BBC Audience Council Wales engagement event - Seminar on the future of broadcasting in Wales, June 2012

Date: 21.06.2012     Last updated: 01.10.2014 at 13.18
This was a small and informal outreach event, with 5 guests from academia and cultural and sporting organisations joining members of BBC Audience Council Wales to discuss current issues facing broadcasting in Wales. Key themes were the concerns felt at the reduction during recent years of broadcasting from Wales for Wales in English and in particular Wales-related drama in English. Also raised was the need for different localities to be reflected by the BBC and concerns regarding future coverage of Welsh sport.

One participant highlighted of the new found concern regarding sports coverage following the Olympic Games e.g. bowls, boxing, snooker and darts, saying that the BBC’s Delivering Quality First proposals to reduce sports coverage was perceived as the “start of a slippery slope”. It was said that it was particularly sad that loss of coverage would be for sports at which Wales excelled.

It was felt that there would be a surge of interest at the time of the London 2012 Olympics which could then fall flat if sports coverage subsequently deteriorated. There was concern regarding BBC Wales output as well as the BBC more widely. It was felt that there was massive ambition in Wales to get the highest number of medals per capita at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and there was a great Sports Department at BBC Wales and it was a concern if it was being down-graded.

Football was the key sport in Wales in terms of participation and audience but bowls, snooker, boxing and darts were also popular, predominantly among working class people, and there was concern that their coverage was under threat. There were two boxers from Wales in the Olympic boxing team but current BBC plans included dropping the broadcasting of Welsh amateur boxing.

In this context it was felt that the cost of these sports broadcasting rights was not relevant in the way which it had been given as a reason for dropping other sports by the BBC. It was said that broadcasting rights were “very cheap” for all sports other than rugby, football and horse racing.

The danger of the proposals for integrating news and sport was that it was felt that if there was a key news story that came up, then it was inevitable that it would be sport which would be dropped. There was a recognition that it was difficult for the BBC to square the circle of providing widespread sports coverage while having diminishing resources.

Coverage of the Olympic torch relay in Wales had provided some welcome attention for people in their localities. The BBC needed more ‘people stories’ from across Wales on Radio Wales and Radio Cymru and the torch relay had been an example of this. One of the big ‘purpose gaps’ identified by the BBC in its Purpose Remit Survey was the one of Representing my Community, and the torch relay had done something to address this. The big question was sustainability.

Other participants provided a counter argument saying that the journey of the Olympic Torch was felt to have had a bit of ‘overkill’. It was felt that BBC Wales didn’t need to cover every inch of the way which took huge resources. It was difficult then to stomach the argument that there weren’t any resources for other important sports-related things.

Bowls is played by 250,000 people in Wales so it is not a minority sport. Why then spend so much cash on the Olympic Torch Relay when this could go on continuing coverage for bowls.

Moving on from sport it was felt to be important to ask how Wales was served rather than how the BBC was served. Wales has very specific needs and it is worrying that the portrayal of what Wales was, was being narrowed.

It was a worry too that arts coverage was being narrowed. There were now whole areas of Welsh life not being covered by the BBC and that was very worrying. There was also a feeling that the BBC wasn’t adequately reflecting Wales. Doctor Who and Torchwood were great but are they reflecting Wales?

The real worry of participants was that there was so little English language programming about Wales in English. The situation was poorer now that it had been for a very long time. There was a particular paucity of English language drama from Wales reflecting Wales.

It was said that there remained huge questions regarding Network news coverage – Network news has got better at identifying England but it is still a problem that so much news continued to be presented through the prism of Westminster. There was still not enough comparative news.

Concerns about radio reception were articulated and it was said that DAB radio meant a loss of possible audiences to Radio Cymru and Radio Wales because of poor availability and even on FM reception of Radio Wales was not considered good enough.

The recently published BBC Nations’ statements were a step forward in having a holistic vision for the UK’s nations, as was the suggestion of an annual meeting under the aegis of the National Assembly’s Presiding Officer.

Participants felt that if the BBC couldn’t provide quality output in all genres for Wales as a nation then the BBC was failing in its core task.

If the BBC wasn’t representing local communities then the BBC wasn’t doing its job. It was said that there was a dynamic and exciting society in Wales - and the BBC needed to reflect that. Another participant said that there was also a real divergence in Wales – which is getting wider – between rural and urban areas. This was a real worry, though not just an issue for Wales of course. In this context the Coastal Path opening for Wales had been one of the most important events in Wales this year - but little attention had been given to it by the BBC. It was considered to be a resource for centuries to come.