Ahir briefed to tackle voter apathy in Wales

Ashok Ahir has been appointed BBC managing editor of political programmes in Wales with a brief to tackle voter apathy before next year’s National Assembly elections.

His appointment follows the extension of a review of the BBC’s political coverage by former Newsnight editor Sian Kevill, is researching ways of boosting interest among viewers.

News chiefs in Wales and Scotland will be discussing new approaches to political programming ahead of the National Assembly elections in Wales and parliamentary elections in Scotland. Ideas that are a success will be fed back to the BBC in London and could be picked up for the next General Election.

After last year’s General Election when six in 10 of the electorate turned out to vote, Ahir said: "Here in Wales we have a great challenge on our hands."

"Between now and the next National Assembly elections in May, we’ve got to play our part in re-engaging the electorate in the political process," he said. "The media, and that includes the newspapers as well, seems to have lost touch with people in Wales."

Ideas that have been floated so far include the use of video phones to allow families to contribute to programmes, improving online output and a less highbrow approach to politics along the lines of Radio Five Live’s Sunday Service programme.

"I think we could inject a bit of humour and satire, something we seem to have lost in our programmes, and we don’t have to be quite so reverential," said Ahir. "The kind of language we use, the kinds of people we interview, the pictures we use to illustrate stories, all of these have to be reassessed if we’re to overcome apathy towards politics."

No new programmes are planned, but Ahir said ideas would be tried out on existing TV and radio shows, including Dragons Eye, Assembly Live, Manifesto and Dau O’r Bae.

Ahir added that he hoped he would be able to encourage journalists to take a fresh approach to covering stories that would appeal to younger audiences. "I don’t think it’s the case that young people aren’t interested in politics, it’s just that they aren’t necessarily interested in the shenanigans of Westminster and the Assembly."

Political coverage should follow the same principle of telling "compelling, relevant stories", he said.

"Young people in particular turned off at the last General Election and we have to examine ways of tailoring our programmes and coverage to their needs," said Ahir. "We have to report politics in a way that makes it an interesting story rather than an interesting political story."

Ahir started his career on BBC Wales’s flagship news programme Wales Today, where he worked as assistant news editor and senior broadcast journalist. He also worked for the BBC in London, where he was a senior journalist on the Six O’clock News and he was output editor on London and the South East’s regional news programmes.

By Julie Tomlin

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