Measuring devolution: How have media covered Wales?

Media devices News platforms are changing

A BBC Wales poll published this week on attitudes to the Welsh government showed that fewer than half of those questioned thought the NHS was devolved.

Many say results like that are a feature of the media landscape in Wales in which huge numbers of people get their news from London-based papers which don't cover Welsh politics.

It has led to a situation where a big chunk of the population are reading about the performance of UK government ministers in departments that only serve England.

But is that what's been called a democratic deficit? BBC Wales arts and media correspondent Huw Thomas reports.


In the middle of The Independent's newsroom on Kensington High Street, Amol Rajan is keen to show off his knowledge of Welsh affairs.

"I know that Carwyn Jones is the First Minister, I know that Leanne Wood is the leader of Plaid Cymru. I know a bit about the make-up of the Welsh assembly - I think it's got 60 members in the Senedd."

Mr Rajan, who has edited The Independent since June 2013, knows that he and his Fleet Street colleagues are regularly chastised by the Welsh chattering classes for an apparent indifference to news from west of Offa's Dyke.

It's a claim the editor is prepared to accept.

Amol Rajan, editor of The Independent, admitted not enough had been done over the last 15 years to cover Wales

"Wales, I think, has been treated mostly as a political story - as a Labour story, as part of the [Scottish] independence story, but it's fair to say that it's suffered from a neglect that is probably right to annoy some Welsh readers," he said.

"It's fair to say [as national newspapers] we have come under huge strain in terms of our resources and we've cut back on the amount of on the ground reporting, and that's regrettable."

The perceived lack of regular coverage of Welsh matters provoked Presiding Officer Rosemary Butler to warn that a "democratic deficit" existed, with so many people in Wales relying on papers printed in London, rather than nearer to home, for their news.

Alan Edmunds, editor in chief of Media Wales which prints the Western Mail and publishes the WalesOnline website, said politicians seeking attention need to be "realistic" about where their audience may be.

"A lot of London newspapers will write a story about health and make absolutely no reference at all to the fact the decision doesn't apply in Wales - same with education," he said.

"But I think there's a great opportunity here. Because the national assembly is relatively small, very Wales focused, there's an enormous opportunity for [the politicians] to focus on digital in the way they present themselves to Wales and the world."

Mr Edmunds speaks with the knowledge that his WalesOnline site has seen an extraordinary growth in traffic in recent years. The last audit of its users, carried out during the second half of 2013, found that almost two million people a month were visiting the site.

Alan Edmunds, editor in chief of Media Wales said the Assembly should embrace the digital age

When one contrasts the increase in digital audiences with a fall of more than 60% in the Western Mail's print circulation since 1999, it's clear that online audiences are a huge attraction for those seeking attention.

Many politicians choose to take their message straight online, via their social media accounts and personal blogs.

But Sion Owen, a digital expert at the public relations firm Good Relations, believes focussing solely on the internet for better coverage would be a mistake.

"You always want to know which channels matter most to you," he said.

"If you're a politician in Swansea, the Evening Post is an important thing for you in the same way that in the online world you want to work out which outlets your audience is looking at most, and then talk to those outlets to get your message out there."

Securing more column inches from Fleet Street newspapers during the next 15 years may be less of a priority for assembly members, but politicians may find themselves working even harder to be noticed among the almost infinite digital newsprint that online readers are able to access.

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