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Wales’ media in a world of information chaos

05 Apr, 2018

The mission of GlobalWelsh is to “build a global community with Wales at its heart”. This doesn’t just involve the passionate people who want to connect with their fellow Welshmen and women around the world. We also need to take into account how we approach business, innovation and science, to stay competitive on the world stage.

But one of the most important dimensions to consider not only for GlobalWelsh’ ambitions but for the future of our country, is our media industry. Wales has a proud history in traditional broadcasting and journalism. Some of the most historic Welsh journalists include newspaper editor and executive Hugh Cudlipp, and Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, a prominent war correspondent and one of the founders of what would become ITV Wales. Today, figures such as Huw Edwards and Sian Williams in London’s media organisations demonstrate the talent we have still have in these traditional forms of media.

Welsh media - clickbait heaven? 

However, it appears that our media industry in Wales is in decline. All one has to do is look at the trend of closing local newspapers, a shift to media based in Cardiff-centric newsrooms, and an obsession with “sexy” or “clickbait” journalism to generate much-needed revenue in an extremely challenging financial time for media. Of course, it’s not limited to newspapers: our broadcasters in Wales appear to not draw in substantial amounts of viewers for current affairs and news programmes, which is necessary for political scrutiny and a healthy democracy.

I am certainly not trying to talk Wales and its many hard-working and skilled journalists down; scrutinising our media landscape is necessary for us to find ways to improve it, after all. But the media in Wales needs a shift in direction and an injection of intensity (and investment) to become a stronghold for news once more. Wales has admittedly made great strides in improving its offering for more entertainment-focused production companies, as well as creating digital hubs in the country.

Cardiff Bay is awash with excellent production companies producing top-quality content, while new funding was announced for technological hubs only last year in the capital. Wales is a place where students want to go and learn the trade of journalism at the Cardiff School of Journalism - and of course, there are Welsh Assembly committees and organisations such as the Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA) that scrutinise and draw their own conclusions as to how we could improve media in Wales.

But this doesn’t always mean things do change, and maybe they don’t happen often enough for media executives in London and Cardiff to take them seriously.

Broadcasting bodies continue to face a decline in funding. But this doesn’t excuse the lack of political programmes from broadcasters on radio and television.

Take the kinds of shows on offer…or not, as the case may be. The Wales Report, the country’s most prominent political programme, was scrapped last year by the BBC. ITV, which has been criticised for its broadcasting in Wales, also stopped broadcasting Welsh-language young people’s discussion show Hacio. ITV’s Sharp End still sticks around, but with an extremely late broadcast slot and a bit of a tired structure – not much of an alternative to shows broadcast from Westminster!

The solution to improving the media scene should not simply be limited to arguing for the devolution of broadcasting. There are still questions over whether we could resolve our funding issues through bringing powers to Cardiff Bay. There needs to be a broader, more national reconsideration of what Welsh journalists should be doing. For me, this meant establishing my own media society at Oxford, to stimulate debate and engage students, academics, media experts and the wider public in ideas about the future of media.

The future is...bright

It is strange that we do not sit down more often to talk about the media industry and its problems. And that’s what has attracted so many people to support Oxford University's new Media Society. Alan Rusbridger, former editor of The Guardian, is the society’s Senior Member, and many patrons have wanted to support our mission – such as Lord Patten of Barnes, Lord Grade of Yarmouth, Lord Evans of Watford, Christina Lamb, Roger Mosey, Nicholas Coleridge, Zeinab Badawi, and Gyles Brandreth.

We consistently welcome new media experts such as Dara Nasr, Managing Director of Twitter UK - as well as pioneering journalists such as Jon Snow. But we have so much to contribute in Wales, so I also wanted to welcome Welsh speakers such as Rhodri Talfan Davies, director of BBC Wales, to discuss some of the issues facing regional UK broadcasters.

The Oxford University Media Society wants to play some role in becoming a forum for media engagement. But that isn’t enough to change what we have in Wales.

The problems facing Wales are complex. They are financial, historic and political - but it’s vital that Wales has more rigorous news and current affairs programming to ensure we can process key policy decisions and changes in the way we communicate our information. I should add that it can’t all be blamed on us.

The Westminster-centric media bubble often overlooks issues relating to Wales, such as the fracas surrounding Newsnight's coverage over debates surrounding Welsh language policy or the fact that many national newspaper outlets do not have a “Welsh editor” (there are many Scotland, Northern Ireland editors to be found), which means there’s a lack of knowledge from big companies on what’s going on in our country.

What is certain in this difficult and strange period is that to be a truly “global” movement, we better communicate information within Wales, to the rest of the UK - and to the world.

For me, if journalists want to be effective and engage the Welsh public in our democratic process, we need to rethink how Welsh media is organised. Consultations and committees are not the only answer. We need to increase the amount of power in the hands of driven and talented young people, to shape the future of the media.

We can and we are so much better than what we’re projecting at the moment…but some of us (the GlobalWelsh community included) are out to change that.

 Theo Davies-Lewis is a second-year student at the University of Oxford, originally from Llanelli. He is President of the Oxford University Media Society and his personal blog can be found here

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