Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360 - 379)



  360. That is very encouraging. The function of co-production has recently been devolved to Wales from the BBC in London. Has this made it easier to promote Welsh programme makers overseas?
  (Ms Richards) I think it is worth pointing out that BBC Wales has always had responsibility for co-productions originating in Wales. What we have done recently is to introduce a new approach to seeking co-production partners by appointing our own business development manager. In just under two years since he has been in the job, he has created a number of partnerships between BBC Wales and other funders which have led to productions. One, for instance, is with the Discovery Channel. We are in the process of delivering to them a series of programmes. By having the ability to create our own relationships with co-producers, we are able to have a much more direct relationship, to bring in additional cash and talent and to develop talent because there are simply more productions available. It is important that we are able to keep that talent in Wales as far as possible. We have been able to bring some people back but we have also been able to prevent some people from coming up the M4. That clearly is very important to us. I think, too, that we should just emphasise the fact that, although we have our own relationships with co-producers and funding partners, we do of course still work with BBC Worldwide. In that sense we are unique within the BBC in that we have a twin-track approach to creating co-productions. We are able to do that through BBC Worldwide, but we are also able to do it ourselves. We have a flexibility of approach that I think is very helpful to us.

  361. You mentioned earlier on the documentary about Ellen MacArthur. I am very sorry I missed that but I hope to obtain a copy of it from somewhere. That is very good. Who would effectively sell that abroad or a similar programme?
  (Mr Jones) BBC Worldwide.

  362. We took evidence not so long ago from S4C, who were saying that they had succeeded, as we all know, in several quite astonishingly good co-productions with various partners throughout the world. It seems to me that that is one way of helping the profile of BBC Wales.
  (Mr Jones) There are two issues here. One is the co-production that reflects Wales and uses Welsh acting talent. The other is the co-production of international films using BBC Wales techniques, people and producers; for example, the Karl Francis "One of the Hollywood 10", which is one of our co-productions. That is a major international feature film but it does not feature the homeland. We have to separate the two. I am not privy to S4C's planning but I can see the attraction of focusing on stories and films with a Welsh angle. Perhaps there are other opportunities.

  363. I do not think they confine themselves to the Welsh angle. I am thinking about a biblical epic they did which was rather well received and that was made jointly with a Russian production company.
  (Mr Jones) Yes.
  (Ms Richards) BBC Wales was part of that. There has been a partnership with S4C in animation, including The Canterbury Tales.

Mr Caton

  364. What about on the UK network?
  (Ms Richards) The Canterbury Tales?

  365. Or the biblical one?
  (Mr Jones) That was BBC Two.

  366. One of the things that the people we spoke to from S4C said was that, sometimes in association with you, they have developed a very good reputation particularly for animations. They are selling their product across the world. Sometimes they find it very difficult to get it onto the British network. That brings me to another question. We have also taken evidence from the International Eisteddfod in Llangollen. Again, they find that there is a tremendous interest around the world in what happens up there but it is very difficult to get that transmitted in England over the border where it could be of considerable benefit.
  (Ms Richards) Unfortunately, the BBC does not hold the rights to the Llangollen Eisteddfod, otherwise I dare say there would be greater opportunity for them to have that coverage.

  367. They need to start talking to you?
  (Ms Richards) Yes.

Mr Llwyd

  368. Has the BBC attempted to purchase those rights?
  (Ms Richards) I think it would be fair to say, without giving away any confidences, that we are in discussions with them.

  Chairman: Speaking as the Member of Parliament for Llangollen, I think that is wonderful news.

Ms Morgan

  369. Mr Jones, in your annual review you say that you are proud of the way in which BBC Wales succeeded in reflecting the development of the National Assembly and the impact of devolution on Wales, with a range of excellent new programmes. What has the BBC done to reflect devolution in its programming?
  (Mr Jones) As you know, we have comprehensive coverage of the Assembly and that was a very important starting point to try to explain to the people of Wales what was taking place in the Assembly. That is something we have done very successfully. We can use the phrase "gavel-to-gavel". Clearly we have Assembly Live. There is coverage on the Extended Wales Bulletin at 10.25 and that does cover things that are happening in the Assembly and brings them to the population of Wales. That is important. Other programmes like Dragon's Eye are starting to become very well-respected programmes. It comments on what is happening in the Assembly. Perhaps it does not give all the Assembly members the comfort zones with which they would be happy but it does a job and I think it is a very good programme. The Exchange is performing well. We are properly funded actually to go and take that message out to the people of Wales about what is happening there. I stand by what I said some two years ago.
  (Mr Hastings) Might I add one further point, which is that the BBC's Parliament Channel also covers the Assembly, as well as repeating during the course of the weekend the week's political programmes from each of the nations.

  370. How do you feel the change, the opt out of the BBC programme to 10.25 or 10.30, in coverage has gone down? Have you got any research on that?
  (Ms Richards) It has gone extremely well, certainly in terms of the performance of the Wales Bulletin and the Wales Today Bulletin at 10.25. That is extremely good and gets an audience which is significantly in excess of the audience we previously had as part of the Newsnight opt out. In terms of moving the News to 10 o'clock, the performance of the BBC Wales News is astonishingly good. Last week I think the average figure was around six million. Interestingly, despite the fact that we have the news on both channels some evenings of the week at the same time, the overall increase in the audience watching the News is considerable; it is over 30 per cent. On that front, generally the news is good.
  (Mr Jones) This is not particularly a Welsh issue. The News at Ten has resulted in more people watching the news, which is what we said would happen.

  371. What about Dragon's Eye? What figures that does that get?
  (Ms Richards) Last week it got well over 110,000 viewers, which for a politics programme, I have to say, in Wales is extremely good indeed. It was out-performing its counterpart on the network at the same time. It was getting proportionately a greater number of viewers.

Dr Lewis

  372. While we on the subject of numbers, what assessment have you made of the numbers of Welsh viewers and listeners watching and listening to the proceedings of the Welsh Assembly in comparison with Welsh viewers and listeners watching and listening to the proceedings of the Westminster Parliament?
  (Ms Richards) In Wales?

  373. Yes, absolutely?
  (Ms Richards) I am afraid I do not have those figures. If they are available, I will certainly let you have them.

  374. All I am trying to get at is whether you would say that, since the creation of the Assembly, people are tending to look primarily to the Assembly for their coverage of issues involving political matters that might be relevant to them or whether your viewing and listening figures suggest they are listening primarily to Westminster?
  (Ms Richards) Apart from those programmes which cover the Assembly, Assembly Live for instance, most of our other political output incorporates Assembly coverage and Westminster coverage, so it would be very difficult to separate them within an individual programme. In terms of viewership to Assembly Live compared with the coverage at Westminster, it should be possible to get those figures for you.

Mr Livsey

  375. What contact and consultation does BBC Wales have with the National Assembly for Wales?
  (Mr Jones) I will try and answer that one before handing it on to Menna for the specifics. The BBC, realising the importance of the Assembly for the people of Wales, clearly has made a big effort to bring itself alongside the Assembly and to understand the ethic and what is happening. This is reflected by the very good journalists engaged in that project.
  (Ms Richards) There is clearly the direct relationship between coverage of the Assembly—as the Chairman has described and we have created a studio and a space in the Assembly for our journalists—and in terms of BBC Wales's corporate relationship and dealings with the Assembly. We have given evidence to a number of investigations by Assembly committees, including to the Post-16 Education Committee on more than one occasion. The BBC has been invited to participate in a grouping of arts organisations and broadcasters as a result of its investigation into the arts, an organisation called Cymru'n creo. It has also been agreed that the Assembly will nominate a member of its independent assessment panel to sit alongside the appointments panel for membership of the Broadcasting Council for Wales.

  376. Thank you for that answer. Would there be a case for strengthening the Assembly's role in broadcasting in Wales or is that in your view adequate enough already?
  (Mr Jones) Personally, I think it would be extremely difficult to fragment UK broadcasting. Broadcasting generally and in the BBC in particular is an important cohesive factor in maintaining total UK viewing. I think that if we were to split that off we would emerge from it possibly weaker and not stronger as a nation. My view is clouded by that judgment.

  377. Do you think that you have got the balance right in reporting the National Assembly for Wales in relation to the Westminster Parliament or is that skewed?
  (Ms Richards) In some things we have and in some things we have not, which is not unexpected. What I can say is that, as a consequence of the establishment of a strong journalistic presence in the Assembly, there has been no diminution of our presence at Westminster. As I was explaining in response to Dr Lewis, our political coverage, apart from the live coverage, is of individual programmes which will discuss matters arising from the Assembly and normally those from Westminster, too. It is early days for the Assembly. We cannot ignore the fact that there have been some matters of real concern and interest which have had a great deal of coverage.

  378. I apologise that I was not here earlier because I was in another meeting. It may be that you have commented on this already. Could you comment on the fact that the National Assembly in Wales is not really responsible for the BBC but a Westminster department of government is? Maybe you have covered that previously.
  (Mr Jones) We have not covered that point. It is not impossible to think that people in the Assembly, members of the Assembly who have an interest in this area, could liaise with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in a way that is productive for Wales. It is probably in the political arena, which I will not enter into, that it can be stated that it should be a devolved function. I have indicated that my personal view is that we would not be stronger in consequence.
  (Mr Hastings) That raises an interesting question, particularly in the light of the DCMS DTI White Paper on the future of the communications industries. That raises a challenge that the proposed new regulator for the broadcasting and telecoms area, Ofcom, which does not have control over BBC output or a specific remit over the BBC, is encouraged to have a relationship with the Welsh Assembly, as well as with the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. That is a new development. Therefore there is clearly an evolving drama taking place between the Welsh Assembly and Westminster and the broadcasters. We have no comment on how that drama will play out in the end.

Mrs Williams

  379. Can I turn to the film industry, which is important in Wales? BBC Wales is one of the funding partners of Sgrîn, the Media Agency for Wales. How effective is the Agency at promoting Wales in the world?
  (Mr Jones) I think I will ask someone with a more specialist knowledge to cover that one. All I can say is that we support Sgrîn to a substantial extent from the BBC's own resources.
  (Ms Richards) I should start off by declaring an interest. The BBC, as you point out, does fund Sgrîn and I sit on its board. I think it has a very valuable role in marketing film and in marketing Wales through film at international markets and so on. It is often quite difficult to measure the economic benefits of that because, as we have already described in the context of the BBC, individual broadcasters—and you referred to S4C—do have their own distribution channels and their own international markets. In terms of promoting Wales abroad and bringing together this partnership of broadcasters, I include all the broadcasters: the BBC, S4C, HTL and certainly the WDA, BFI, the Arts Council and the independent sector. That clearly is an example of the kind of partnership we have been discussing this morning and the way in which those separate organisations can contribute to the idea of promoting Wales abroad through a particular means, and that is film.

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