By Phil Henfrey
Last week ITV Wales unveiled its plans to cover the National Assembly General Election to the potential winners and losers of the campaign – the politicians themselves.
Assembly Members from across the parties attended the launch at the Wales Millennium Centre together with members of ITV Wales’ election team, including presenters Jonathan Hill, Andrea Benfield and political editor Adrian Masters.
As well as comprehensive daily coverage on our flagship news programme Wales Tonight, we are producing nearly 10 hours of additional programming in English and Welsh.
On ITV1 Wales, we have in-depth interviews with each of the party leaders; regular reports and analysis from the campaign trail; publication of the only regular Welsh opinion poll (You Gov’s “Wales 1000”); an hour-long televised Leaders’ Debate from Cardiff’s Coal Exchange; and a comprehensive results service.
For S4C, we’re producing special election editions of Y Byd Ar Bedwar and Hacio.
We’ll also be providing coverage across a range of online and mobile platforms.
The fact that the package was welcomed by the AMs present is not to suggest that ITV Wales will be giving the politicians an easy ride in the run-up to polling on May 5.
On the contrary, we’ll be putting them firmly on the spot and analysing the big issues affecting the Welsh electorate with our usual journalistic vigour and scrupulous impartiality.
But with broadcast news playing such an important role in the democratic process of Wales, it was important to let the politicians know that we will be following their every move on the campaign trail in the interests of our key constituency: ITV’s viewers.
Some people may be surprised to learn about this substantial editorial commitment considering the gloomy headlines that surrounded ITV Wales in the not-too-distant past.
But today, with a new management team transforming ITV, the picture in Wales is looking far more encouraging.
Of course, there are challenges – ITV is a commercial company and there are many economic pressures to contend with as a public service broadcaster in the digital age.
And there is still much discussion to be had before we can be sure what will happen after the current licence expires in 2014.
But everybody at ITV wants to find a solution that will enable regional – and in Wales, national – news to continue on ITV and be competitive in the multi-channel, multi-platform market place.
Just last month, our Chief Executive Adam Crozier appeared before hundreds of colleagues from across ITV’s regional and network news operation to say that high quality news is part of the “heart and soul” of the new ITV.
News is one of the eight key strategic areas that ITV is reviewing as part of its five-year Transformation Plan. As part of that, we recently announced a restructuring that will allow for more and closer co-operation between the various ITV News operations across the UK and in London.
Wales, of course, has its unique requirements.
Not only politically because of Devolution, but also because we are a constituent nation of the UK with our own characteristics, concerns and traditions.
Like other key media players in Wales, we reflect the voices and aspirations of the different communities and localities across the country – but we also reflect the national picture in Wales.
It is for that reason that we looked recently to re-invigorate our political coverage. We want to produce a service that is popular with ITV viewers in Wales and commands the respect of politicians here in Cardiff Bay and in Westminster.
It is that renewal of purpose that will see us continue to provide a real alternative to the BBC in Wales – informing and connecting with audiences in a distinctive “ITV Way” – and standing with them shoulder-to-shoulder.
We do this in our flagship news programme Wales Tonight and our other news bulletins – reaching over a million people every week.
We do it in our incisive current affairs strand Wales This Week, our weekly political programme Sharp End and in such shows as The Ferret and Fishlock’s Wales.
And we do it through our online and social media platforms, adding further value to ITV audiences.
We know from our own research and research by Ofcom that audiences value ITV and the news and the programmes it produces in Wales.
More importantly, this output appears on one of the most popular networks in the UK. Genuine plurality only exists if people are watching.
ITV continues to put a significant proportion of its Welsh current affairs programming in peak, often between two episodes of Coronation Street – one of the most popular programmes on any network in Wales.
Moreover, ITV1 remains one of only two channels that provide dedicated news for the Nations and Regions of the United Kingdom – and that’s an important consideration when we talk about plurality in public service broadcasting.
Of course, as super fast broadband and 3G networks gain traction in Wales, so we will continue to adapt – both as a broadcaster and as a creator of content.
But there are good reasons to be optimistic as we look forward to an exciting future for ITV in Wales.
- Phil Henfrey is Head of News & Programmes at ITV Wales