The media in Wales is not in good shape. After spending most of my adult life in the media I feel qualified to say so.
The present row over whether a senior BBC executive did, or did not, give reassurances that their Welsh headquarters would move to Cardiff bay, and a £10 million road was then built in anticipation, hides the real issue.
It cannot be right that Wales is dominated by two giant broadcast organisations, and one huge print company which runs the morning papers in the north and the south of the country (with the one in the north based in England).
All credit must go to digital broadcast companies and weekly, as well as free newspapers, for becoming part of the mix, but they still have not broken the strangle-hold of the BBC and ITV in broadcasting and Trinity Mirror in papers. Indeed many of the weekly papers in Wales, which do a sterling job, are also owned by Trinity Mirror. This cannot be good for a thriving, accountable, democracy.
Allied with this question of ownership is the issue of how the news is presented.
In local newspapers there has been a slight upturn in profits recently, largely due to their online offerings, but life-style features still abound because these are perceived as more profitable.
When I started at the South Wales Echo in the early ‘80s there were dedicated reporters assigned to magistrates courts, crown courts and industrial tribunals. They were the same people day in day out, who were well known by the clerks and lawyers, so they were aware when important cases were about to come up, and they could tell the news desk. The stories these people produced sold newspapers, but also served an important function in holding people to account.
This is not the case any more.
A freelance journalist told me recently if he had a choice of whether to send one of his reporters or photographers to sit outside Charlotte Church’s house or go to cover magistrates’ court, there would be no contest. Charlotte Church’s house would win every time – because that is the story London-based papers would pay for.
Digital technology is wonderful and allows almost anyone to present news in their area. But it cannot be viewed as a substitute.The ability to see what is an important fact and what is not, is, actually, very important and only comes with training and practice.
I once asked an older journalist what one word would best describe a good reporter, thinking he would say “integrity” or “honesty”. He said simply: “experience.”
As for ensuring factual accuracy and legal safety, don’t get me started.
So-called reports are posted on social media sites without any thought of the consequences. The truth is that a comment on Twitter is exactly the same, legally, as a piece on WalesToday or an article in The Western Mail. The laws of libel still apply.
Broadly if it can be established a story has a) been published to a third party b) identifies a person and c) defames that person’s reputation, then you need to be very sure of your facts, before saying anything. Journalists undergo years of rigorous training in libel laws before they are let loose on the public. But in social media like Twitter, people appear to believe different values apply.
On Wales Eye recently we ran a story about a BBC broadcaster who had tweeted:
“So much for the BBC – ‘Our nation’ are playing in the world cup ey?”
A tweet which flies in the face of the corporation’s strict rules on impartiality.
We were accused of “bullying” a young journalist by a BBC employee within the corporation’s new media section, when the story actually centred on how guidelines had been repeatedly tightened up but consistently ignored.
I still remember the mantra of my journalist tutor: “check, check, check.” Frankly, with social media, this all too often does not happen.
Incidentally it is an intriguing insight into social media, and perhaps British society overall, that a Twitter account called Stuff on my rabbit which is devoted to pictures of different objects balanced on the head of the author’s pet, gets 14,000 followers while a news feed like ours gets 1,100. New technology should not necessarily be seen as a panacea
A juicy magistrates court case sells newspapers, as well as fulfilling a very important role. The film industry in Wales is little better.
It is viewed, rightly, by policy-makers as a central support for the economy of Wales and is worth millions of pounds. But only a few days ago it was revealed that vast sums of money have been spent in post- production, in England by companies making ‘Welsh’ films. The huge new film studios to be built near Cardiff will involve £30 million in public money while the company lured to take part, will put in £800,000 for equipment.
The Film Agency for Wales aims to: “facilitate the emergence of a viable and sustainable Welsh film industry and to promote a vibrant and dynamic film culture”.
But is this really the way to do it?
It must surely come down to finding and supporting ALL home-grown talent – just as covering apparently tedious cases in the local magistrates court is vital.
Local may seem boring and parochial but it is very important.