Concerns over the BBC in both Wales and Scotland


The chair of Welsh Language Channel S4C claims a government power grab for broadcasting …..

Stewart Lochhead reports from the annual Scottish conference of the Voice of the Listeners and Viewers in Edinburgh Friday 5th. November 2010.

Part 1.

The conference was, remarkably, a Unionist free zone in spite of its United Kingdom coverage. We could put that down to the genuine focus on democracy in its mission statement.

The 2010 conference was headlined “Broadcasting in Scotland and Wales” and therefore could easily have been subtitled Broadcasting in Devolution. The opening speaker was John Walter Jones, the Chair of S4C, the Welsh language Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) TV channel.

John highlighted the impact of the acceleration of change (“Major change can occur in only seven minutes now.”) by opening-up to us his recent diary and the effect of the ConDem cuts as realised by announcements from the Department of Culture, Media & Sport (aka DCMS) in particular the new powers vested in the Minister, Mr Jeremy Hunt.

S4C is currently an independent PSB equal in status, if not size, to the BBC in Wales.  It is in fact a potential model for a Scottish broadcasting network.

S4C had anticipated a funding cut of 25% to 40% and were reasonably satisfied with the 27% cut announced. However S4C were astounded to discover that it’s independence is now about to be removed by a “partnership with the BBC”; an unexpected shotgun marriage arranged by DCMS Minister Jeremy Hunt. The Minister in charge of all UK broadcast media, and therefore our democracy, is also about to have new draconian powers over broadcasting which he will be entitled to wield without parliamentary scrutiny.

Before John sat down it was clear that the conference would have been entitled to abandon the rest of the agenda and focus on this threat alone which the Voice of the Listener & Viewer (VLV) exists to counter.

In a first for the Welsh Assembly, all four political parties oppose this “media-grab”. The DCMS did suggest that the BBC and MGA partnership that runs BBC Alba in Scotland was a model for a BBC and S4C partnership structure. BBC executives deny any interest in the partnership.

As John sat down he received an update (more than seven minutes had passed while he spoke) on the S4C/BBC/DCMS position by Blackberry.

The Voice of the Listener & Viewer (VLV) is the premier guardian of consumer & democratic interests in the United Kingdom. It is definitely NOT to be confused with the Mary Whitehouse pro-censorship National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association.

What is VLV?

Voice of The Listener & Viewer represents the citizen and consumer interests in broadcasting, and speaks for listeners and viewers on the full range of broadcasting issues. Described in the press recently as ‘ the most important champion of television and radio consumers by consistently pressing for the retention and extension of high quality public service broadcasting,’ * VLV was founded by Jocelyn Hay CBE in 1983.

VLV is free from political, commercial and sectarian affiliations. It is concerned with the regulation, issues, funding, structures and institutions which underpin the British broadcasting system, and supports the principles of public service broadcasting. VLV does not handle individual complaints.

VLV’s Aims

Voice of the Listener & Viewer’s aims are to:

  • Safeguard the quality, diversity and editorial integrity of broadcast programmes
  • Promote wider choice of high quality programmes
  • Fight undue influence over broadcasting by commercial, political, sectarian or other interests
  • Raise awareness of the crucial role broadcasting plays in democracy and in our national and community life and culture
  • Work to ensure that the opportunities innovation and new digital technologies provide are developed for the benefit of all
  • Promote the potential of broadcasting and digital media to contribute to education in formal institutions and informal settings throughout the lifespan

Further reports from the Voice of the Listener and Viewer conference will reveal the progress of BBC Alba, the complacent view from BBC Scotland at Pacific Quay and the challenge to STV independence from ITV London.  Also the inability of Ofcom to ensure fair Scottish coverage on ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky News.

Blair Jenkins explains that the future of a Scottish Digital Network, although having unanimous Holyrood support, could be compromised by the plans of the UK wide Local TV Review.

The BBC is coming under increasing pressure in both Scotland and Wales.

A Welsh-language pressure group is calling for people to refuse to pay the TV licence fee unless the independence of the Welsh language channel S4C is guaranteed.

Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg [The Welsh Language Society] is urging the action from 1 December over plans for the BBC to take over part-funding of S4C.  The group said it had concerns that the move would jeopardise the channel’s future and that they feared for the Welsh language if control of the channel was handed to London.

In Scotland an online petition set up on the website of campaign group 38 degrees has resulted in it becoming one of the fastest growing petitions ever with 750 people registering their support.  The petition, which has received no publicity, calls for a campaign in order to address what many people believe to be serious shortcomings in the political news output at BBC Scotland.

Organisers of the 38 degrees group are believed to be considering whether to mount a campaign based on the petition.

Earlier this month Newsnet Scotland carried an article on the BBC’s coverage of the Scottish political scene.  You can read the article here