Ivory power – Academic research and media policy in Wales

Angela Graham pays tribute to an aspect of the engagement of academic research in the development of media policy for Wales.

“Wales is disproportionately reliant on higher education for R&D compared with the rest of the UK”.

Does this assertion from the IWA’s hot-off-the-press report ‘The Single Market of the Mind: Education and Culture in Wales after the Europe referendum’  hold true in the field of media and cultural studies? I do know that media policy development in Wales needs the input of academic researchers.

During the five years I spent at the School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies (JOMEC) as a professional tutor in documentary practice, I gained an increased appreciation of the potential of interactions between researchers and practitioners.

Academics have their own ways of feeding into the policy mix but I would like to highlight some contributions to the work carried out in connection with the Institute of Welsh Affairs.

The IWA’s Media Policy Group, which I’ve chaired for the last two years, in the wake of JOMEC’s own Prof Richard Sambrook, has consistently sought to encourage collaboration between academia and the media during a very busy period of consultation and change in the media landscape.

On 29th March the third Cardiff Media Summit will be held. The previous summit, in November 2015, was attended by 7 of the 8 Welsh universities whose work on media-related issues was prominently displayed. Feedback was very positive from both academia and the media and inputs into summit preparation were much appreciated.

Professor Ian Hargreaves
Professor Ian Hargreaves speaking at the Cardiff Media Summit 2015.

This month’s summit shows a strikingly greater integration of academics within the programme. Three of the four sessions are chaired by academics. Cardiff University’s Prof Ian Hargreaves starts the summit with a session in which Claire Enders (Enders Analysis) surveys the challenges facing media provision in Wales in a global context, with reference to the summit themes. Dr Caitriona Noonan chairs the session on the future of the workforce. Academics from other institutions appear alongside industry figures as panellists.

Month by month, JOMEC’s Sian Morgan Lloyd and Emma Meese have, as Group members, helped to shape both the summit and some of the Group’s other output.

For the pre-summit, media-focused blog collection (#iwamedia), Prof Justin Lewis and Dr Stephen Cushion have contributed a hard-hitting and precise bullseye of a piece on how network news struggles with the realities of devolution, due to run on Wednesday 22nd March. Blogs by staff from the Universities of Bangor and South Wales will also feature and other universities plan to attend the summit itself.

Dr Jamie Medhurst (and till very recently, Prof. Tom O’Malley) from Aberystwyth and Dr Dyfrig Jones from Bangor are Group members.

The Wales Media Audit 2015 contained an essential review of thinking  on Welsh media policy which was undertaken by Dr Ruth McElroy and Dr Christina Papagiannouli of USW, along with Hywel Wiliam of AIM Ltd (Group Secretary), and the assistance of a WISERD grant.

At a Civil Society Seminar Series, Prof Chaney, director of WISERD, acknowledged both the variety of analysis achieved and its impact, saying, “WISERD couldn’t have hoped for a better use of the funding. It was exactly what we hoped for.”

WISERD is a collaboration between the Universities of Aberystwyth, Swansea, South Wales, Cardiff and Bangor. One of its four aims is to strengthen the impact of social science research on the development of policy in the public, private and third sectors through a focus on knowledge exchange and engagement.

Recently this trio has published Broadcasting after devolution: policy and critique in the Welsh media landscape 2008–2015 in the International Journal of Cultural Policy. This argues that, “media scholars need to pay further attention to how policy evolves in the context of multi-governmental levels such as those existing in the devolved nations of the United Kingdom.”

An additional project that considered the Group’s work recently is The Hidden Story, run by the AHRC and University Alliance, “looking at the ways in which traditional data sets are missing ‘the hidden story’ of arts and humanities research.  That is, the vast amount of research activity in the arts and humanities that irrigates local communities and the national scene but which does not fit easily within the parameters of our existing processes of audit and review.”

I was interviewed about work done with USW’s Centre for the Study of Media in Small Nations. I recommended consideration of “the extent to which students, at any level, learn about policy formation. Is the emphasis on practical and theoretical skills of production and/or analysis but not on the creative shaping of the frameworks within which all the production takes place? Preparing students for the industry could include preparing them to shape its policy.”

Interviewer, Dr Matthew Flintham of Kingston University, welcomed the point, “This is an issue across the UK with funded research projects, where the positive influence of research on teaching is often overlooked in favour of other forms of ‘impact’.”

Funding research and joint working is always a challenge but both are valuable and essential. Impact and engagement are things the media industry is crying out for. In Wales, the stakes are very high, because, often, the country does not receive the research attention and consideration it deserves in terms of its particularities.

The IWA’s Media Policy Group has evolved − academics and practitioners together − a pragmatic methodology to work towards getting the best of and for both our worlds. But we can do more, and better.

Angela Graham is a tv producer and writer, formerly a Professional Tutor in Documentary Practice at JOMEC. She is chair of the IWA’s Media Policy Group. She can be reached at AngelaGraham2003@aol.com  and @AngelaGraham8