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Wales is newsworthy - but nobody knows it [Jan. 30th, 2009|02:17 pm]
The Mabiblogion
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So, what happens in Wales then?

Well plenty, actually, but for some reason news from Wales seems to slip past those who make the editorial decisions in the UK national press.

Prompted by some of the comments on my previous entry I thought it might be worthwhile discussing the subject of newsworthiness.

Clearly this is a huge subject, so to narrow it down I’m going to look specifically at the newsworthiness of the Welsh Assembly elections. There can scarcely be a time where media engagement with Welsh politics is more important. 

When traditional news value theories are applied to the elections of 2003 it is easy to see why they received so little coverage. Firstly, the result was a foregone conclusion. There was no unexpectedness, no element of surprise. Also, the wider public perceived the Assembly powers as too weak and not able to make a difference to social and economic welfare.

This in turn limited the meaningfulness of the issues to the Welsh people, reducing the news value.

It was also shown in an NOP poll that just over a third of people knew a fair amount about the Assembly, its record and its powers. This indicates that stories about the election may not have been clear or unambiguous.

Furthermore, there was also a lack of ‘big beast’ politicians, elite figures, or unusual people in the elections. And, there was little real debate on issues between the main parties, meaning there was a lack of conflict, another key news value.

In 2007, on the other hand, it was a little bit different. There was a small increase in electoral turn-out of 5.5%. There was also a marked increase in press coverage from the Welsh press.

However, in the run up to these elections the Institute for Welsh Affairs noted in its report on national media coverage of Wales, that there was still very little coverage of the Welsh elections in the national press. In fact the study found that there was more coverage of the slaughter of Shambo, the sacred bull, than there was of the formation of the new Assembly Government.

National press coverage was actually worse than in 2003. The report stated:

“On Saturday 5th of May, the first morning on which newspapers could carry the result, the highest selling newspaper in Wales, the Sun, carried only thirteen words of coverage, contained within a story on the Scottish elections. This pattern was continued during the long aftermath during which political parties negotiated to form a coalition government.”

The report noted that an astonishing 59.6% of Wales based stories during this time were about Shambo the bull.

Even Rhodri Morgan’s heart surgery failed to raise much interest. As Adam Price MP put it at the time:

“The death of Shambo the bull got more attention from the BBC in 2007 than the fate of Rhodri Morgan, and the Welsh nation, which shows what the media thinks of the nation.”

The elections in 2007 were clearly more newsworthy than in 2003. They were, however, still ignored.

In fact, as the IWA report points out, the coverage was even worse.

The IWA had some interesting suggestions about why coverage was so bad. A lack of local correspondents, for instance, and an over-reliance on Press Association copy were cited as key factors.

These are vital points.

UK nationals relied almost entirely on PA copy for the whole of the Welsh elections. This meant that only a fraction of the news from Wales was reaching London.

Wales is news valuable, but news agencies and journalists in Wales are often too insular, believing that the UK national press will not be interested in Welsh issues. Sometimes this is doubtless true, but if there had been an outward looking press agency in-situ during the 2007 elections they could have pushed for more Welsh stories in the UK nationals.

I am not, of course, letting the UK national press off the hook. Even with good links and communication between Welsh journalists and London it would be a struggle to get them to take stories. But it’s not impossible.

The truth is that to improve democracy in Wales there needs to be more reporting of the Assembly, particularly at election time. Because of the current dismal state of the media in Wales this primarily means increasing the amount of coverage in UK nationals.

The only way this is likely to happen is if journalists in Wales start looking outwards and London-centric media professionals realise that Wales is not just for animal stories and suicides.

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