10 August 2016
Article by Madelaine Phillips, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
Does Wales Need a Welsh Six News Programme?
Last week the Westminster Culture, Media and Sport Committee published a report, “BBC White paper and Related Issues” (PDF, 346KB). This report found that the current news programming in Scotland was unsatisfactory and recommended the establishment of a Scottish 6 O’Clock News (“Scottish Six”). Since its publication there have been calls to pursue a similar model in Wales in order to address the problem of the under-representation of Welsh issues in the media. Damian Collins MP, chair of the CMS Committee has said that the Committee will consider the case for a “Welsh Six”.
The committee raised concerns about how the BBC currently reports news, with an anchor in London discussing UK and international issues followed by an anchor in Glasgow covering Scottish issues. The committee considered that:
in the post-devolution era, this can lead to network news programmes transmitted from London leading on several purely English stories—for instance on health, justice or education—which have no bearing on Scotland.
The concept of a Scottish Six was offered by the Scottish Government’s policy paper on the BBC Charter Inquiry (PDF, 888KB) as one way of improving the coverage of the Scottish perspective in news in Scotland. However, the report acknowledged that this would not be sufficient to address the low satisfaction rate with the news provision within Scotland, which is just below 50%.
The BBC told the Westminster CMS committee that they acknowledged the level of dissatisfaction with the current format and were testing three options:
- A “slightly tweaked version of the current programme”;
- A programme which is “anchored in Scotland, with a running order of Scottish, UK and international stories based on news merit, drawing on all the BBC’s facilities and broadcast from Scotland”;
- A hybrid with two studios in operation, with a Scottish studio and presenter introducing Scottish items with a cut back to a London based studio for UK and international news.
The CMS Committee report recommended that the second option was the most viable and that a Scottish running order could be easily accommodated within the BBC News organisation. Pilots have been produced and the intention is that the hour long programme and could replace the Six O’Clock News.
BBC representatives informed the committee that further pilots were to be recorded after the summer, and that a decision would be reached by the end of the year.
News in Wales
Since the report there have been calls that a similar proposal for Wales was also needed, considering the similar problems of under-representation of Welsh issues in the media.
Weaknesses in BBC news provision in Wales were raised during the Fourth Assembly’s Communities, Equality and Culture Committee’s Inquiry into BBC Charter Review, although the establishment of a “Welsh Six” was not explicitly discussed.
In her evidence to the Committee, former Presiding Officer Dame Rosemary Butler was critical of the BBC’s coverage of Welsh political life, stating:;
BBC often ignore Wales all together or mislead viewers by reporting policy developments in devolved areas such as health and education in England as though it applies to Wales when the government here pursues a very different direction.
The Committee’s report also highlighted the lack of plurality within the Welsh media, which means that the Welsh public are more dependent on the BBC’s news provision than are other areas of the UK
The Welsh Government also submitted a response to the UK Government’s public consultation on the BBC Charter Review, which expressed similar concerns.
Wales has limited news coverage and too few voices, leaving most people dependent on UK news outlets that lack coverage of Wales. Although there is evidence that there have been improvements in the coverage of devolved political issues in Wales since the King Report, there is still room for improvement. The news media provide insufficient or inadequate coverage of Welsh issues and events.
The Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee which was formed at the beginning of the Fifth Assembly is currently considering topics for its future work programme. The potential of a Welsh Six news programme may be something the Committee wishes to consider as part of its work looking at the media in Wales.