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The media

October 19, 2011 4:02 PM
By Peter Black
Originally published by Peter Black and South Wales West Liberal Democrats

Peter Black: I move amendments 3 and 6 in my name.

I welcome this debate, because one of the problems with regard to the issues raised in this motion is that we have not had enough of a chance as an Assembly to discuss and hold to account the various media organisations that are referred to in the motion. Inevitably, this is becoming a discussion about S4C, but there are much wider issues around this, particularly with regard to the reference in the motion to

'the rapid decline of local media provision and its impact on the reporting of public life and politics in Wales',

which is a matter of concern. Of course, we also have to acknowledge that things are moving very quickly within broadcasting, the media, newspapers and a whole range of other provision, much of which was referred to by Bethan Jenkins in her opening speech. Clearly, the challenge for us is not to try to hold on to what we have, but to try to work with what is emerging to find ways to deliver that accountability and reporting of what we do as politicians within the new media. It is important that we keep that accountability, but we have to find ways to adapt to the changing situation.

Amendment 6 relates to S4C because that is the issue of the day with the Public Bodies Bill going through Parliament. There is a task and finish group of the Communities and Local Government Committee looking at the wider issues at the moment, and I expect that, as a result of the report of that group, we will have an opportunity to look in more depth at the other issues that arise. In my view, there has been a lack of accountability, and there has been little interest on the part of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in Welsh broadcasting and in S4C in particular. With some exceptions-I think that there have been two sub-committees or committees that have looked at broadcasting in the last few years-the Welsh Government and the Assembly have largely ignored the media and how it has developed in Wales in the last 12 years. The reason for that is that it is not devolved, but it seems that, because it is not devolved, we have opted out of the debate on its future. That has been a mistake.

In terms of S4C itself, I have no problem with the BBC funding it, providing that certain conditions are met-in particular, guarantees on funding and independence. The objective in this, as the BBC trustee for Wales says in theWestern Mail this morning, is to have the best possible service for a Welsh-speaking audience. She says that S4C is not broken, and I agree with her. It is, though, in need of some tender loving care.

What we have laid down in our amendments is what we believe should be the way forward. The first thing is certainty of funding-an issue that is referred to by the BBC trustee for Wales. I take comfort in her assurance that she proposes to set out the level of licence fee funding that could be provided to S4C until the end of the current charter. That sort of stability is much-needed by the channel, and is certainly referred to in amendment 6. Secondly, we need some independence for the channel in the way that it is managed, and that means separating the BBC representatives on the S4C Authority from the BBC Trust and keeping the management board separate from the BBC as well. We also want to improve scrutiny, both of this arrangement and of S4C, and so we believe that it is time that the Assembly had a role in the appointment of the BBC trustee for Wales and the chair of the S4C Authority. We would also like to see more scrutiny of the channel here, with routine interrogation of the annual report by committee, and more proactive involvement of Welsh Ministers in the oversight of the channel. Clearly, there also need to be guarantees as to editorial control and the commissioning of programmes from independent companies. That is why we want the new governance structure enshrined in a new charter. We believe that, with these conditions, the UK Government's proposals can be made to work and will protect the future of S4C. I would ask you therefore to support the amendments that we have tabled.

As an Assembly, we need to start engaging much more with the future of Welsh media. We need to be looking at not just the future of local newspapers, but at how the internet in particular impinges upon the Welsh media and the communications industry. We also need to start tackling the not spots around Wales and ensuring that we have the best possible access to broadband. The future of the media is in the internet and in services delivered through broadband. If we fall behind in the provision of infrastructure, then we will regret it and we will also fall behind in terms of our economic development.