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Welsh government urged to set up expert media panel

16 May 2012

Wales Assembly Members have recommended that the Welsh Government should establish a forum to monitor the media industries in Wales. The NUJ in Wales welcomed the recommendation and called upon the Welsh Government to urgently act on that proposal.

An all-party Task and Finish Group made the suggestion following an inquiry into the future outlook for the media in Wales.

The union gave evidence to the group last autumn, expressing serious concerns about cutbacks affecting broadcasting and threats to the survival of the country's newspaper industry.

In its report, the Task and Finish Group says that the Welsh Government should establish a panel of independent media experts to examine the Welsh media and the creation of sustainable business models for the local press.

If it gets the go-ahead from the Welsh Government, the new panel would be staffed by independent experts with experience across the sector. It would also be asked to monitor the Welsh media landscape and provide advice and guidance to the Government.

The group also recommended setting up new protocols to engage with newspapers following closures and job losses to ensure "viable measures can be put in place". During its submissions to the inquiry, the NUJ warned that Welsh newspapers were facing a crisis that "threatens their survival".

It said that, in the past two decades, there have been more than 2,000 job losses among major media organisations, with any new jobs created often short-term contracts rather than staff positions. BBC Wales is shedding about 100 of its 1,200 staff as part of cuts caused by the decision to freeze the licence fee until 2017.

In response, the Task and Finish group said it was clear that online advertising "will not have a significant impact on the profitability of newspapers". It was also difficult to see how journalists "can continue to produce content for a number of platforms without quality suffering" when the situation was worsened by the reduction in the number of journalists.

The group recommended:

"Given the contribution that print media can make to local communities, and indeed its importance on a national level, and given the risks of news black-holes appearing where titles close, we feel that, where there are job losses at a newspaper company, or where there is a risk of a title closing, the Welsh Government should ensure that it is in a position to be able to assist those companies, in the same way that it would assist companies in similar difficulties in other industries."

It also noted that, given the limited time frame of its investigation, it was unable to gather enough information to make conclusions on the issue of public subsidy of the press. It added:

"However, we feel that the independent forum should consider, as part of its role, sustainable models for the print industry, and that this consideration should also include the issue of public subsidy, as happens in other small European countries."

Ken Smith, chair of the NUJ's Welsh Executive Council, said:

"We have been arguing for a number of years that the Welsh Government should establish a media forum to monitor the rapidly changing landscape of our industries in Wales, and we welcome this proposal. We hope the Welsh Government accepts the recommendation and sets up the forum.
"It must, however, be much more than a talking shop, examining and acting on practical proposals to help ensure that the media industries in Wales have a safe and sustainable future."

Ken Skates, Labour Assembly Member, who chaired the inquiry, said:

"What has become clear during the course of our inquiry is that there is still a healthy appetite for Welsh-focused media and information in Wales. However, the way that people are consuming that information is evolving rapidly.
"Therefore we believe that an independent body, consisting of experts with experience across the sector, should be charged with monitoring the Welsh media landscape and provide advice and guidance on how to sustain it."

Read the Report by the Task and Finish Group on the future outlook for the media in Wales (PDF).

Tags: , newspapers, broadcasting, bbc wales, assembly wales, government wales, cuts, jobs, bbc licence fee