Why is Wales losing its voice on Britain’s radio stations?

Roald Dahl Plass, Cardiff. Image: Getty.

Video killed the radio star – or so the Buggles claimed. Try telling that to the Welsh, who are so passionate about radio that they listen to more of it than any other part of the UK. And yet hardly any of the programmes they hear are made in Wales, or focus on Welsh issues.

In a country suffering under a cultural and political deficit – where BBC Radio 2 is dominant, and two London-based stations (Heart and Capital, which are run by Global and Communicorp in different regions of the UK) hold a virtual monopoly of the commercial airwaves – it seems only right that the devolved government would be concerned.

Broadcasting is not a devolved issue, yet a Welsh Assembly committee, keen to solve what is just one part of Wales’s media problem, will be reporting on the matter later this year, having recently finished hearing evidence from the industry.

Tuning in

Various UK governments over the past two decades have deregulated the commercial radio sector allowing multiple licences to be held by one company, and removing the requirement for the local station to be located in the very town it broadcasts to. This led to a homogenisation of radio under brands such as Capital, and Heart. But while a competitive market still exists in most parts of the UK, Wales is a virtual monopoly, with Global and Communicorp using the Capital and Heart brands to reach a combined 1m Welsh adults a week.

Both Capital and Heart syndicate shows from London for 18 hours on weekdays, with locally produced shows at breakfast and drivetime, plus local news bulletins for half of the day. The most listened-to station in Wales, however, is BBC Radio 2, a UK-wide station which has a level of Welsh talent, content and news much lower than the pro-rata proportion of listeners it garners from the nation. Over the last decade matters have got worse – listeners in Wales are less likely to hear people talking about things happening in their communities, because the number of Wales-focused hours has fallen.

But has that been caused by stations choosing to create less content about Wales, or is it actually audience-led? In other words – and more controversially – are Welsh listeners turned off by Welsh accents, Welsh news and Welsh stories? Would they rather hear music and stories from outside Wales?

Global and Communicorp believe they do represent the Welsh communities they serve and provide a “local focus through a national brand”. Speaking to the Assembly committee, Communicorp’s head of UK programming, Neil Sloan, said, “Capital in south Wales in particular is embedded in the area. If there is a major event happening, we’re a part of it”.

But with only a quarter of the company’s live output now being made locally, job opportunities for presenters, producers, journalists and sales staff have shrunk in the past decade. Previously there would have been around five local daytime shows on each of the five FM and AM outputs – there are now around two shows on three stations.

Local listeners

It is easy to hark back to the good old days – though no media ever should in a dynamic industry – when commercial radio in Wales was local, and the audience loved it. Capital South Wales’s predecessor, Red Dragon Radio, was a consistent market leader in the 1990s and 2000s, bringing in a third of the listeners in the area that it covered. And even later than that, when Real Radio went live in the mid 2000s, its mix of Welsh live sport, live talk and a near 24-hour newsroom in Cardiff saw it becoming the market leader.

Today, one station that continues to fly the local flag and win listeners is Swansea-based The Wave. It has held on to a quarter of its potential audience in the past year, despite increasing competition from nationals and other local stations. Meanwhile, BBC Radio Wales has reached 14-16 per cent of its potential audience for the past two years. Both make a significant investment in local presenters and broadcast from studios in their broadcast area, as well as producing live sport commentaries.

I do not blame the commerical stations for the decisions they took in taking a commanding presence in Wales. After all, they are businesses, and in an era when people are bypassing FM radio for podcasts and streaming services, perhaps the bigger challenge is getting Welsh life onto those portals.

However, while Wales has suffered, hardly any local content has been cut in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where the same Ofcom radio rules apply. Even in Cornwall, Ofcom told Global they could not syndicate so many hours over concerns about loss of local choice.

Maybe pointing the finger at the big guys is an easy way to avoid the question no one wants to ask: do people in Wales even want radio from Wales any more?

Marc Webber, Senior Lecturer in Journalism and Media, University of Northampton.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 

The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.