Call for more Welsh news on radio stations serving Wales

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Culture Committee
Radio in Wales (pdf)
Published: 17th December 2018

 

“We believe radio stations broadcasting in Wales should have a distinctly Welsh slant to them. They are still important parts of how people find out what is going on in the world or in their local area, but we want to see new regulations brought in which will help people better understand what is going on in Wales and how it affects their lives.”
– Committee Chair, Bethan Sayed AM (Plaid, South Wales West)

1. Radio is more popular in Wales than the rest of the UK, but commercial revenues are sluggish

Radio remains popular in Wales, with radio reaching 91.3% of the adult population in 2017 – the highest reach of the UK’s nations. People in Wales also listen to the radio longer than the rest of the UK – 22.7 hours a week on average.

While the BBC makes up 48% of listening hours in Wales, the fastest growth has been in UK-wide commercial radio stations (30 in total). 20 Welsh commercial stations made up 23% of listening hours. Commercial radio in Wales is run by just 4 companies: Global, Communicorp, Nation Broadcasting and Wireless Group and commercial revenue is the lowest of the home nations at just £5.96 per head (UK: £6.62).

Sports journalist and Northampton University lecturer, Marc Webber, told the Committee that Global and Communicorp’s monopoly on Welsh commercial radio was holding back development. He cited Northern Ireland, which has 11 local commercial radio stations owned and operated in Northern Ireland.

In terms of the BBC, spend on radio in Wales (Radio Wales, Radio Cymru 1 & 2) was £27.8million in 2017. Ofcom considered the performance of the Welsh stations to be “largely stable”.

2. Commercial radio stations should report Welsh news as a licensing requirement

The UK’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) – which is responsible for radio – plans to deregulate commercial radio. Some of the DCMS’s proposals include relaxing the need for local content and not enhancing any specific obligations to the UK’s nations, instead adopting a whole-UK policy.

Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Wales disagreed with some aspects of the proposals and said it was vital to maintain news and information provision for Wales. They are also pushing for an all-Wales news regulatory requirement that lies in between UK and local news.

While the Committee recommended this approach as part of its conclusions, the Culture Minister, Dafydd Elis-Thomas (Ind, Dwyfor Meironnydd) was accused of being “fatalistic” by suggesting there was nothing the Welsh Government or Senedd could do to influence UK Government policy. He thought it was better to influence them via representation on Ofcom and other regulatory bodies. He rejected devolution of broadcasting.

However, in evidence to the Committee, the BBC said Wales-only news opt-outs were currently technically unfeasible.

3. The Welsh Government should consider a new fund for community radio

There are currently 9 community radio stations in Wales. Community radio stations are run on a not-for-profit basis and must have strict financial controls in space. Between 2008-2014, the Welsh Government provided £100,000-a-year in grant funding to help with administrative and start-up costs, but this was withdrawn.

No community radio stations broadcast in Welsh. The only attempt to do so, Radio Beca, raised £20,000 of a £320,000 target after being awarded a licence by Ofcom, which was withdrawn in 2015. It now runs online.

Witnesses argued for the community radio fund to be brought back, but some also argued for commercial restrictions of community radio to be lifted.

4. A digital radio switchover shouldn’t be considered while Wales lags behind infrastructure-wise

The DCMS has set two criteria to trigger a digital radio (DAB) switchover. Firstly, that 50% of all radio listening is via digital and secondly that digital radio can reach 90% of the population as well as all major roads. The BBC estimated the 50% figure was likely to have been met in the first half of 2018.

The BBC’s Welsh FM radio services (before considering digital) only reach 79% of Wales – though this is expected to increase to 91%. Additional capital funding to broaden the reach of digital radio has been made available by DCMS, but the Committee was concerned that a digital switchover might be considered while digital radio has limited reach in Wales.

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