. I do not expect them to allow us
to change our policy unless there is some overriding reason. It
will be a public promise from the BBC that will be held.
248. The contract for televising and sound recording
the proceedings of the Assembly for the broadcasters has now been
awarded to Barcud Derwen at a cost of 580,000 pounds a year, half
of which is to be borne by the broadcasters. Are you satisfied
with the arrangement, and how are the costs to be divided between
(Mr Davies) Very much so. There has been a very effective
tendering process. As a result of that, Barcud Derwen won the
contract and I am delighted that, in the last week, we have come
to an agreement with the Welsh office that the costs will be shared
on a 50/50 basis. That is a very good agreement and it reflects
not only the importance of the sound and vision feeds of the broadcasters,
but also the importance of the sound and vision feeds to the internal
communication infrastructure of the Assembly itself. That is a
very fair division of the cost.
249. What about the actual facilities at Crickhowell
House? What do you think of them?
(Mr Davies) We are not in there and working there
as yet. You have to remember that the Assembly's first chamber
in Crickhowell House is a temporary affair. Obviously, we want
to minimise any costs involved in restoring technical facilities
that might have to be moved later. We have managed to avoid that
but we were in discussion earlier this week with the Welsh office
(and certainly as broadcasters we will be very anxious to talk
with the architects for the new Assembly building) to ensure that
in the layout of the new chamber, when it is designed, the sound
and camera facilities are as unobtrusive as possible and that
the Assembly can look as modern and professional as it can on
television. In that sense, we did not really want to be tied to
the Westminster template where television was really bolted on
to the institution pretty late in the day.
250. Do you think the facilities will be adequate?
(Mr Davies) They will be very adequate for what we
intend to do. The sound and vision feeds are there and we will
actually have within the building our own facility, our own news
room; you have to remember we are actually servicing four outlets
in WalesRadio Wales, Radio Cymru, BBC Wales television
and our Welsh language news service for S4Cin addition
to serving UK outlets like Radio 5 Live, News 24, BBC 1 and 2,
251. So you are quite happy?
(Mr Davies) I am quite happy with the arrangements
252. Going back to the Parliamentary channel
coverage, you mentioned there was going to be coverage of the
Assembly on the Parliamentary channel. Can you assure us it will
not be in the middle of the night for insomniacs? What kind of
measures will be put in place to make sure it is at a reasonable
(Mr Davies) That is still a matter for discussion.
We are not absolutely certain yet what sort of pattern of working
the Assembly will fall into, nor which parts of the Assembly's
proceedings are actually likely to prove of greatest interest
or significance to the public. There is bound to be an element
of reacting to the significance of the proceedings as they stand.
253. Is it intended that Today in Parliament
will include excerpts from the proceedings of the Scottish Parliament
and the National Assembly proceedings for Wales?
(Mr Wyatt) I have not been directly concerned with
the planning for that but I believe certainly the intention is
that we try and find a way of reflecting the National assemblies
as well as Westminster, wherever that seems to be duly required.
If that is not the case I will write to the Chairman, but I believe
254. You reminded us just now that BBC Wales
is to launch a bilingual online news service for Wales early next
year. How much will this cost?
(Mr Davies) We are currently working on that. It will
cost less than half a million pounds, I think.
255. Can you enlarge on what you said earlier
about coverage of the Assembly on the online service?
(Mr Davies) As Mr Wyatt said earlier, we have the
largest news gathering operation in Wales; it gathers a huge volume
of material. Only some part of that finds its way on to our radio
and television news programmes because of the confines of airtime.
Clearly, with an online service, space is almost unrestricted
so we are hoping to be able to put on to that online service a
volume of information that may not be available within specific
radio and television programmes. Given our investment in political
coverage, both at Westminster and at the National Assembly, I
would expect the political portion of that site to be really very
substantial indeed. It is possible, on line, to combine not only
text but audio coverage and, in time, video coverage too. Even
now, I know that we have experimented by video streaming the Newyddion
programme and the Welsh Today programme online so you can watch
it at any time of day. Those are for experimental periods; picture
quality is not fantastic; but that will improve. I would say,
in a matter of some years, you will have the potential there for
video, audio and text access at all times of day.
256. You are required to supply ten hours a
week of Welsh language programmes on S4C free of charge. How much
does it cost you to do this and who decides what you supply them?
(Mr Jones) The current costs we will be offering are
something like 16 million pounds a year. The quality, et cetera,
is historical. We have always provided high quality services and
programmes to S4C and it would be unreasonable to drop that quality.
(Mr Davies) In terms of the basic building blocks
of that ten hours, clearly the news service is one major building
block and Pobol y Cwm is the other, and that is the channel's
most popular programme. Again, another key building block has
been the Welsh language schools service and also in the past we
have supplied substantial quantities of sport and a very important
single documentary strand. As the National Governor has indicated,
the BBC's approach to quality, in the same way as impartiality,
has to be indivisible so everything we would supply to S4C we
would want to be of a quality that reflects credit on the BBC.
257. How do you actually decide what you will
(Mr Davies) There is a process of discussion. Editorial
control lies with the BBC for the content but, as a practical
effect, we have regular discussions with officers at S4C; it is
very important they know what is likely to be in that ten hours
before they take all their commissioning decisions about the remainder
of the schedule, so we try and marry our planning cycles as best
258. You supply the whole of S4C's news and
Parliamentary coverage. Will you be doing the same with the National
(Mr Davies) Not every single part of it. We supply
all of S4C's news coverage and its basic Parliamentary programme
maniffesto, and we have discussed with S4C a programme that will,
in addition to that, actually cover the Assembly on a weekly basis.
If you go outside the news and Parliamentary programmes, there
is also the current affairs coverage and naturally the Assembly
will be reflected in our own current affairs coveragejust
as it will be in the coverage that HTV supplies and some independent
259. You are quite sensitive about your relationship
with S4C, are you not, Mr Davies?
(Mr Davies) I would not say "sensitive".
There are genuine issues that arise out of the new situation with
digital television. The relationship between two broadcasters
between whom there has to be some degree of healthy competition
is bound to be a little sensitive if one of them is actually spending
16 million pounds on the services of the other. The key about
the relationship between S4C and BBC is to allow that collaboration
to work smoothly. There has to be a very clear framework of complimentarity
between the public services of the two organisations. The concern
has been in recent years whether or not there is any intention
to blur that complimentarity in future years. That is the only
issue we would raise.
2 See evidence page 102. Back