Wales has always been ignored by British media. A shadow of England, not as exciting as Scotland and not as politically unstable as Northern Ireland, Welsh news is rarely broadcast on national UK platforms.
Even the establishment of the Welsh-language television channel, S4C, was not something that appealed to the political class in London. While the Conservatives and Labour promised to implement one in the run up to the 1979 General Election, the new Home Secretary William Whitelaw decided against a Welsh channel, and suggested that, except for an occasional opt-out, the service should be the same as that offered in the rest of the UK. It took the former president of Plaid Cymru, Gwynfor Evans, threatening to go on hunger strike in 1980 if Margaret Thatcher’s government did not honour its commitment to provide a Welsh-language TV service.
However, it’s not only Welsh news that is few and far between. There are still funding issues behind S4C and BBC Wales. Only this week we have seen how a creative industries development in Carmarthen which includes the new headquarters of S4C should ‘not receive public money’. It’s quite surprising if you consider the programmes produced in Wales: Sherlock, Doctor Who and Casualty to name a few. Yet, the issue is not restricted to broadcasters, as newspaper sales in Wales have decreased over a number of years. Wales’ national newspaper, the Western Mail, had a circulation of 19,910 in January 2015 – a fall of 14.2% on the same time last year. This is arguably down to the dominance of London-based print outlets, which are more appealing to readers.
Only recently, there have been some developments in ensuring that Welsh news is widespread on nationwide radio and television stations. After all, the Welsh Assembly culture committee suggested that Welsh listeners to BBC Radio 1 and 2 should hear news bulletins about Wales at certain times of the day. Chairwoman Bethan Jenkins is right when she says said it would “better reflect Welsh life”, as well as how there should be an extra £30m to be spent each year on BBC English-language drama and broadcasting about Wales. Thus, it seems to be the case that even though Wales can make shows, there needs to be more about Wales in British media.
But why should we broadcast news about Wales? One could point out, as some critics have, that ‘nothing happens in Wales’. After all, in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon’s political ambitions are a source of interest and of paramount importance to the rest of the UK, while the recent political crisis in Northern Ireland also has ramifications for other regions of the country. As well as this, Brexit continues to dominate the agenda in the media – meaning that some people don’t have time for any other form of news. Yet, Wales is full of news that is relevant to the UK as a whole. Take the success of Wales during Euro 2016 as an example: not only was Wales the last home nation left in the competition, but the story of this team reaching a major tournament after over fifty years in the footballing wilderness was a story like no other. Of course, this was covered by major media outlets, but it’s almost as if that has been forgotten in recent months. All you have to do is tune into Sky Sports’ coverage of any championship qualifier, where England and Scotland will be a higher priority on the main channels – even though Wales is ranked higher in the FIFA rakings than any other home nation. As well as this, one only has to look at the recent national steel crisis as to why Welsh news is vital to British broadcasting. There are several TATA steel plants in the UK, and the possibility of plants such as the one in Port Talbot in South Wales closing would have had a disastrous impact on the UK economy. In addition, while there is great attention paid to the NHS crisis in England, the disastrous record of the Welsh Labour government on health is rarely discussed on political shows and news bulletins. You can also consider that other nations, and even regions in the UK, have more coverage in the national press compared to Wales. Also, while some are quick to criticise the SNP’s policies on education, the fact that Wales achieved the lowest PISA test scores in the UK was even more breath-taking. Wales’ science performance was roughly the same as that of Spain’s Balearic Islands, while its performance in reading is similar to that of pupils in Dubai or Buenos Aires in Argentina. In maths, Welsh pupils’ score is closest to that of their Lithuanian contemporaries. Considering that education is devolved to the Welsh government, if this news was broadcast nationwide it could have sparked debate over whether devolution was working not only in Wales, but in other nations too.
Consequently, Welsh news is not only interesting, but has to the UK as a whole. So, it wouldn’t be that Welsh news should be broadcast purely for the satisfaction of Welsh listeners, but it could also diversify the news that is received by people across the UK, whilst also being relevant to their lives. In Oxford, perhaps the biggest bubble of anglicised and traditional Westminster-style news, it is hard to maintain links with Wales. While much news and current affairs is moving online, traditional news broadcasts are essential to inform millions of people, particularly the older generations. Wales must be included by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and other media outlets, as Welsh news is interesting, relevant and important to national debates in politics, economics and sport.