Comment | Media Policy and the Arts: An Ever-Closer Union

Comment | Media Policy and the Arts: An Ever-Closer Union

Angela Graham writes from the IWA’s third Cardiff Media Summit.

What does Wales want to do about its arts?

What is the effect of the near-absence of the arts from broadcasting in Wales and of Welsh arts from the networks?

And the internet, which might offer a compensatory platform, who controls that and who has an interest in showcasing the arts practised in Wales?

The IWA’s third Cardiff Media Summit on 29th March provided a crucial forum to reality-check key issues concerning media and politics.

Wales Arts Review promises a robust and inclusive discussion about books, theatre, film, music, the visual arts, politics, and the media.

What have politics and the media got to do with the arts?

To the Media Policy Group (clue’s in the name) of the Institute of Welsh Affairs the answer is evident. Politics can enable the arts, and the media are channels for sharing them. Arts and media should not be kept separate whenever it’s in their best interests to be linked. They have their respective disciplines and identities but anything that undermines what they have in common is suspect, in my view.

Politics makes life liveable (in the sense that it can develop strategies, organise and enable our common enterprises) but also enriched – good politics, that is. As the handling of power and resources, the practice of politics, done well, delivers mutual benefit and flourishing.

Policy is a set of pathways through an environment − challenging but full of potential − towards a better future.

A better future for the arts in Wales requires engagement with the policies and politics that shape the context of the arts.  

We believe that a vibrant arts scene is the expression of a confident, healthy and creative society.

Wales Arts Review again, which champions criticism, the art of distinguishing between degrees of achievement and knowing what makes the difference so that the best can be emulated. Good criticism is never based on ignorance or prejudice but on informed experience, insight and an openness to both facts and multiple perspectives. It assesses what exists but is open to imagining what could come to be. That is not a bad description of media policy work.

What’s in it for the arts in Wales?

Although most aspects of broadcasting and media policy are not devolved to Wales, the role of broadcasters and the media in Wales is of enormous cultural and political importance.  

Broadcasting, media, culture, politics are inextricably linked in this opening sentence of The Big Picture, an initial report on broadcasting by the National Assembly’s Committee on Culture, Welsh Language and Communications. This Committee came into being at the specific recommendation of the previous Assembly, following a robust inquiry into, and report on, media in Wales.

The Committee’s remit includes the arts.

While these issues (broadcasting and media) may not be formally devolved, the National Assembly has a clear and legitimate interest in holding broadcasters, and the media more generally, to account: particularly in relation to the way that Wales and Welsh society are portrayed and reflected by public service broadcasters.

I commented recently,

Highlighting the centrality of portrayal is an assertion of the existence of ‘Wales and Welsh society’ as something distinctive, a true subject capable of being portrayed well or badly. This belief has implications because it is a contestable claim but the Committee’s position is clear and will be influential.

‘Portrayal’ covers presentation of the subject to itself but also beyond itself, beyond its borders, to those who are not ‘Wales and Welsh society’.

‘Reflection’ refers to content which is analytical and directed more towards Wales. It allows ‘Wales and Welsh society’ to see and consider themselves.

By valuing, on behalf of the nation, these processes of portrayal and reflection the Committee is shaping our media future in a certain image. It is affirming the possibility of considered choice within the exigencies of national and global politics. This is no mean thing.

Politics and policy development are not divorced from the arts.

The Cardiff Media Summit left no room to doubt that we must take our own interests seriously. An excellent, though necessarily astringent, scene-setting presentation by Claire Enders of Enders Analysis, the UK’s most prestigious media research company, showed us that action is possible. That action has to be collaborative – and the call for collaboration was unanimous throughout the day from representatives of press, online, radio and TV – as was the call for leadership from Welsh Government.  Summit podcasts

Amongst a series of blogs hosted on the IWA site ahead of the summit is Arts Broadcasting in Wales: An invisible nation? in which Amy Genders makes the point that “for the majority of the population broadcasting is one of their main points of access to the arts and culture, therefore if arts programming disappears a whole area of society is effectively made invisible.”  

This point is expanded In her submission, made with Dr Caitriona Noonan of Cardiff University, to the DCMS Consultation on a Contestable Fund for Public Service Broadcasting. This is a pot of £60 million for ‘under-served genres’. The arts is one of those genres – and what a broad genre it is (see my blog)!

That sum is seven times more than the amount BBC Cymru Wales was given in the recent Charter Renewal settlement. How vociferous has Wales been in this consultation?

Launching as I write is CultureUK a partnership between the Arts Councils and the BBC which aims to

excite the nation about the arts, opening up funding to a range of arts organisations to make content which can be shown on the BBC, developing UK-wide cultural festivals that can reach new audiences, creating opportunities to showcase emerging and diverse talent, and making the most of technology to inspire new experiences in the arts.

Of the BBC’s arts budget £4m will go to an ‘artists first’ commissioning pot to fund work for online and broadcast. A ‘cultural lead’ will be appointed in Wales. This is a big-league linking of arts and media.

At the Media Summit employees of Museum Wales spoke of having over 70 staff engaged in content production, an intriguing bridge between culture/heritage and media.

Voice is crucial. I would love to see Wales Arts Review actively increasing its coverage of relevant politics and of the media. Wales could do with – no, desperately needs − a great deal more criticism of its broadcasting in English and Welsh, including radio (which is, for instance, not included in Wales Arts Review’s categories). A criticism is needed which is, at least from time to time, aware of the policy context.

And I champion the right to recognition of the arts of broadcasting which are as demanding as any other cultural practice.

Let’s have the new criticism − and the new arts journalism too − which would make such a difference to the small and big pictures in Wales.


Title image courtesy of Pixabay