Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 335 - 339)

TUESDAY 6 MARCH 2001

MR ROGER JONES OBE, MS MENNA RICHARDS AND MR MICHAEL HASTINGS

Chairman

  335. Good morning and welcome. Before we start, I would like to apologise on behalf of the Committee for the two postponements you have already had to put up with. It is very good of you to be so patient. Could you begin by introducing your team?

  (Mr Jones) Yes, of course. Menna Richards is Controller, BBC Wales. Michael Hastings is responsible for public affairs here in London. Manon Williams is the Secretary of the BBC in Wales. Could I start off by saying that we were slightly disappointed. I thought that we might have been the first group to give evidence in Welsh or have the ability to give evidence in Welsh. Unfortunately, we understand the regulations did not change fast enough. However, we share this problem with you, sir.

  336. Thank you very much. The fact is that the regulations were changed last night on the day of the St David's Day debate, which is highly appropriate but not quick enough for our session. We do share your disappointment. Could you describe how BBC Wales fits into the overall BBC structure and give an indication of the degree of independence that the BBC in London gives you?
  (Mr Jones) Chairman, I would like to start off by answering that question. Things have changed. I think I am now referring to the situation as is and perhaps as will be in the future. I feel that with devolution BBC Wales has achieved much more independence. We are an integral part of the BBC but now decisions on how funding shall be spent in Wales are very much with the Controller, Menna Richards. As ever, we are dependent on getting commissions for programmes from central funds in London and for this we compete for programme time, for network time, with all the other production areas within the BBC. The signs are that we are increasingly successful in doing this.
  (Ms Richards) I think it is worth pointing out that the new Director General, Greg Dyke, has made it clear on many occasions that he believes, and certainly he said this for the first time at the McTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh Festival last August, that the BBC had been for too long a very London-centric organisation and he felt it was no longer in keeping with the times. Therefore, in giving more power to the nations and regions within the BBC, BBC Wales is part of the Nations and Regions Division, and that is Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the English regions. The Director of that division reports directly to Greg Dyke. Just before Christmas the Board of Governors agreed to give BBC Wales additional funding, a total of £11 million additional investment per year, in order to increase and strengthen our programme output in Wales. The decisions about how that investment would be spent will be made, as Roger suggested, by us. So I think that it is very clear that there is a view in the BBC that the nations must take much greater control of their own decision-making process.
  (Mr Hastings) There is an additional point. Under the previous Director General, it might be fair to say that the BBC viewed devolution primarily as a political process and, as time has passed over the course of the last two years and looking to the future, we realise that devolution is not purely and solely a political process. It is also about the identity and culture of nations and how the nations fit together into the United Kingdom as a whole. Part of the devolution of spending responsibility across the BBC and the authority of each Controller within their distinctive nation is to underline that authority and that responsibility and to allow the culture of each nation to flourish and for the BBC to reflect that culture, as well as the political dynamic.

Mr Caton

  337. I want to ask you about promoting Wales abroad in a second. Following on from those questions, do you, Mr Jones and Mr Hastings, look at what is happening to British broadcasting more generally and how that might affect the perception of Wales here in the UK? I am thinking particularly of "Room 101" the other evening when Anne Robinson made extremely derogatory comments about the Welsh nation, not as far as I could see at all humorous. If that had been about an ethnic minority, then presumably the BBC would never have broadcast it. Do you have a role, Mr Jones, if you like in pulling up the Corporation on things like that?
  (Mr Jones) Very much so and one of the important roles of national Governors is to keep an eye open for these things and take them straight to the Secretary's office and ask for comments when adverse criticisms of this kind are actually made. That is one that had been drawn to my attention.

Mr Ruane

  338. I share Martin Caton's concern there. If those comments had been about black people, Irish people or Pakistani people they would have been seen as overtly racist and yet Anne Robinson can make a comment like that, supposedly as a BBC professional person, and get away with it. This Committee has been looking at the image of Wales. We need icons in Wales to show around the world and indeed within the UK and within Wales. That becomes more difficult for us if we are stereotyped and caricatured in this way by people who should know better. Will you be calling for her resignation concerning "Room 101"?
  (Mr Jones) I understand Anne Robinson has other plans anyway. I do not know if it is a matter for resignation. One comment: I have not heard the word "welsh" or "to welsh" as a verb on the BBC during the time that I have been National Governor. I think everybody is looking out for that one. It is simply verboten.

  339. If she had said she wanted to put black people in "Room 101", would you be calling for her resignation?
  (Mr Jones) Resignation is a difficult one. These people are artistes, they are performers; they are not commentators. This is to do with laws of contract and in what sort of programmes they will be asked to take part in the future. I do not see it as being about resignation.


 
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