Why doesn't Welsh politics sell newspapers?

 

When politicians at Westminster talk about a "deficit" they are usually referring to the gap between what Britain spends and what it earns.

But politicians in Cardiff Bay were today focused on a different kind of deficit - the gap between political activity in the National Assembly for Wales and media coverage of it - or the lack of it.

There are frequent complaints that media coverage is too English-centric and the assembly's presiding officer organised today's conference to look at the issue and come up with solutions.

You won't be surprised to learn that this morning's panellists, especially those who have to sell newspapers for a living, weren't terribly sympathetic to the idea that more assembly coverage would deliver the circulation boost their papers desperately need. AMs are simply not box office in Fleet Street.

Kevin Maguire, associate editor of the Daily Mirror, acknowledged that newspapers needed to be more accurate in explaining who runs public services in parts of the UK.

But he had watched assembly proceedings on TV - and isn't a fan. "It's as boring as hell," he complained. "I'm amazed anybody watches it."

Plaid Cymru AM Simon Thomas responded via twitter: "We're not supposed to be Brucie, we're to scrutinise government and legislation properly."

Even BBC Parliament Controller Peter Knowles acknowledged that some debates can be "grim to watch" with AMs "typing and fiddling with their computers".

His solution was that AMs should - for the duration of the weekly questions to the first minister - stop typing and pay attention to the exchanges.

Deputy Presiding Officer David Melding said he couldn't possibly comment on the standard of debates but promised to pass on Mr Knowles' comments to colleagues.

Mr Melding said that when computers first arrived in the assembly chamber it was "ground-breaking - we had people coming from all over the world to look at that".

Peter Riddell, late of The Times, now of the Institute for Government, suggested politicians should simplify their language and explain things clearly. (Politicians who routinely refer to "Silk" or "Barnett" without explanation please take note).

The afternoon's panellists included Welsh newspaper editors Kevin Ward, Jonathan Roberts and Holly Robinson.

None has a full-time reporting presence at the assembly, but all argued they covered the impact of Welsh government decisions on their readers.

Jonathan Roberts explained what his readers want: "They don't buy process. They don't necessarily buy policy. They buy people.

"It is the people that matter: the process and the policy are only the supporting cast."

The editors appeared optimistic that newspapers had a future in print, at least short-term - reassuringly optimistic for an old print romantic like myself.

Kevin Ward said his personal view was that within five years most newspapers would be charging for content online.

Would you cough up (say) 50p to read what your local politician is up to?

Holly Robinson said the two most popular recent stories on the Western Telegraph website involved "the beast of Tenby" and that keepy-uppy man from Milford Haven. Not a politician in sight.

As today was what David Melding described as "a working day" committee business kept other AMs away from the conference.

The deputy presiding officer assured the audience that the conference would soon be available to view on Senedd TV, one of the few channels you won't see Brucie on.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em - as other media moguls might say.

Politicians in Cardiff Bay and Westminster are now embarking on their Whitsun recess. They'll be back - and so will I - in early June.

 
David Cornock Article written by David Cornock David Cornock Parliamentary correspondent, Wales

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  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 12.

    ... #11, your language is the language of someone wishing to take Wales elsewhere.

    The people are allowed a personal level of self-belief and ambition, to suggest otherwise is disrespectful. Insulting the population because it is comfortable with the history of "England & Wales", comfortable with the status quo, demonstrates those characteristics the majority find alien.
    .

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 16.

    ... #12, they are not hand-outs, from London or Brussels, it is the distribution of taxation to the collective regions of the UK, money provided by the taxpayers.

    Being comfortable with the majority status quo is not being disrespectful, it is a democratic right, as is being sceptical of our very poor performing devolution/WAG.
    .

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 3.

    ... the democratic deficit that exists in Wales is not going to be cured with a few print inches in any newspaper, national or otherwise, and it’s not going to be fixed overnight with political hot air.

    The education minister is the place to start to generate public understanding; the largest deficit is the dominance of a single political party that stifles debate.

    .

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 2.

    All media should be brought under the control of the Welsh State and then we can have a lot more of the unbiased drooling over the WG that the BBC thinks we all deserve. How about an hour on engine manufacture in Bridgend with shots of the Dear Leader addressing crowds of workers? Truth is that as long as the tax payer continues to dole out sweeties like free prescriptions, no one cares less.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 8.

    Inorder to enage the public lets have a new Welsh channel promoting all that is good about the WG. Suggested programmes include "How Green was my Valley (before the English imperialists aggressors led by David Cameron and the Tory hoards ruined it)" and Game of Thrones in which Leighton plots usurping the Dear Leader whilst facing both ways on health reform.

 

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