Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340 - 359)

TUESDAY 6 MARCH 2001

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

Mrs Williams

  340. May I add on that point that you have explained your position as Governor but Anne Robinson's comment created a lot of unpleasantness and dissatisfaction in Wales. Have you done anything about it yet yourself?
  (Mr Jones) Yes, I have.

  341. Can you tell us what?
  (Mr Jones) I have brought it to the attention of the Secretary and asked for comments and whether it was considered by the producers.
  (Mr Hastings) I did not see the particular episode you were referring to but I can respond to the sensitivity of what you are saying, given the ethnic connection as well. I have just two comments to make which might be helpful. The first one is that we undertook a very important and I think successful sensitivity programme in 1999 about devolution, which covered every producer, every reporter and every person, with a significant staff, camera and microphone presence. Across the BBC staff were not just encouraged but they were mandated to understand the distinctiveness that devolution would bring to bear across the language that ought to be displayed on all BBC services—radio, television and on-line. That programme has been very successful. There is a new awareness and understanding. I would suggest that if you wish—and Roger Jones has already indicated that he has raised the issue in the Secretary's office—members of this Committee could quite independently raise that as a complaint with the BBC. That would then require it to be investigated properly and judicial process would be given to it.
  (Mr Jones) One further point is that Jeremy Clarkson also made some unfortunate comments and the Broadcasting Council has asked me to take those up with particular reference to those comments.

Ms Morgan

  342. Just to pursue that, when you say that you reported it to the Secretary's office, what is the normal process that will happen after that?
  (Mr Jones) They will view the tapes and look at the comments and then take it up with the producers.

Mrs Williams

  343. I think it would be helpful for the Committee if we could be told what response you do receive to your complaints.
  (Mr Jones) I will make a point of that and let you know.

  Chairman: Thank you very much for that. That is appropriate.

Mr Caton

  344. As Mr Ruane has just mentioned, a number of organisations from which we have already taken evidence suggested that the overseas perception of Wales is often distorted, stereotyped and out of date and in many cases people in other countries are unaware of Wales's existence or believe it to be part of England. Do you agree with that and, if so, what is to be done about it?
  (Mr Jones) Clearly I do not think anybody could say that for people living in the UK that is an issue. Outside the UK, particularly in North America, people simply do not know about the existence of Wales. There is the old cliché about a radio station in Chicago stating that St David was the patron saint of whales and dolphins and other sea creatures! We have that problem in North America. It is a long process to actually try and take that one through.
  (Ms Richards) It is a source of great irritation to me that people still do not understand that more people are employed in broadcasting in Wales in the coal industry. That stereotypical perception still persists. I think, as far as the BBC is concerned, there are a number of issues that we should already be addressing and continue to address here. That is partly the way in which our programmes are broadcast and exploited and sold outside Wales, whether it is to the BBC networks or internationally. One development of which we are particularly proud is that of Cymru'r Byd, which I am sure some of you will be familiar with, which is the first Welsh language, on-line newspaper. It roughly translates as "BBC Wales across the world". This is a rolling news service but it also has features, magazine items and output with regular columnists and so on. Of course, because it is available on the net, this is accessible across the world. We have had some very interesting responses from Welsh people and non-Welsh people throughout the world to that service. We are particularly pleased that—I think we quoted some figures in our memorandum to you—the latest figures show that we are now getting 50,000 page impressions a week on Cymru'r Byd and a total of two and a quarter million page impressions since the launch last year. That is a very tangible way of giving people outside Wales a sense of what is happening in Wales.

Mr Caton

  345. At the moment we have a considerable range of first class, international celebrities that hail from Wales. Do you think that they have a role in promoting our country?
  (Mr Jones) I do, and clearly that applies to the big film stars. The danger is, of course, that while they were living in Wales and Wales is such a great place, they probably had to leave Wales in order to make it in the first place. It is a two-edged sword. Providing we can get—dare I use the words—the positive spin onto that, then much can be done. People attach importance to origins and this could reflect very well on Wales, provided that we can deal with the downside of that.

  346. How can we encourage them? You work with these people on a fairly regular basis. How can they be encouraged to promote Wales?
  (Mr Jones) I think various charities in Wales are constantly beating on their doors, trying to associate them with things that are happening in Wales. It is a question of dealing with their hearts and minds. Perhaps Menna, who has more direct contact with celebrities, could help me here.
  (Ms Richards) I think many of them do and they are already involved in programmes within the BBC and elsewhere. For us it is a case not only of exploiting those Welsh celebrities who are happy to work with us and to undertake this kind of promotion, but of developing a new generation of celebrities, to identify talent at an early stage and to work with them so that they become the celebrities of the future. It is a very clear policy for BBC Wales to identify and nurture talent, so that they become associated with us and we have a good relationship with them because good relationships with celebrities are very important. Over time, as they become more and more well known, they will still maintain that relationship with Wales and with the BBC in Wales. I also think there are ways in which we can work together here. Many of us know—you perhaps, broadcasters and the Assembly—that there are events which the BBC, for instance, is involved in, such as Cardiff Singer of the World, the International Festival of Musical Theatre, which is being launched next year in Cardiff, key sports events and so on. If we were able to work together in partnership to use these events to promote Wales more effectively, then I think we would all benefit from them.

Mr Ruane

  347. You say that stories about Wales and Welsh people are included on merit in the BBC World Service's British News programme and you give some examples of coverage in Wales and Welsh issues on the World Service. To what extent do you try to ensure that each of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom gets fair representation on the World Service and the network?
  (Mr Jones) This would be a sore point if I did not believe that there was a level playing field. It is a very important thing for me and it is to do with the quality of programming. I believe that in Wales we produce programmes of the very highest quality which compare with any other area of our size. However, scheduling is the other aspect to it. What time are they shown? What programmes are they shown against? We have been unfortunate in the past and more and more control over scheduling will come to Wales. For example, on BBC Two Digital, Wales's own slot, we will have control over those slots and therefore we will be able actually to select programmes and put them on the digital network and command the audiences. I have not answered your question. It is a very difficult question to answer. We are in competition. We have got to believe it is fair competition, otherwise there is no point in being there. If you are not always successful, then you cannot just take your bat and ball and go home. You have to be ready for the next ones. We have produced some very good programmes in Wales, which probably have not performed on the network as well as we would have expected them to perform.
  (Ms Richards) Could I add to that specifically on your question about representation? I was describing earlier the Director-General's view of the importance of devolving authority and investment to Wales, but it is also his view and that of the Board of Governors that all parts of the UK must be better and more fairly represented on the networks. Therefore, there will be an output minimum guarantee for Wales, as there will be for Scotland and Northern Ireland. I think it is worth reminding the Committee of some of the programmes that have been commissioned and are being commissioned for BBC Wales. Some of you may have seen last Thursday evening the documentary on Ellen MacArthur and her round-the-world voyage. That was a BBC Wales production. The fact that it was on peak time on BBC One at 9 o'clock was a great tribute and it was considered to be extremely successful. During the next year we will have drama, documentary, factual and music programming and the Cardiff Singer of the World competition all shown on the BBC networks, both radio and television. Earlier this morning—as they say, I am delighted to be able to reveal to you—it was announced that Radio 2, which after all is the most popular UK radio network, has commissioned from BBC Wales the Voice of Musical Theatre competition from next year for three successive years, which is a very important and significant development. As Roger says, the competition is very keen but there is a view within the BBC that Wales has to have proper representation on the network and we want that because we are good.

  348. Two million people in America claim Welsh ancestry. There are 300 Welsh societies or St David's societies around the world. I would have thought there was a market out there for Welsh stories. Are you proactive in contacting them about the Welsh angle? Would you deem this inquiry newsworthy? This is an inquiry into the image of Wales abroad, how we can connect with Welsh communities abroad and portray Wales abroad. Would you deem it newsworthy enough to have an article or a radio programme on it on the World Service?
  (Ms Richards) The World Service?
  (Mr Jones) I would speak to the World Service. We have no editorial control whatsoever over the World Service, as I am sure you are aware. Certainly they will be aware of this. On Friday of last week the World Service was in Cardiff presenting their vision for the future. Certainly they know that Wales is there.

  349. Are they proactive? Do they go looking for Welsh stories? As one-fourth of the nations of the UK, are we getting a fair crack of the whip, a fair share of the news stories?
  (Mr Jones) You and I would say "one-fourth" but others would say "one-seventeenth". Those are two ends of the continuum.

  350. Are we getting one-seventeenth?
  (Mr Jones) We battle. I am not aware it has been measured in those terms. The answer is that I do not know. We do not carry out an analysis of Welsh coverage on the World Service. I am not aware that one has been done. This is probably less critical because those people who are Welsh and of Welsh societies have access of course to Cymru'r Byd, which had two and a quarter million hits in its first year. I think what you are saying is right, that there all these Welsh societies around the world. That is a remarkable number of ??pages pressed?? in the first year of operation in the Welsh language.

  351. That is private, is it not?
  (Mr Jones) It is part of the BBC offering. It is shown around the world.
  (Ms Richards) It is accessible all around the world.
  (Mr Hastings) It is more accessible than the World Service.
  (Mr Jones) It is on the net.
  (Mr Hastings) This is not a piece of PR puff but the truth. If our journalists were not proactive, they would not be BBC professional journalists. It is pretty essential that we bear that message back to them, just as you as a committee seek to do that. It might be helpful to the Committee if we undertook, and we certainly could obtain this, an audit of the specific nature of Welsh coverage that has taken place in the course of the last six months and to provide that information to the Committee if you would find it helpful. Whatever considerations they may have for the future, we could certainly stimulate the World Service to think about it, if required. I add the point that the balance of editorial forces that are bearing down on each programme strand, editors as well as the specific regional editors for the World Service or any other part of the BBC from across the UK, is considerable. There is enormous competition in emphasis and weight of stories which have to be balanced against each other, as well as the rest of the world. If it would help members of the Committee, this afternoon in the Grand Committee Room at 6.15 the Director of Nations and Regions is presenting a lecture to the Centre for Reform to which I know every Member of both Houses has been invited. He will be looking at the issue of devolution at the BBC as a whole. That will be an opportunity for about an hour's worth of questions in the House later on today. Those points certainly could be raised.

Mrs Williams

  352. I would like to link two things really. Mr Jones mentioned editorial control and you have just mentioned journalists being proactive and the professionalism of journalists. During our inquiry we have listened to many people from different professions in Wales and tourism is an important part which we have considered. When we visited north Wales recently, a participant complained that a BBC presenter had actually cross-examined her on the question of tourism, challenging her on whether tourism in is indeed important for Wales. She declined to do that. On the morning that we were meeting in north Wales, I also heard an interview, on Radio Cymru in this case, in which one of the presenters said that we were actually looking at tourism and promoting tourism abroad from Wales. The question was asked, "Don't we have enough tourists coming into Wales anyway?" That begs the question: where is this mission to explain and is it fairly done? I come back to editorial control and what you are doing about it.
  (Ms Richards) I cannot comment on an individual case but, if you can supply the information, I will certainly look at it and come back to you. I am sure that none of you would expect BBC journalists to do anything other than be rigorous in their approach to all manner of issues. That may simply be a case of an over-zealous presenter in this case. I do not know, so I prefer not to comment on that. In terms of editorial control, clearly the guidelines for journalists from the BBC are very clear, not only in Wales but throughout the whole of the BBC. BBC Wales journalists are extremely professional and well aware of the BBC's guidelines. There may be two separate issues here: first, a concern about a particular issue, which I am very happy to investigate; and, secondly, the question of BBC journalistic integrity.

  353. But you will appreciate that our duty is to look at Wales in the world, as we are doing, and the participant who gave evidence to us found that remark quite offensive.
  (Ms Richards) Yes, of course, but without further information about that, I cannot answer in detail. I am very happy to do so at a later date.

  354. That takes me on to a musical question. You say that the BBC National Orchestra of Wales has not had a terribly successful record of touring overseas but that the UK Government could help in this area. What problems has the orchestra actually faced, what could central government do to help and what benefits would this bring?
  (Mr Jones) The National Orchestra of Wales at the moment is going through a brilliant phase. It is superb. We are very fortunate to have Richard Hickcox as our conductor. It is funded primarily, as you know, by the BBC, together with some funding from the Arts Council that enables it to do some touring work in Wales. Fundamentally it is set up as a British orchestra. It has done touring but touring is extremely expensive and requires sponsorship. This is where you could possibly help us. We do not have any large, indigenous, Welsh corporation that can come across and say, "Here you are. Here is £500,000 or £600,000 to sponsor your tour of Japan". We have toured Japan. Incredibly I think that was under the sponsorship of Sony and that company actually paid for that. That was an unusual situation. In the absence of having huge indigenous supporters, we have to cut our coat according to our cloth. The money is not there. If central funds could be made available, then we have a wonderful flagship to sell Wales. Clearly we cannot do that at a cost to the licence fee payer. That is our dilemma.

Mr Caton

  355. You said in your written submission that central government needs to provide a climate for the expansion and development of cross-sectoral partnerships; in other words, bringing in private capital to sponsor the orchestra. What do you mean by "providing a climate"? Is government policy at the moment inhibiting that sort of thing happening?
  (Mr Jones) I cannot say it is inhibiting. It is not so much a negative influence that the government policy might be applying; it is lack of the positive that we were commenting on there.

  356. What would be the positive then? What should they do?
  (Mr Jones) If you could persuade Treasury to give us a subvention of X thousand pounds, we have a very good case.

  357. That is direct government sponsorship you are talking about. Your written submission talks about creating a climate for getting this private sector sponsorship. What could government do to facilitate that?
  (Mr Jones) I cannot be drawn into taxation matters because I am not qualified to deal with those issues. It may be that there might be inducements for companies to help this area. I am not an expert and therefore I cannot comment on that.
  (Ms Richards) Might I add this as it might be useful? What would probably be useful would be a sense of creating a climate for expansion and development of cross-sector partnerships between arts organisations in Wales—for instance, the Tourist Board, broadcasters and so on—and private sponsors, so that we could all benefit from staging events which would allow major Welsh cultural institutions to be available to audiences abroad. I think the bringing together of a number of different partners to create a funding mechanism would allow this to happen and, in the case of the National Orchestra of Wales, allow them to tour abroad.

  358. Why does government need to do that? Why is that not happening anyway?
  (Ms Richards) I think that there has been an issue in the past about the Welsh Tourist Board in particular, which was a very strong supporter of the orchestra. Again, I apologise if I have not got this quite right; it was before my time but I am very happy to give you the appropriate and proper explanation later. My understanding of it is that the Welsh Tourist Board, having sponsored the National Orchestra of Wales, was then prevented from engaging in activities of that kind. I am very happy to follow that up.

Mr Llwyd

  359. Can I ask, following on from what you have just said, what initiatives you are pursuing to bring forward Welsh acting talent to the international stage, bearing in mind that we have a very good college in Cardiff. I declare an interest as my daughter is a student there. I would be interested in any initiatives you are pursuing.
  (Ms Richards) We have a training partnership with the Welsh College of Music and Drama, which I suspect is the one you mean. In the last six months, we have appointed a Head of Talent, whose brief is specifically to identify talent across the whole range of broadcasting. This links in with my answer to a previous question about how to develop celebrities. We have partnerships, training partnerships and sponsorship partnerships, with a number of colleges in Wales: the Welsh College of Music and Drama, the Newport Film School and the Centre for Journalism Studies at Cardiff University. We are already talking to a number of other educational institutions in Wales about setting up similar schemes. We also have work placements at the BBC. We are expanding our output because of the additional investment in BBC Wales, so it is extremely important that we generate a whole new generation of talent from which we can benefit and who, hopefully, will make a mark elsewhere, too.


 
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