New channel needed to protect Welsh news, report finds

A new English-language TV channel for Wales should be set up to protect regional news and public service broadcasting, according to a group of advisers to the Assembly Government.

The Broadcasting Advisory Group has warned in a report to heritage minister Alun Ffred Jones that the Welsh media faces a serious situation and risked losing its voice at a time when ITV is cutting back on regional news.

The group concluded that an English-language answer to S4C would put the needs of Welsh viewers first by giving peak-time slots to programmes about Wales.

It said the nation was on course to become a “passive consumer of content created by others rather than having a strong voice of its own”.

“While media outlets proliferate, those involving material originating in Wales contract and media consumption in Wales is dominated by material from outside,’the report said.

The group said cutbacks to ITV would compound the decline of local newspapers, the weakness of commercial radio and the scarce Welsh presence on UK television networks.

It added that news and current affairs on ITV Wales must be preserved and given better resources.

“Plurality in the provision of news is essential to avoid a near-exclusivity of reporting of Wales by the BBC, and in order to access different audiences,’the report said.

The panel, chaired by former S4C chief executive Huw Jones, said a “Wales Media Commission” should be established to invite bids for broadcasting contracts, for example to make evening news programmes.

The proposed English-language channel could be supported by the BBC or S4C through sharing operations such as transmission, engineering and marketing.

The report acknowledges big challenges facing such a venture, comparing it to setting up S4C, BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru.

A cross-party report by Assembly members warned in July that Wales was in danger of becoming an “invisible nation” on British TV screens.

In September, broadcasting regulator Ofcom proposed cutting ITV Wales’s public service obligations because of an advertising slowdown.

Jones said: “We believe that the report’s conclusions provide a compelling rationale for maintaining and strengthening English language public service broadcasting in Wales.

“The report informs the Welsh Assembly Government’s response to phase two of Ofcom’s review of public service broadcasting and is also a solid foundation on which to base policy in this area moving forward.”

Meanwhile, the Scottish parliament is due to debate the future of public service broadcasting later today amid fears that Scottish news and current affairs could be damaged amid growing competition for funds.

A Tory-led debate will raise concerns over the future of commercial television, particularly STV.

Ted Brocklebank MSP warned that Scotland’s interests could be damaged if ITV chief executive Michael Grade acquires a single UK licence and ditches public service commitments.

Speaking before the debate, the Conservative said: “Michael Grade is arguing that ITV subsidises the three independent licences to the tune of £25m a year – a charge STV refutes – but there are understandable fears that a nationwide ITV could actually compete head to head with STV in Scotland.

“So, in the turbulent, ever-changing world of broadcasting should we care if our main commercial channel goes to the wall? I believe this Parliament should be extremely concerned.”

The debate comes on the final date for submissions to broadcasting regulator Ofcom’s review on preparing for “the digital future”.

Tories will make the case for a “healthy, competitive” Scottish service alongside the BBC.

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