Welsh Executive Council calls for independent institute to champion Welsh media

  • 27 Oct 2023

MPs' report recommends guarantees of free-to-air rugby and safeguarding of the Welsh language across television and radio. The WEC's statement in response.

The Welsh Executive response to the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee report Broadcasting in Wales.

The  report  has highlighted the need for support, reform and modernising at the risk of “digital extinction” for the Welsh culture and language.

We look forward to the UK government’s Media Bill being included in the forthcoming King’s Speech and join the call to prioritise the passage of the Bill through Parliament as soon as possible to support public service broadcasting and to listen to the specific concerns of the Welsh broadcasting sector. 

The report calls on public service broadcasters to urgently develop their digital platforms to ensure that programmes local to Wales and Welsh language content are prominent and easy to access.

The review of the licence fee model will have implications for the delivery of Welsh language broadcasting by the BBC, and future funding of S4C.  S4C now gets all its funding entirely from the BBC’s annual licence fee and while it had an improved funding deal in 2022, it had already suffered cuts of nearly £20 million to its annual income in the previous ten years.  The UK government must give assurances that S4C will be properly funded, and the review must include a reference to safeguarding Welsh-language broadcasting.

NUJ policy on the devolution of broadcasting calls for S4C to be funded and managed in Wales and overseen -at arm’s length- by the Senedd. It urges the UK government to provide the Welsh Government with a fair financial settlement to adequately fund S4C and to give the Welsh Government a crucial voice in setting the requirements for English language programmes in Wales in both the next BBC Charter and the next Channel 3 licence for Wales.

The NUJ also participated in the Public Interest Journalism Working Group set up by the Welsh Government and fully supports its report “Of and For Wales: Towards a Sustainable Future for Public Interest Journalism”. It sets out a vision for public interest journalism as a public service and we believe that an arm’s-length Welsh Media Institute is vital to allow investment directly in local news and innovative journalistic projects, its purpose to serve the people of Wales as citizens and media users of Wales.”

The report's conclusions and recommendations

1. Broadcasting holds an importance in Welsh national life that is unique among the nations of the United Kingdom. A distinctively Welsh broadcasting sector, underpinned by strong public service broadcasting, is a precious asset that must be allowed to flourish for the benefit of future generations. We welcome the Government’s Draft Media Bill with its explicit aim of supporting the sustainability of public service broadcasters, and we urge Ministers to listen to the specific concerns of the Welsh broadcasting sector as they take the Bill through the House. We would request that in its scrutiny at Committee Stage, the Bill Committee convene at least one evidence session exclusively with stakeholders from the broadcasting industry in Wales. (Paragraph 13)

Public service broadcasters

2. Public service broadcasters are facing the challenges of increased competition and changing viewing habits, where viewers may choose content from a range of online providers and platforms. It is imperative that their content is easily discoverable in an increasingly busy digital marketplace. (Paragraph 24)

3. The UK’s public service broadcasters are fighting for prominence on the first page on any significant device, be it a set-top box, smart TV or games console. Existing regulations are outdated because they are limited to traditional linear electronic TV guides and do not apply to streaming, on-demand and internet-connected TVs. The lack of prominence of PSB content across all devices, particularly digital and streaming platforms, will result in consumers struggling to find much loved content in a format and language that they enjoy. The proposals contained in the Draft Media Bill on prominence are vital to the continued success of public service broadcasters in the twenty-first century. The Government must introduce the Media Bill to Parliament as early as possible in the next Session, which is due to begin in November 2023, and prioritise its passage through both Houses. (Paragraph 25)

4. Public service broadcasters must modernise to survive in the digital age. We welcome the investment by PSBs in their digital platforms, which is needed given the growing proportion of people in Wales using them to watch PSB programmes. However, accessing Welsh content is not straightforward on these platforms, making it difficult for it to be viewed in Wales and across the UK. We call on public sector broadcasters to urgently develop their digital platforms to improve their level of online personalisation and ensure that programmes local to Wales and Welsh language content are prominent and easy to access. We call on public secrvice broadcasters to urgently develop their digital platforms to improve their level of online personalisation and ensure that programmes local to Wales and Welsh language content are prominent and easy to access. We request that public service broadcasters report to us by March 2024 on their progress in this area. (Paragraph 31)

5. The success of Welsh broadcasting has rested on the close dialogue between broadcasters and Welsh policy makers. This relationship is now being challenged by the shifts in global power in the broadcasting landscape with the growth of global companies such as Amazon Prime Video, based overseas. Amazon Prime Video resisted sending a representative to answer our questions, and streaming services have not met the Welsh Language Commissioner. These are worrying indications that future policy makers in Wales will find it harder to retain a valuable relationship with all broadcasters. The oral evidence we took from Netflix and COBA demonstrate that this relationship remains possible. (Paragraph 37)

6. Companies such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video provide competition to public service broadcasters. However, there are also opportunities for PSBs to work in partnership with them, and there are good examples where PSB providers have developed effective partnerships with streaming services to develop content. We look forward to this continuing in the future. (Paragraph 38)

7. We are concerned about streaming companies demanding such a high proportion of advertising revenue in return for hosting PSB programmes on their sites. We call on Ofcom to examine these practices and to publish its findings by April 2024 on whether further regulation is needed to ensure fair and reasonable terms for PSBs. (Paragraph 39)

The future of Welsh Language broadcasting

8. It is vital that Welsh language provision continues to grow amid the changing media landscape, and is a visible part of the television system in the UK. While we welcome the current funding settlement in place for S4C, it is vital that the channel has greater certainty over its long-term funding. We note that the Government has announced a review of the licence fee model. This will have implications for the delivery of Welsh language broadcasting by the BBC, and future funding of S4C. In its response to this Report, the Government must give assurances that the review includes a reference to safeguarding Welsh-language broadcasting. (Paragraph 51)

9. We welcome the investments that the Government is making in digital provision for S4C, but the scale of investment needed to ensure the sustainability of Welsh language broadcasting in the long-term is daunting. We are concerned that the wider revolution in broadcasting will leave S4C exposed. It is also clear that S4C has a strong relationship with BBC Cymru Wales, and these links have been further enhanced by S4C’s reliance on licence fee funding and on BBC iPlayer as the foremost platform for digital content. To ensure the continuing strength of Welsh language broadcasting we recommend an enhanced long-term partnership between S4C and BBC Cymru Wales. This should include safeguards for the branding, editorial and commercial independence of S4C. This partnership should work towards a long-term framework agreement that supports S4C, providing it with the investment to produce digital content to compete with streaming services. The partnership should be overseen by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. (Paragraph 56)

Broadcasting live sports in Wales

10. The broadcasting of sporting events is a matter of considerable public interest. It brings people together for a shared experience, providing a source of pride. The danger of sports coverage going behind a paywall is that any additional short-term injection of money does not reach the grassroots and is offset in the longer term by reduced awareness of and participation in the sport. Therefore, live sports broadcasting should strive to reach the widest possible audience, which is best achieved through free-to-air coverage. This is especially so for Welsh rugby union, which needs to rediscover its soul and aim to reach the maximum number of people in Wales. We believe that maintaining a listed events system is in the public interest as it ensures that free-to-air broadcasters are able to ensure that all licence fee payers have access to nationally important sporting events. However, we do not believe that the listed events regime currently accurately reflects the importance placed by supporters on certain competitions. We recommend that the Government adds the Six Nations to Group A of the Listed Sporting Events, to ensure its status on terrestrial TV. (Paragraph 71)

11. We are disappointed that the current listed events system does not include any Welsh events in Category A, prioritising and protecting sporting events that are of significant national and cultural significance. We recommend that the UK Government works with the Welsh Government and broadcasters to discuss how the listed events regime could be amended to support a specific list of Welsh events. (Paragraph 72)

12. The use of Welsh in sport is a vital expression of identity for many. Whilst we understand concerns that a Welsh language requirement could reduce the value of broadcasting contracts, we believe that the provision of Welsh commentary is extremely important to the vitality of the Welsh language. We note that Viaplay successfully negotiated for S4C to provide Welsh language broadcasting. Amazon Prime Video was able to provide a Welsh language commentary of the rugby union autumn internationals. Therefore, streaming services are willing to ensure Welsh language provision. The current Ofcom code does not empower it to protect this Welsh language provision and ensure it continues. We recommend that Ofcom’s remit be amended to ensure that it can designate events in Group A and Group B of the Listed Events Regime and specified non-listed events as requiring live Welsh language commentary. (Paragraph 79)

13. Fans of Welsh football will be understandably concerned about the uncertainty surrounding the future broadcasting of the qualifying matches of Wales’ men’s football team given the planned withdrawal of Viaplay from UK broadcasting. This has the potential to also jeopardise the coverage of those matches on S4C. We ask that FA Wales write to us by February 2024, updating us on the latest situation and outlining the representations it is making to UEFA to ensure that any new contract-holder works with S4C to replicate its previous agreement with Viaplay and thereby ensure Welsh language commentary. (Paragraph 80)

14. With the UK and the Republic of Ireland having recently been awarded the hosting of the European Championships in 2028, we would further request that this tournament is placed in Group A of the Listed Events Regime and that there is a requirement for PSB coverage to include a Welsh language commentary option for every match involving the Wales team. (Paragraph 81)


15. We are extremely concerned at the apparent decline in the use of Welsh language on commercial radio. The ability to listen to the Welsh language on a daily basis is vital to maintaining the Welsh language and to encouraging new learners. The current regulatory framework is not strong enough to support the Welsh Language on commercial radio. We ask the Government to consider the adequacy of Ofcom’s remit in relation to Welsh language content on commercial radio stations in Wales. (Paragraph 93)

16. Ofcom’s decision to prioritise DAB licenses overlooks the high levels of AM/FM listening in Wales, and does not take into account the difficulties in digital transmission across parts of Wales. Community radio stations believe that FM licences will enable them to reach a wider audience. There is a clear demand, and continuing need, for FM radio licences. We recommend that Ofcom resume offering FM licences, particularly targeting local and community radio stations. (Paragraph 102)

17. The Government’s proposal to remove the duty on Ofcom to provide for a diversity of national and local analogue services on AM/FM also appears premature, especially given the difficulties in some areas of accessing DAB services. We recommend that the Government amend the Draft Media Bill to ensure that this duty is retained. (Paragraph 103)

18. Community radio plays a vital role in serving local people, and we welcome the growth in this sector. However, we are concerned with the current levels of funding for the sector in Wales. Funding available through the UK Government’s Community Radio Fund has not kept pace with inflation. We recommend that the Government increases the Community Radio Fund to match the current demand, as well as linking it to inflation for future years. (Paragraph 110)

19. The current UK Community Radio Fund is too restrictive and does not allow small community radio stations to spend funding where they best feel it is needed. We recommend that the Government amends the restrictions on where funding from the Community Radio Fund can be spent, allowing community radio stations greater flexibility to spend the funds where it will be of greatest use. (Paragraph 111)

20. The Welsh Government’s Community Radio Fund played an important role in supporting community radio in Wales. We urge the Welsh Government to reinstate support for community radio in Wales. This support was discontinued in 2014. (Paragraph 112)

21. Advertising on community radio would benefit their development and enable the Government to reach a wider audience with its advertisements, potentially increasing the pool of applicants for public sector jobs. We call on the Government to develop and publish by April 2024 a strategy setting out how it will seek to place advertisements on community radio stations. (Paragraph 116)

Developing the skills pipeline into Welsh broadcasting

22. PSBs are crucial to the continual success of the independent production sector in Wales. However, we are concerned that the lack of network-level commissioning power at BBC Cymru Wales is leading to commissions being given to companies outside Wales. In their response to our Report, BBC Cymru Wales must write to us to explain why their approach to commissioning in Wales appears to differ from that adopted by the BBC in Scotland and Northern Ireland. (Paragraph 123)

23. Streaming companies provide an exciting opportunity for work for the independent production sector in Wales. They can provide an additional source of revenue to commissions from PSBs and help spread the word about the excellence of Welsh production companies. However, it can be difficult for a small nation such as Wales to attract investment and to highlight skills within its production sector. The Welsh and UK Governments must outline to us the steps they are taking to attract both PSBs and streaming services to produce more programmes in Wales. The UK Government should explain how it is harnessing the increased interest in Wales, especially in the USA, to attract streaming services to produce programmes in Wales. (Paragraph 127)

24. We are concerned that the introduction of in-house commissioning at Channel 4 could harm independent production companies in Wales. In its response to this Report, the Government must outline the steps it will take to ensure that the introduction of in-house commissioning by Channel 4 will help rather than harm the independent production sector in Wales. We call on the Government to make changes to the Draft Media Bill to reflect our concerns. We also call on Channel 4, in response to this Report, to outline their commitment to commissioning work from Welsh production companies. (Paragraph 132)

25. The creative industry provides an opportunity for employment and economic growth in Wales. Wales already has a strong reputation in this area and produces programmes which are seen by a global audience. However, the industry is currently threatened by the skills shortage in this area. We welcome the plans published by Creative Wales and by the UK Government to address skills shortages in this area, and this needs to be seen as an area of priority. However, more still needs to be done to address skills shortages. (Paragraph 137)

26. Apprenticeships can be an effective and powerful way of developing a diverse and skilled workforce. However, the current system of apprenticeships within the broadcasting sector is inflexible, and does not reflect the needs of a freelance, project-based sector. There must be a fundamental reform of the Apprenticeship Levy in the UK. There must be a fundamental reform of the Apprenticeship Levy in the UK. We call on the UK and Welsh Governments to review the Apprenticeship Levy and to increase the roll out of the shared apprenticeship system in Wales to ensure that they can benefit the creative industries sector in Wales. (Paragraph 138)

27. Brass-plating allows broadcasters to meet their regional production criteria while using production companies that may not be based in Wales. Ofcom acknowledges that relying on the “substantive base” criterion alone provides an opportunity for the system to be manipulated. We recommend that Ofcom examine whether this criterion alone should be sufficient to qualify a production as being based in Wales. We call on the Government to amend the Draft Media Bill to address this problem. (Paragraph 142)

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