Radical reforms needed for Welsh press

  • 21 Jul 2023

Ministers in Wales have been called on to make public interest news a public service and for a Welsh Media Institute to promote a well-funded, plural and diverse media.

The industry group, which included the NUJ, was established following lobbying by the union’s Welsh Executive Council. Its report, Of and For Wales: towards a sustainable future for public interest journalism, argues that access to trustworthy and accurate news which holds the powerful to account and protects Welsh-language journalism is essential for a democratic Wales.

It calls for public service journalism to be designated as a public service, which will trigger public funding, and an institute, independent from government, to raise funds, administer government grants and foster a diverse and vibrant media industry.

The institute would:

  • Commission research, develop journalism training, including apprenticeships, promote media literacy and prioritise coverage of “news deserts” in Wales.
  • Guarantee community news organisations access to public advertising and revenue from statutory notices and confer “asset of community value” status on local newspapers to ensure titles are preserved.
  • Set up a contestable fund for new and existing news outlets.

The estimated cost of establishing the institute is £1m.

The report cited the decline of the newspaper sector in Wales and dominance of London-based titles.

“There remain six daily print newspapers produced in Wales, one Sunday title and more than 30 local weekly titles,” it said. “In some cases, print circulation decline has been offset by digital readership growth as well as a proliferation of newer online-only providers. However, print revenues are declining and online operations are less profitable, meaning there are fewer journalists working across all of these publications, and less journalism about Wales and its communities.”

The National newspaper, launched by Newsquest, was opened to a fanfare in 2021 but closed 18 months later.

Pamela Morton, NUJ Welsh organiser, said:

“Despite competing interests within the working group, compromises were made, and we have an excellent report with some radical ideas for revitalising Welsh media. It now needs the enthusiastic backing of the Welsh government and funding to get the institute off the ground. The union will be consulting our members on how to take the report’s ideas forward.”

David Nicholson, NUJ national executive council member for Wales and working group member, said:

“We eagerly await the minister and Plaid Cymru's designated member Cefin Campbell’s formal response to the working group’s recommendations.  The Covid-19 pandemic showed why public interest journalism is so important when people in Wales needed to know what the Welsh regulations were compared to the rules in England. Good journalism is a public service and without government money Wales will continue to be under-reported and its democratic deficit will grow.”

Dawn Bowden, deputy arts minister, gave support to public interest journalism being a public service during a recent Senedd debate. She did not comment on the report, which was presented to her and Cefin Campbell, last month. A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We welcome this report and will consider its recommendations to improve journalism in Wales.”

The government recently announced a £200,000 package for journalism in Wales. Ten independent community media organisations will share £100,000, administered by the Independent Community News Network (ICNN). The other £100,000 will fund three projects:  a one-year pilot of a dedicated journalist post to cover the Senedd; research by Cardiff University on the state of the journalism sector; and a grant to Inclusive Journalism Cymru to run journalism training for underrepresented groups, including migrants. In 2019, the government gave the ICNN £200,000 to support the hyperlocal sector.

The government also made £1m per year available for the next three years to an expert panel “to pave the way for the devolution of communications and broadcasting powers to Wales”.

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