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Call for change to BBC coverage

11 June 08 11:29 GMT

The heritage minister says he hopes a BBC review will be a "catalyst for change" in how Wales is covered by the corporation's network news services.

The BBC Trust, which oversees the corporation on behalf of licence fee payers, commissioned the review into coverage of the UK nations.

It comes after concerns were expressed by viewers and listeners in public meetings and audience research.

Rhodri Glyn Thomas said it was "crucial that action is taken immediately".

The BBC Trust commissioned the academic, Professor Anthony King, to review how the BBC's network services cover the four nations of the UK.

Research found that 37% of people believed that news reports were often not relevant to where they live.

Welsh heritage minister Mr Thomas welcomed Prof King's report and said he sincerely hoped it would be a "catalyst for change" in the way Wales was reported by the BBC's network news services.

"This report confirms what Welsh licence fee payers have been thinking for some time - that the BBC network news has failed to consistently reflect the changed political nature of the UK in its day to day news broadcasts," said Mr Thomas.

"It has not been distinguishing between the different policies of the devolved nations in its news reporting and this may have undermined the Welsh public's confidence in the BBC's ability to report news items accurately and clearly and in a way which is relevant to their every day lives.

Mr Thomas added: "This is, in turn, may also have had an impact on the ability of some Welsh citizens to receive information and make decisions in relation to their national democratic institution."

"The conclusions of this report on the BBC's performance in London are in stark contrast to the coverage of Welsh politics provided by BBC Wales which has played a vital role in reporting events at our new devolved institution since 1999."

Mr Thomas said the research clearly reflected an appetite for more Welsh news on the network as well as an interest in what was happening elsewhere in the UK.

Janet Lewis-Jones, who is national trustee for Wales, said concerns emerged early on after the BBC Trust was established in 2007 and audience councils had been "listening very carefully" to licence fee payers.

"The message was emerging very clearly that there were shortcomings in the licence fee payers' view of what the BBC was doing and indeed the audience council said in its report last year to the trust that BBC network services still failed to reflect the complexity of devolution," she said.

Ms Lewis-Jones added: "A clear finding is that people in the UK wherever they live are very interested in news in the other parts of the UK.

"So if we look back at last year for example, the research mentions the 2007 coverage of the election, and there was very, very scant coverage on the network of anything that was going on in Wales."

She said she would be looking to BBC news management for a detailed response and had "every reason to believe they will be constructive and purposeful".

Claims of lack of coverage of Wales by the UK-wide media have been the subject of frequent criticism by politicians and members of the public.

This week in the assembly, First Minister Rhodri Morgan said that while UK broadcasters at least played lip service to Scotland they did not even do that for Wales.

The BBC said it was "determined to respond to the challenges raised".

The National Union of Journalists in Wales said it was clear that BBC network programming must work much harder "at giving a fair representation of life outside the M25."

A spokesman added: "The question of 'Invisible Wales' must be addressed by both the print and broadcasting industries for the sake of the well-being of UK society as a whole."

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