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National Assembly for Wales: Public Attitudes 2008

5. Sources of Public Knowledge and Information

The aim of the third section of the survey was to provide a greater understanding of the means by which survey respondents find out about politics and current affairs in Wales. Particular interest was given to exploring the relevance of local newspapers and commercial radio stations within particular locale within Wales. The media examined thus included a mix of print and broadcast (radio and television) outlets with a regional/local, Welsh national and UK outreach.

First, respondents were asked to indicate which types of media outlet were ones from which they 'obtain information about politics and current affairs in Wales’. The most popular, in rank order, were:

  • Television News (acknowledged as a source by 87% of respondents in our survey)

  • Friends, family and word of mouth (66%)

  • Local newspapers (64%)

  • British newspapers (56%)

  • National Welsh newspapers, Western Mail and Daily Post (39%)

  • BBC Radio, such as Radio 4 and 5Live (42%)

  • The Internet (37%)

  • Radio Wales/Radio Cymru (36%)

  • Commercial Radio News (23%)

When survey respondents were asked to narrow things down to the most important single source of information, however, the list looks slightly different:

  • Television News (named as the most important single source by 52% of respondents)

  • Local newspapers (8%)

  • The Internet (8%)

  • British Newspapers (7%)

  • National Welsh newspapers, Western Mail and Daily Post (5%)

  • Friends, family and word of mouth (5%)

  • Radio Wales/Radio Cymru (4%)

  • BBC Radio, such as Radio 4 and 5Live (4%)

This evidence shows that television news is clearly the most important single source of public awareness about politics in today’s Wales. Notwithstanding ongoing development in the broader media market, TV news remains absolutely central to how most people find out about politics. However, it is not the only relevant source. Local newspapers continue to be important: indeed, rather more important than their individual, or even aggregate, circulation figures might suggest. Also of note is the number of people who list 'friends, family and word of mouth’ as a relevant source of information. For most people this is not the most important source, but most people do discuss politics with others at least sometimes. These personal connections offer a mechanism by which information and knowledge, but also misinformation and erroneous ideas about politics and political institutions like the National Assembly for Wales, can disseminate through a population.

Most regional differences here were modest. However, it is notable that North Wales (and also, though to a lesser degree, South Wales Central) scored lower than the other regions in reported attention to TV news, and rather higher in reported use of local newspapers to gain information about politics and current affairs in Wales. The North Wales effect may in part reflect the persisting tendency of many people in North East Wales to view regional television programmes from England, rather than those made in Wales. Analysis of media usage by age groups show rather greater, and interesting, differences. Younger age groups draw less heavily on TV news and more so on commercial radio and the Internet; older age cohorts tend to stick particularly heavily to TV News and BBC radio, as well as British newspapers. This evidence seems in line with common suggestions that media audience typologies are evolving. As households and society changes, so too media consumption patterns change. The importance of media sources accessed through the internet is only likely to increase further in the next few years.

Television

Among television news programmes that might regularly carry information about news and current affairs in Wales, Wales Today on BBC1 Wales was by far the most popular: 62% of all respondents claimed to watch this show at least 3 times a week. Little more than half that number (34%) claimed to view Wales Tonight on ITV Wales as regularly, and some 9% of survey respondents reported being regular viewers of Newyddion. Table 14 shows reported viewing by region and age group:

While the BBC is clearly the most important single producer of television news on politics and current affairs in Wales, it is also abundantly clear that ITV Wales remains a very important source for large numbers of people in all regions of Wales. It follows directly from that, that any substantial reduction in ITV Wales’ news output could potentially have a significant and serious negative impact on the public’s ability to remain informed.

Table 14a: Reported Regular Viewing (%) by Region

Public Attitudes 2008 | National Assembly for Wales

SHOW

NORTH

MID & WEST

SOUTH WEST

SOUTH CENTRAL

SOUTH EAST

Wales Today (BBC)

54

68

63

66

60

Wales Tonight (ITV)

31

35

36

33

33

Newyddion (S4C)

11

17

8

5

3

Table 14b: Reported Regular Viewing (%) by Age Group

Public Attitudes 2008 | National Assembly for Wales

SHOW

18-24

25-34

35-44

45-54

55-64

65-74

75+

Wales Today (BBC)

52

55

58

65

70

70

65

Wales Tonight (ITV)

29

30

32

33

36

38

41

Newyddion (S4C)

7

4

7

5

10

13

20

Q. 'Do you normally watch any of these television news programmes regularly? By regularly, I mean at least 3 times a week’

North Wales clearly scores lowest here in terms of attention to the main Welsh English-language news shows; this may again reflect the so called information deficit - a  longstanding practice of many people in north Wales particularly to tune their television aerials to English-based transmitters.

Viewing of Newyddion is, understandably, heavily correlated with the proportion of residents in that region who are themselves Welsh speakers. Age differences in viewing are strongly related to the general tendency of older respondents to view TV news more regularly than younger cohorts.

Radio

Generally speaking, radio scored fairly low down in importance among the different forms of media listed in the survey. Both BBC network radio, and the BBC Wales stations Radio Wales and Radio Cymru combined, were named by about 4% of survey respondents as being their most importance single source of information about politics and current affairs in Wales.

Commercial radio stations were named by relatively few people as important sources of information about politics and current affairs; moreover, the distribution of responses was very widespread. The following were the most commonly named as information sources:

  • Real Radio (given by 7% of all survey respondents)

  • Red Dragon FM (5%)

  • The Wave (1.5%)

  • Marcher Sound (just over 1%)

  • Swansea Sound (1%)

  • Coast FM (just under 1%)

It is notable that even the most popular of these stations are named as sources of information by well under 10% of our sample. However, it must be remembered that most of these stations target very local audiences, and that within those localities, their impact is much higher than suggested by these figures for overall impact. Thus, while Real Radio has a significant audience across much of south Wales and even into the Mid and West region, it has no measurable impact in North Wales. Red Dragon FM listeners come almost exclusively from the South Wales East and Central regions (where they are listed as a source of information about politics by 11% and 13% of respondents, respectively). Similarly, most listeners to The Wave are located in South Wales West (where 7% of respondents list them as a source of political information), while the audience for Coast FM and Marcher Sound is almost exclusively in North Wales (where they each reach 5-6% of respondents as sources of knowledge).

This very localised impact means that within specific regions, the impact of commercial radio may often be as high or even higher than BBC network radio or Radio Wales/Radio Cymru. In particular, both Real Radio and Red Dragon score higher in impact in South Wales Central than either BBC network radio or Radio Wales and Radio Cymru combined. The other commercial radio stations named also have significant impact in their specific target areas.

Newspapers

Many newspapers are read in Wales, according to our survey. But there was no single paper that even a quarter of respondents claim to read. Among those that a significant number say they look at are the following (in rank order of popularity):

  • Daily Mail (named by 12.8% of all survey respondents)

  • Daily Mirror (9.5%)

  • The Sun (9.1%)

  • Western Mail (6.3%)

  • South Wales Echo (5.0%)

  • Daily Telegraph (4.8%)

  • The Times (4.3%)

  • Daily Express (4.2%)

  • Daily Post (3.6%)

  • South Wales Evening Post (3.5%)

  • The Guardian (3.2%)

  • South Wales Argus (2.8%)

  • The Evening Leader (including Wrexham Evening Leader(2.4%)

  • The Independent (2.0%)

  • Daily Star (1.7%)

It is striking here that at least some of the Welsh press, including local papers as well as 'national’ Welsh newspapers (the Western Mail and the Daily Post) appear to have a significantly greater reach among much of the public than some of the London-based media. Moreover, audiences for many of the Welsh newspapers are significantly localised. When one examines newspaper readership by region, one finds:

  • The Western Mail, Wales’ so-called national newspaper, has almost no impact in North Wales, but is listed as a source of information by just over 10% of respondents in Mid and West Wales, 8% in South Wales Central, almost 7% in South Wales West, and 6% in South Wales East.

  • The South Wales Echo’s readership is heavily focused on South Wales Central; here it is listed as a source by 17% of respondents.

  • By contrast, the Daily Post is read overwhelmingly by people in North Wales, where it reaches 12% of our sample.

  • The South Wales Evening Post reaches 16% of people in South Wales West, but almost no-one outside this region.

  • The South Wales Argus has almost no impact outside South Wales East, but there is read by 13% of our respondents.

  • Similarly, the Evening Leader/Wrexham Evening Leader are read almost solely in North Wales, but there they attract 10% of survey respondents.

Overall, the survey confirms the importance television news as the primary source of public knowledge about Welsh politics. But it also shows that a number of other sources do matter; and that the impact of many commercial radio stations and local newspapers within specific communities may be much higher than indicated by their overall circulation or audience figures.

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Other Sections

Executive Summary

1. Scope of the Research

2. Conduct of the Survey

3. Public Attitudes towards the National Assembly and Devolution

4. Levels of Public Interest in, and Knowledge of, the National Assembly and Devolution

6. Conclusions

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