News that the Sun might open a south Wales office got journalists sitting up with interest and tweeting enthusiastically.
Not surprising really. After all, in a difficult media climate it would mean more jobs and freelance opportunities, so it could be good news.
“With two Welsh teams in the Premier league, Dr Who in the Bay, and one Cardiff comprehensive producing both Gareth Bale and Sam Warburton in one vintage, I’m pleased to say that the new editor of the Sun (a Scot) is starting to think about investing in a stronger presence in Wales” said Guto Harri, News UK’s communications chief.
“The Sun already has an Irish edition, a Scottish edition and a well-staffed office in Manchester covering the north of England. It’s early days yet but a Sun office in Swansea or Cardiff is not out of the question” he added.
Cardiff-born Guto, a former BBC correspondent and spin doctor to London mayor Boris Johnson was giving the Royal Television Society Wales Centre’s Annual Lecture at Cardiff’s Pierhead building.
He made two other newsworthy announcements. One, his belief that a Royal Charter was unnecessary and that “a robust new regulator will be in place by the spring.”
“This will be paid for by industry, deliver virtually everything Lord Justice Leveson demanded, be able to levy fines up to £1million, order corrections, demand apologies and initiate investigations” he said.
Two, that News UK were setting up a News Academy to get school pupils interested in journalism as a career. One-day conferences will be organised in Glasgow, Manchester, Dublin and Cardiff.
But the main focus of his lecture, “Wales – not on their radar?” explored whether the London-based media was failing to report on Wales and if so, why? Was it resulting in a “democratic deficit” – and what could be done?
He kicked of by agreeing with the core premise. “A healthy democracy needs a robust and responsible press, independent, professional, well resourced and free from political interference.
But he added: “Do I really think Wales gets a particularly rough deal from the responsible London media – not really!”
This would no doubt have displeased Rosemary Butler, AM, the Assembly’s Presiding Officer, who feels very strongly that Wales does not get the coverage it deserves.
She organised two conferences on the “democratic deficit” earlier this year, and was stung when told by Mirror Assistant Editor, Kelvin Mackenzie, one of a panel of editors at the first of them, that Assembly proceedings weren’t covered because they were “boring,”
Guto explained and expanded. Welsh policy differences are not that interesting in themselves. News has to be novel. For example, Wales trailblazing organ donation received lots of coverage.
“Doing things differently is only interesting if there are lessons that can be drawn for people outside the immediate patch.”
Stressing the nature of news and competition, he said: “You can only really argue the point if you can show that there are great stories in Wales which could resonate much further afield – that are being ignored.”
And he suggested Welsh politicians may be partly to blame for poor coverage because of their own failure to recognise and spell out what the big stories are in the Welsh agenda.
But Ms Butler has a point. As most Welsh people get their news from the UK media, which largely fails to report the differences in devolved fields such as health and education, they are getting information which fails to reflect their reality.
Over the summer, therefore, she and her team took on board suggestions from NUJ journalists and others and came up with a plan to encourage and enable greater scrutiny of the Assembly and media plurality.
Initiatives will include working with digital and hyper-local media organisations to create a “journalism hub” in the Senedd; to provide better communications facilities, and to make the Assembly’s data more open and accessible.
The Assembly may also get more coverage if, as suggested, the Sun opens an office in Cardiff or Swansea. But Guto warned it would be likely to focus on sport, celebrity and human interest.
A few months ago the Sun did a whole page on unemployment in the valleys, featuring a family where four generations hadn’t worked.
“Not a great picture to portray to the world. And if the London media hasn’t caught up with the fact that Wales is dishing out free paracetamol to the masses – but denying some cancer sufferers drugs they could get in England – be grateful,” Guto said.
And he added: “I’m almost tempted to say ‘Careful what you wish for’”.