Page last updated at 14:19 GMT, Wednesday, 6 May 2009 15:19 UK

Broadcasting future 'looks bleak'

Television gallery (generic)
The select committee is meeting the BBC, ITV and S4C

The future of English language TV broadcasting in Wales looks bleak, says communications regulator Ofcom.

Ofcom director in Wales Rhodri Williams said these were challenging circumstances, the like of which "we have never seen since TV began".

He told the Welsh affairs committee audiences had been in decline since 1999 and were likely to fall further.

Menna Richards, the director of BBC Wales, said savings should be made in "imaginative ways".

Ms Richards told the committee: "There are difficulties but we need to husband those resources as effectively as we can so that audiences get the best possible service."

The committee was gathering evidence about the future of English language broadcasting in Wales, and interviewed several leading figures at the BBC, ITV and Welsh language channel S4C.

Asked about what audiences can expect in the future, Mr Williams said: "(Audiences) will receive less than they have in the past.

There is an expectation that we must simply fill the gap left by others - to expect BBC to simply fill the gap is not realistic
Menna Richards, BBC Cymru/Wales director

"Nineteen ninety nine was the high water of what was available in the English language, but since then there has been a slow decline and that decline has accelerated recently... by now audiences in Wales are missing out."

Mr Williams told the committee that producing content exclusively for Wales on television and radio was under threat as funding sources were "disappearing quickly".

When asked how the BBC can address the growing information gap [with the future loss of ITV regional news], Ms Richards said: "The issue for the BBC is that the number of people covering news in Wales is declining.

"There is an expectation that we must simply fill the gap left by others - to expect BBC to simply fill the gap is not realistic."

She said the corporation "strives" to make sure audiences are well served by a range of output.

"I think it is important to recognise that there are certain things audiences in Wales will only get from us in Wales - the key thing for us is making sure audiences as well served as possible," she said.

'Partnership'

Mark Byford, deputy director-general of the BBC, also told the committee that he saw a partnership with ITV in Wales as a "long term important contribution".

"To ensure plurality it would be silly to do everything from the BBC but we've looked at sharing facilities," he said.

"If investment can be shared - then we help them to save money."

John Walter Jones, chairman of the S4C Authority and the Welsh language channel's chief executive Iona Jones also gave evidence to the committee.

They were asked why, as an organisation receiving public funding, S4C was allowed to submit a report about its future plans to Ofcom confidentially.

Both Mr Williams of Ofcom and the representatives from S4C said what they had done was within the rules.

'Clear concerns'

Cardiff South and Penarth MP Alun Michael was denied an unedited copy of the report by Mr Jones.

The pairing from S4C were also asked about the future of the Welsh language news programme, Newyddion, which is made for S4C by BBC Wales.

They said S4C had every right to discuss the future of Welsh language news, considering the same provider had been supplying the news for 25 years.

Ms Richards said: "BBC Wales has provided Welsh language news - predating S4C. It is part of the BBC's core mission to produce Welsh language output, including news.

"The clear concerns are around - what does this mean for audiences? The service we provide is highly regarded by audiences and audience has grown in recent years to such a degree that S4C has asked the BBC to provide more news bulletins during the day."

The committee was also speaking to Michael Jeremy, director of news, current affairs and sport at ITV, Elis Owen, ITV Wales' national director, and Clare Hudson, head of English language programmes at BBC Wales.



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