A radical rethink of the media in Wales was called for by speakers at a meeting in Cardiff organised by the Institute for Welsh Affairs and the National Union of Journalists. There was a call for the establishment of a Wales Trust Fund to redistribute public funding – and for the rebuilding of local media from the grassroots up.
There was an interesting contrast of views from Martin Shipton of the NUJ, who’s chief reporter at the Western Mail, and Sue Balsom, former member of the Ofcom content board. Shipton warned against ‘glib talk’ of ‘citizen journalism’ as a substitute for well-funded professional investigation and reporting. While the old business model of newspapers may no longer be viable, he doubted whether it was realistic or desirable for ‘civil society’ initiatives to fund alternative media.
Sue Balsom asked whether the BBC had made the best use of its funding in recent years to bolster the ‘civil society’ content of its output (what we used to call public service broadcasting). Looking beyond the publicly-funded BBC, she asked whether anyone had quantified the other public money spent on media in Wales (council freesheets, Senedd TV, magazines like Golwg and Planet, community radio etc.). Her point was that although broadcasting is not devolved, a substantial amount of Welsh Assembly Government controlled funding is spent on media activities. ‘Is there a case for a Wales Trust Fund (to decide on the best use of this money), which could be a cultural powerhouse?’
It was interesting, in view of the new Government’s rejection of the proposed Independently-Funded News Consortia for ITV, that Sue Balsom made no mention of the Culture Secretary’s favoured alternative of local TV. But she did see the current crisis at S4C as an opportunity to review the whole provision of programming and publishing in Welsh.
Dylan Iorwerth, editor of Golwg (which publishes an extensive web service as well as a current affairs magazine) called for a return to the community roots of news media. Can the web offer viable platforms for local communities and local businesses? While many global media would like to brand themselves with a local flavour, their offering is no more local than a Tesco store is a ‘local’ shop.
He told the story of an old woman from Horeb in Carmarthenshire who made her living out of news in a time and place without media as we know them. She would walk from farm to farm, picking up the news from one family and carrying it to the next, where she’d be paid a penny for her work. If local people want local news today, is there a way the web can be used to make it pay?
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