On Wednesday of this week, the Assembly Government* will give its response to Ofcom's public service investigations and the BBC Trust's plans for delivery of local content.
Reasons to be cheerful? I'm told there won't be many.
Among the problems facing broadcasting in Wales:
:: Uncertainty over the future of ITV Wales news programming.
:: Cancellation of BBC Local plans to produce online video content for local communities.
:: Expansion of news hubs in commercial radio.
:: The take-over of IRN by Sky News Radio.
:: Brain-drain of talent from low-paid jobs in Wales to marginally better-off positions in England.
ITV is an ongoing concern, though things do appear to have settled down now with no major announcements expected this side of 2009.
The BBC Local plans are a blow specifically to Wales - I've mentioned why on my technology blog.
Hubs are great for cash-conscious commercial stations, but can mean bad news (literally) for listeners. Hubs mean a small team of journalists are writing and reading the news from outside the area where their bulletins are being broadcast. In Wales, the biggest operation of this kind takes place on the Neath Abbey Industrial Estate, where news bulletins are written and broadcast for radio stations owned by Town and Country Broadcasting. They are:
- Swansea Bay Radio
- Radio Carmarthenshire
- Bridge FM (Bridgend)
- Nation Radio (south Wales)
and also provide material in part to Scarlet FM in Llanelli and Radio Pembrokeshire.
There were two staff in the Neath news hub at the last count, with the team recently reduced from 5 or 6 full-time journalists to cut costs.
IRN's take-over is also likely to affect the quality of reporting. IRN is the radio wing of ITN, who produce TV news for ITV and Channel 4. IRN provides scripts and clips to UK commercial radio stations, including the vast majority in Wales.
Until recently, Sky News Radio was a smaller competitor. But SNR has launched a successful take-over bid for IRN. The impact for Wales? IRN could always draw on its Welsh news sources (i.e. ITV Wales) for audio and story information. Sky News have no reporters in Wales. At all.
Logically, this will impact on its ability to cover Welsh affairs with any credibility.
So why don't the commercial radio stations in Wales research their own Welsh news? When there are two or (if you're lucky) three of you in a local newsroom, researching anything out of your patch in any depth requires time that you just don't have.
Post-devolution, there should be an IRN-style service just for Wales. In the past, the BBC has flirted with the idea of providing its own script and audio service (called GNS) to Wales's community radio stations, but eventually decided against it.
It's a question of costs. The commercial radio sector won't fund an IRN for Wales. Can the Assembly Government really afford for commercial Welsh news services to go down the pan?
*UPDATE Wednesday PM: It was actually the Assembly Government-appointed Broadcasting Advisory Group which presented its response to the current broadcasting climate in Wales.
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