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.


America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 

In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.