The Heritage Minister, Alun Ffred Jones, yesterday outlined the response of the Welsh Assembly Government to Phase 2 of OFCOM’s review of Public Service Broadcasting as set out in the consultation document published in September 2008.
The response outlines the need for OFCOM and the UK Government to provide a financial incentive to ensure the continued provision of Welsh news and current affairs on ITV1.
The Welsh Assembly Government supports the proposals made by its Advisory Group on Broadcasting that any such financial support should be directed via a commissioning organisation based in Wales and funded by the UK Government.
The Heritage Minister also endorsed the Advisory Group’s view that Welsh viewers should also be able to continue to enjoy a wide range of English Language non news programming in Wales including drama and comedy.
Ministers have supported the recommendation that a mechanism is required to ensure that this range of programmes is maintained. It also agrees that consideration needs to be given to creating a separate channel and is urging OFCOM to ensure the availability of digital capacity.
The expert advisory group was established in October 2008 to advise the Welsh Assembly Government on the development of English language television services in Wales. Its members are Huw Jones (Chair), Julie Barton, Geraint Talfan Davies, and Professor Kevin Morgan.
The main recommendations of the group are that:
- ITV continues to offer the best opportunity for achieving maximum audience impact outside the BBC for both news and non-news programming and means should be sought to facilitate the preservation of the Wales opt-out slots, which should be publicly funded and provided by a third party.
- A Wales Media Commission should be established as soon as possible. Its form, remit and funding should be confirmed in legislation, in order for it to be able to act and commission independently of government. Its method of operation should be one of inviting competitive tenders for a small number of substantial medium-term contracts of, say, 3-4 years’ duration.
- The Commission would specifically address the need to retain flexibility, without regular recourse to legislation, to respond to changing technology, market conditions and patterns of consumer consumption. Its compass would extend across all media, including radio.
- Spectrum capacity should be secured to allow for the option of establishing a separate English-language channel.
- The BBC’s commitment to deliver 17% of network programming from the nations by 2016 should be brought forward to 2012.
- There is no reason why C4, as a not for profit public service broadcaster, should not be subject to the same target as the BBC, although its current low base will make a 2016 target reasonable. The proposal made by Ofcom that C4’s target for production in the three nations should be 3% of network spend is unacceptable.
Both the Advisory Group and the Welsh Assembly Government have stressed that the development of English language television services needs to be seen alongside and in addition to continued public provision in support of S4C.
The recommendations of the group have been accepted by the Welsh Assembly Government and have informed the response to Ofcom.
Heritage Minister, Alun Ffred Jones, said:
I’d like to thank the group for their work and I welcome and warmly endorse the Advisory Group’s report. We believe that its conclusions provide a compelling rationale for maintaining and strengthening English language PSB in Wales. The report informs the Welsh Assembly Government’s response to Phase 2 of Ofcom’s review of Public Service Broadcasting and is also a solid foundation on which to base policy in this area moving forward.