Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Who owns the media agenda?

On her visit to Neath Port Talbot, Ros Scott reminded us that she was a member of the House of Lords committee which drew up a report on the ownership of the news. Both in discussions of common local government interest with council leader Derek Vaughan and, with local Liberal Democrats, on the treatment of politics in the UK media, it was obvious that there was general agreement with the committee's conclusion that "While there has been a proliferation of ways to access the news, there has not been a corresponding expansion in professional journalism".

Neath Port Talbot council's main complaint has been the lack of recognition of positive reports on the council's performance. One may cynically observe that there is a plethora of bodies out there awarding charter marks and what have you, so that most councils in the UK can point to a high position in at least one table of satisfaction. However, Cllr Vaughan may have a point when it comes to social services. While the local media (BBC and, of course, the Western Mail) have today been all over Liberal Democrat Cardiff City Council for the failure of its social services department, there has been little reporting of this county borough's positive showing in this area. The joint Welsh Audit Office and the Care and Social Services Inspectorate for Wales report published in July gave Neath Port Talbot a virtual clean bill of health and the highest ranking in Wales for social services, yet it was hardly mentioned in the local press.

Part of the trouble is that conflict is news and plain honest-to-goodness information does not sell papers. Local prints will always have a niche, because there is still no better way of advertising local jobs and sales, but in order to provide a living for journalists, news has to sell.

National newspapers are increasingly rich men's hobbies, subsidised by other parts of a commercial undertaking or are largely entertainment. The latter have agendas which are definitely not Liberal Democrat.

Some notable investigative programmes (again, not good news!) apart, the BBC does not initiate news, but follows the lead of the press. Hence the obsession with Gordon Brown's leadership and, probably, the US presidential election. (There are those who suggest that the opportunities for shopping in the US may also be a driver of the blanket coverage given by BBC to the party conventions across the pond.)

In the meantime, Canada is buzzing with talk of a possibly unconstitutional snap election. This has made hardly a ripple in the media over here (France24 covered it, but did not headline the story). This could have repercussions in NATO and the G8 group of nations. But Canada is boring, because it gets so many things right. It has a boringly successful nuclear power programme and inflation is boringly lower than its competitors. The BBC does not even have a permanent correspondent north of the 49th Parallel.

At least the BBC still has a high reputation world-wide for its integrity. However, there may be inidious forces at work on the World Service, which is paid for not out of the licence fee, like the rest of the BBC, but from the Foreign Office budget. Early reports on Radio 4 about the Georgian conflict included some interviews with inhabitants of South Ossetia who claimed atrocities on the part of Georgian forces in the territory. The equivalent World Service programme did not have this balance.


Frank H Little said...

Update - just heard a Canadian news story on News at Ten. It was about part of the Arctic ice shelf breaking off.

Anonymous said...

Journalism, what journalism!

Quite interestingly, I bought the Glamorgan Gazette this morning.

Yesterday was the first day of term, and two "new" schools opened in Maesteg Comp., which looks like HMP Parc, without the high walls, and Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg, which was the old comprehensive, but is now the new Welsh School for Bridgend.

Previously, those parents wanting their child to be educated in Welsh had to send them across the boarder to RCT to be educated, or when my wife was going to school Ystradfera in NPT.

In the Glamorgan Gazette today there is a double page spread for Maesteg Comprehensive school, and just 10 column inches for the Welsh Medium School, the first Welsh Medium Comprehensive in the County, I think that this is far more important that a school that looks like a Titan prison; well keeping with Maesteg's Victorian image, that the refurbishment of Maesteg Town Centre didn't capture.

G. Lewis
Bridgend Lib Dems