Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360
TUESDAY 6 MARCH 2001
JONES OBE, MS
360. That is very encouraging. The function
of co-production has recently been devolved to Wales from the
BBC in London. Has this made it easier to promote Welsh programme
(Ms Richards) I think it is worth pointing out that
BBC Wales has always had responsibility for co-productions originating
in Wales. What we have done recently is to introduce a new approach
to seeking co-production partners by appointing our own business
development manager. In just under two years since he has been
in the job, he has created a number of partnerships between BBC
Wales and other funders which have led to productions. One, for
instance, is with the Discovery Channel. We are in the process
of delivering to them a series of programmes. By having the ability
to create our own relationships with co-producers, we are able
to have a much more direct relationship, to bring in additional
cash and talent and to develop talent because there are simply
more productions available. It is important that we are able to
keep that talent in Wales as far as possible. We have been able
to bring some people back but we have also been able to prevent
some people from coming up the M4. That clearly is very important
to us. I think, too, that we should just emphasise the fact that,
although we have our own relationships with co-producers and funding
partners, we do of course still work with BBC Worldwide. In that
sense we are unique within the BBC in that we have a twin-track
approach to creating co-productions. We are able to do that through
BBC Worldwide, but we are also able to do it ourselves. We have
a flexibility of approach that I think is very helpful to us.
361. You mentioned earlier on the documentary
about Ellen MacArthur. I am very sorry I missed that but I hope
to obtain a copy of it from somewhere. That is very good. Who
would effectively sell that abroad or a similar programme?
(Mr Jones) BBC Worldwide.
362. We took evidence not so long ago from S4C,
who were saying that they had succeeded, as we all know, in several
quite astonishingly good co-productions with various partners
throughout the world. It seems to me that that is one way of helping
the profile of BBC Wales.
(Mr Jones) There are two issues here. One is the co-production
that reflects Wales and uses Welsh acting talent. The other is
the co-production of international films using BBC Wales techniques,
people and producers; for example, the Karl Francis "One
of the Hollywood 10", which is one of our co-productions.
That is a major international feature film but it does not feature
the homeland. We have to separate the two. I am not privy to S4C's
planning but I can see the attraction of focusing on stories and
films with a Welsh angle. Perhaps there are other opportunities.
363. I do not think they confine themselves
to the Welsh angle. I am thinking about a biblical epic they did
which was rather well received and that was made jointly with
a Russian production company.
(Mr Jones) Yes.
(Ms Richards) BBC Wales was part of that. There has
been a partnership with S4C in animation, including The Canterbury
364. What about on the UK network?
(Ms Richards) The Canterbury Tales?
365. Or the biblical one?
(Mr Jones) That was BBC Two.
366. One of the things that the people we spoke
to from S4C said was that, sometimes in association with you,
they have developed a very good reputation particularly for animations.
They are selling their product across the world. Sometimes they
find it very difficult to get it onto the British network. That
brings me to another question. We have also taken evidence from
the International Eisteddfod in Llangollen. Again, they find that
there is a tremendous interest around the world in what happens
up there but it is very difficult to get that transmitted in England
over the border where it could be of considerable benefit.
(Ms Richards) Unfortunately, the BBC does not hold
the rights to the Llangollen Eisteddfod, otherwise I dare say
there would be greater opportunity for them to have that coverage.
367. They need to start talking to you?
(Ms Richards) Yes.
368. Has the BBC attempted to purchase those
(Ms Richards) I think it would be fair to say, without
giving away any confidences, that we are in discussions with them.
Chairman: Speaking as the Member of Parliament
for Llangollen, I think that is wonderful news.
369. Mr Jones, in your annual review you say
that you are proud of the way in which BBC Wales succeeded in
reflecting the development of the National Assembly and the impact
of devolution on Wales, with a range of excellent new programmes.
What has the BBC done to reflect devolution in its programming?
(Mr Jones) As you know, we have comprehensive coverage
of the Assembly and that was a very important starting point to
try to explain to the people of Wales what was taking place in
the Assembly. That is something we have done very successfully.
We can use the phrase "gavel-to-gavel". Clearly we have
Assembly Live. There is coverage on the Extended Wales
Bulletin at 10.25 and that does cover things that are happening
in the Assembly and brings them to the population of Wales. That
is important. Other programmes like Dragon's Eye are starting
to become very well-respected programmes. It comments on what
is happening in the Assembly. Perhaps it does not give all the
Assembly members the comfort zones with which they would be happy
but it does a job and I think it is a very good programme. The
Exchange is performing well. We are properly funded actually
to go and take that message out to the people of Wales about what
is happening there. I stand by what I said some two years ago.
(Mr Hastings) Might I add one further point, which
is that the BBC's Parliament Channel also covers the Assembly,
as well as repeating during the course of the weekend the week's
political programmes from each of the nations.
370. How do you feel the change, the opt out
of the BBC programme to 10.25 or 10.30, in coverage has gone down?
Have you got any research on that?
(Ms Richards) It has gone extremely well, certainly
in terms of the performance of the Wales Bulletin and the
Wales Today Bulletin at 10.25. That is extremely good and
gets an audience which is significantly in excess of the audience
we previously had as part of the Newsnight opt out. In
terms of moving the News to 10 o'clock, the performance
of the BBC Wales News is astonishingly good. Last week
I think the average figure was around six million. Interestingly,
despite the fact that we have the news on both channels some evenings
of the week at the same time, the overall increase in the audience
watching the News is considerable; it is over 30 per cent.
On that front, generally the news is good.
(Mr Jones) This is not particularly a Welsh issue.
The News at Ten has resulted in more people watching the
news, which is what we said would happen.
371. What about Dragon's Eye? What figures
that does that get?
(Ms Richards) Last week it got well over 110,000 viewers,
which for a politics programme, I have to say, in Wales is extremely
good indeed. It was out-performing its counterpart on the network
at the same time. It was getting proportionately a greater number
372. While we on the subject of numbers, what
assessment have you made of the numbers of Welsh viewers and listeners
watching and listening to the proceedings of the Welsh Assembly
in comparison with Welsh viewers and listeners watching and listening
to the proceedings of the Westminster Parliament?
(Ms Richards) In Wales?
373. Yes, absolutely?
(Ms Richards) I am afraid I do not have those figures.
If they are available, I will certainly let you have them.
374. All I am trying to get at is whether you
would say that, since the creation of the Assembly, people are
tending to look primarily to the Assembly for their coverage of
issues involving political matters that might be relevant to them
or whether your viewing and listening figures suggest they are
listening primarily to Westminster?
(Ms Richards) Apart from those programmes which cover
the Assembly, Assembly Live for instance, most of our other
political output incorporates Assembly coverage and Westminster
coverage, so it would be very difficult to separate them within
an individual programme. In terms of viewership to Assembly
Live compared with the coverage at Westminster, it should
be possible to get those figures for you.
375. What contact and consultation does BBC
Wales have with the National Assembly for Wales?
(Mr Jones) I will try and answer that one before handing
it on to Menna for the specifics. The BBC, realising the importance
of the Assembly for the people of Wales, clearly has made a big
effort to bring itself alongside the Assembly and to understand
the ethic and what is happening. This is reflected by the very
good journalists engaged in that project.
(Ms Richards) There is clearly the direct relationship
between coverage of the Assemblyas the Chairman has described
and we have created a studio and a space in the Assembly for our
journalistsand in terms of BBC Wales's corporate relationship
and dealings with the Assembly. We have given evidence to a number
of investigations by Assembly committees, including to the Post-16
Education Committee on more than one occasion. The BBC has been
invited to participate in a grouping of arts organisations and
broadcasters as a result of its investigation into the arts, an
organisation called Cymru'n creo. It has also been agreed that
the Assembly will nominate a member of its independent assessment
panel to sit alongside the appointments panel for membership of
the Broadcasting Council for Wales.
376. Thank you for that answer. Would there
be a case for strengthening the Assembly's role in broadcasting
in Wales or is that in your view adequate enough already?
(Mr Jones) Personally, I think it would be extremely
difficult to fragment UK broadcasting. Broadcasting generally
and in the BBC in particular is an important cohesive factor in
maintaining total UK viewing. I think that if we were to split
that off we would emerge from it possibly weaker and not stronger
as a nation. My view is clouded by that judgment.
377. Do you think that you have got the balance
right in reporting the National Assembly for Wales in relation
to the Westminster Parliament or is that skewed?
(Ms Richards) In some things we have and in some things
we have not, which is not unexpected. What I can say is that,
as a consequence of the establishment of a strong journalistic
presence in the Assembly, there has been no diminution of our
presence at Westminster. As I was explaining in response to Dr
Lewis, our political coverage, apart from the live coverage, is
of individual programmes which will discuss matters arising from
the Assembly and normally those from Westminster, too. It is early
days for the Assembly. We cannot ignore the fact that there have
been some matters of real concern and interest which have had
a great deal of coverage.
378. I apologise that I was not here earlier
because I was in another meeting. It may be that you have commented
on this already. Could you comment on the fact that the National
Assembly in Wales is not really responsible for the BBC but a
Westminster department of government is? Maybe you have covered
(Mr Jones) We have not covered that point. It is not
impossible to think that people in the Assembly, members of the
Assembly who have an interest in this area, could liaise with
the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in a way that is productive
for Wales. It is probably in the political arena, which I will
not enter into, that it can be stated that it should be a devolved
function. I have indicated that my personal view is that we would
not be stronger in consequence.
(Mr Hastings) That raises an interesting question,
particularly in the light of the DCMS DTI White Paper on the future
of the communications industries. That raises a challenge that
the proposed new regulator for the broadcasting and telecoms area,
Ofcom, which does not have control over BBC output or a specific
remit over the BBC, is encouraged to have a relationship with
the Welsh Assembly, as well as with the Scottish Parliament and
the Northern Ireland Assembly. That is a new development. Therefore
there is clearly an evolving drama taking place between the Welsh
Assembly and Westminster and the broadcasters. We have no comment
on how that drama will play out in the end.
379. Can I turn to the film industry, which
is important in Wales? BBC Wales is one of the funding partners
of Sgrîn, the Media Agency for Wales. How effective is the
Agency at promoting Wales in the world?
(Mr Jones) I think I will ask someone with a more
specialist knowledge to cover that one. All I can say is that
we support Sgrîn to a substantial extent from the BBC's
(Ms Richards) I should start off by declaring an interest.
The BBC, as you point out, does fund Sgrîn and I sit on
its board. I think it has a very valuable role in marketing film
and in marketing Wales through film at international markets and
so on. It is often quite difficult to measure the economic benefits
of that because, as we have already described in the context of
the BBC, individual broadcastersand you referred to S4Cdo
have their own distribution channels and their own international
markets. In terms of promoting Wales abroad and bringing together
this partnership of broadcasters, I include all the broadcasters:
the BBC, S4C, HTL and certainly the WDA, BFI, the Arts Council
and the independent sector. That clearly is an example of the
kind of partnership we have been discussing this morning and the
way in which those separate organisations can contribute to the
idea of promoting Wales abroad through a particular means, and
that is film.