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    02 July, 2006

    Welsh media debate

    There was an Assembly debate on the newspaper industry in Wales on Wednesday, following a report by the Culture Committee. The trigger for this debate was the threat by Trinity Mirror to merge the editorships of the Rhondda Leader and the Pontypridd and Llantrisant Observer (later dropped), and plans to make many journalists redundant on a compulsory basis (eventually there were voluntary redundancies).

    My speech in the debate can be found by clicking below.

    Leighton Andrews: I was a member of the committee at the time that it decided to have this inquiry but not by the time that the inquiry developed, although I did attend one meeting. I declare an interest in that the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies gave evidence, and I am an honorary professor in that school. I am also a member of the National Union of Journalists and of Amicus, which also gave evidence to the inquiry.

    I welcome the report, but I state at the outset that I think that the driver, originally, for the inquiry into newspapers in Wales was the position being taken by the Trinity Mirror Group at the end of last year, when it announced a number of redundancies at the Western Mail and Echo Group and plans to merge the editorship of the Rhondda Leader and the Pontypridd and Llantrisant Observer. I am pleased that, following pressure from people within the Assembly and outside, it rescinded the decision to merge the editorships of the Rhondda Leader and the Pontypridd and Llantrisant Observer. Ultimately, it moved away from compulsory redundancies to voluntary redundancies.

    However, in the course of this report, the scope has been somewhat widened. It seems that the report that we have today is rather more of a management view of the newspaper industry in Wales than a view that might be taken by journalists or the public.

    We welcome investment in printing presses, and the transfer of finance jobs within a newspaper group to Cardiff from elsewhere, but the reality is that there has been a squeeze on journalism and on journalistic jobs in Wales, and we should set down a marker on that. I agree with what Dai Lloyd has just said on the reporting of the National Assembly, and the fact that only one newspaper in Wales, which sees itself as covering Wales on a national basis, has a full-time journalist in the National Assembly.

    Therefore, it is worth stating that there are increasing and continuing pressures on journalism in Wales, in those newspapers that see themselves as national newspapers, as well as in local newspapers. A higher degree of advertising is being demanded of local newspapers, for example, compared with the pagination for news reports. You will be told that repeatedly by those engaged in the local media in Wales.

    I will focus my remarks on the Trinity Mirror Group, because, whichever way you look at it, in terms of the coverage of Welsh news on a national basis, it has something of a dominant position in the sector. I want to see a competitive news environment in Wales—competition for the BBC and ITV, as well as for Trinity Mirror. I have noticed over the last few months how close the Trinity Mirror Group is becoming to the Conservative Party, for example. I notice that someone called Professor Dylan Jones-Evans has a column in the Western Mail and in the Daily Post. I notice that the Assembly Member and Member of Parliament for Monmouth now subjects us to a weekly column in the Wales on Sunday—I refer of course to Taser Davies.

    Alun Cairns: Do you also recall the column that the Minister for Enterprise, Innovation and Networks used to have, and the column that Alun Pugh, as the Minister for Culture, Welsh Language and Sport, used to have until he put his foot in it as far as the editor was concerned?

    Leighton Andrews: An act of censorship was perpetrated on the Minister for Culture, Welsh Language and Sport.

    There are plenty of economics professors who are not politically aligned in Wales, and there are plenty aligned to other parties, who also have interesting things to say about the economy; one or two of them have even run businesses, unlike Professor Dylan Jones-Evans, to whom I referred earlier.

    As we go forward, I would like to see a critical engagement with the media by the National Assembly. That is important for the health of our democracy. It is important that we, in the National Assembly, keep an eye on, not journalistic content, but the employment of journalists, and the environment in which they are allowed to write and report. We want to see a healthy public culture, in which journalism can flourish.

    Rhondda TV
    The Labour Party

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    Promoted by Leighton Andrews AM, National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff CF99 1NA.

    Author's editorial policy: This blog does not publish anonymous comments, unless they are really witty and I like them. If you have something to say, then have the courage of your convictions and use your name or an identifiable alias. Even then I reserve the right not to publish comments that are malicious, defamatory, stupid, pointlessly cynical or boring. Any of the statements or comments made above should be regarded as personal and not necessarily those of the National Assembly for Wales, any constituent part or connected body.