The man behind plans for an ambitious news service based on ITV Wales has warned that the future of quality journalism faces a continued decline unless the General Election leads to a firm decision in favour of his proposals.
Michael Wilson, managing director of UTV Television and the man behind the Wales Live project, was speaking in Cardiff at the same time as the former Controller of BBC Wales issued his own warning about the future of Welsh broadcasting. Geraint Talfan Davies called for the establishment of a Welsh Trust to manage the budget of BBC Wales and for power over S4C to be devolved to the National Assembly.
Wilson said his private contacts in recent days with the Conservative Party’s culture team had confirmed their public opposition to the Independently-Funded News Consortia (IFNCs) for Wales, Scotland and the north-east of England, which have been placed in limbo by the calling of the election.
Clearly frustrated by the Tories’ attitude, Wilson warned that the party’s proposals for commercial city-based TV stations were unrealistic – and based on models (in Manchester and Derry) which had already failed.
Speaking to a meeting of the Royal Television Society, he put some flesh on the bones of the Wales Live proposal. Based on UTV’s successful service in Northern Ireland, he promised more ‘hard news’ and analysis on ITV Wales and (if the pilot is extended beyond two years) the recruitment of more experienced staff to increase its credibility with viewers.
Wilson stressed his willingness to work with the existing ITV Wales news staff, but criticised the ‘weak’ editorial direction of the current output. He set his face against the station’s move to get journalists to film their own material, saying he valued ‘craft skills’ and wanted journalists to concentrate on what they were good at.
Wales Live would establish a news agency with two journalists at the National Assembly offering a free service to all Welsh newspapers. They would also offer a free service providing interview clips and other material to Ofcom-licensed commercial and community radio stations – and to universities teaching radio and journalism. (He spoke of a widespread dissatisfaction with the quality of new entrants to the industry – something he wants to discuss with education providers and the accrediting agencies.)
UTV has managed to survive and thrive outside the main ITV conglomerate unlike HTV. Wilson believes his model could succeed in Wales. He revealed that he would like to bid for an all-Wales ITV franchise if it is offered in 2014 (as Geraint Talfan Davies believes it should be). Back to the future?