Without exception, since the dawn of devolution a quarter of a century ago, every review of the Welsh cultural or political landscape has mentioned the paucity of Welsh media.   For many historic reasons often restated, it has proved stubbornly difficult to sustain an economically viable independent media sector within this small nation.

For decades, a minuscule amount of funding – only ever a tiny proportion of the full amount spent on culture – has gone a very long way.  It has helped build cultural connections within a fragmented public sphere, provide platforms for vital dialogue and pave the way for the political and perceptual development of the nation.  It has helped foster publications and periodicals in both national languages that have commanded attention and considerable respect far beyond Wales.

Despite its financial limitations, the small subsidised Welsh magazine and periodical sector has developed into a model of good practice.  Publications are their own unique and dynamic micro-businesses, progressive in outlook and upholding the highest ethical values from the grassroots up. They strive to be sufficiently structurally independent from undue, top-down influence from a sponsor, funder or the state in order to be a crucial voice speaking truth-to-power.  They attract loyal and committed teams of staff, freelancers and contributors, happy to go the extra mile in pursuit of excellence. 

In recent years however, that extra mile has become untenably long.  Successively worsening grant levels and often more stringent funding conditions have become normalised, creating a precedent which has led to a race to the bottom in working conditions for magazine and website employees, and low contributor fees.  This not only affects those currently in operation, but also any potential new entrants into the sphere.

Four years ago, the Welsh Government published Fair Work Wales.  A detailed commitment to decent employment conditions, it defined their characteristics:

Fair reward; employee voice and collective representation; security and flexibility; opportunity for access, growth and progression; safe, healthy and inclusive working environment; legal rights respected and given substantive

Furthermore, it recommended that

Public money should be provided only to organisations fulfilling, or working
towards fulfilling our definition and characteristics of fair work (organisations
meeting the Fair Work Wales standard).

It is hard to see that the current working conditions for many of these Welsh micro-businesses fulfil the ambitions of their ultimate funding source, not due to any fault of their own but explicitly due to successive cuts to the funding made available since 2008.  In the case of one example, Planet: The Welsh Internationalist, the hugely respected periodical founded in 1970, its core funding is now less than half of what it was in the pre-devolution era, not even factoring in inflation.  In other cases, existing publications have often experienced standstill funding for years, despite fast rising costs, and newer entrants have not received viable grant levels at the outset. The funding reductions bear no relation to need nor performance, and are largely a legacy of a pre-Brexit misinterpretation of EC state aid regulations from within Welsh Government. This endured despite the Head of Office at the European Commission Office in Wales and his colleague at the Directorate General for Competition in Brussels concluding that such magazines would have been exempt from these regulations to begin with.

In her editorial in the November 2022 edition of Planet arguing for better funding conditions for all magazines and websites, editor and Planet board director Emily Trahair detailed how, despite being paid to work only 27 hours a week, she was in fact working between 40 and 70 hours, “and occasionally well over 80 … necessitated by the grant franchises and cuts”. In the last decade, grant conditions have stipulated that publications raise over a certain amount of additional income in order to receive this (reduced) core funding: publishers don’t lack expertise in how to address this, rather the problem is the unpaid hours needed to implement these activities, at huge cost to staff wellbeing.

The situation she outlined is similar to that experienced by many other funded publications. She wrote that not only have all Planet staff received the same wage per hour (£12) since 2012, but that without a huge grant boost it would be impossible to fully provide pensions or statutory sick pay, or in most cases working hours suitable for a parent, carer or someone recovering from an illness.  With rising costs, it’s now more difficult than ever for publications to balance their budgets at all. While efforts by BCW to lobby Welsh Government for improved funding are to be very much welcomed, as was emergency funding in 2023 to partially address the cost-of-living crisis in the short term, all bodies responsible for grant provision need to recognise that the current settlement is not sustainable

Things must change rapidly.  Increased core funding is essential.  To do so is the stated policy of the current Senedd administration.  The December 2021 Co-operation Agreement between the Labour government and Plaid Cymru says it clear:

As an initial intervention, we will provide additional investment to develop existing and new enterprises seeking to improve Welsh journalism and to support Welsh-based media to tackle the information deficit.

Not only would sustainable core funding help tackle the information deficit, and  enable publications to reach more than a fraction of their potential readership, it would also enable ethical working conditions, make the sector far more open to entrants from non-traditional backgrounds and fulfil many more of the noble ambitions of the Fair Work Wales strategy.

Throughout this century, much emphasis has of course moved into the digital arena.  The plethora of Welsh news, culture and current affairs sites online is testament to a new national confidence and self-expression, one for which print media has unquestionably acted as a seedbed.  It is important that public funding goes into online and multimedia publications, for this is how we so often consume our news and opinion, but the value of print media is becoming increasingly clear and urgent.

Long-form print endures.  It is of a standard to have lasting value: readers keep copies of our political and cultural magazines for posterity.  They are a crucial resource in education, libraries and archives in Wales and worldwide, telling the ongoing stories of an evolving nation.  Writers know the value of this intimately.  Even more importantly, there is an experiential factor.  We read print differently.  The words are often written with greater care, and read that way too.  Fifteen years ago, book publishers were in freefall panic that their business model was fast disappearing.  The opposite has happened; the number of independent bookshops is at its highest in history.  People need print and digital. Indeed, the complementarity and distinct qualities of print and digital media are all reflected in how most Welsh print publications also provide digital editions and online content.

It often takes decades to build up projects of serious cultural value, but they can be lost in no time.  We in Wales aspire to do things differently, to do things better than the austerity-driven Westminster model.  This must mean something, and in the instance of funding for magazines, periodicals and websites, it must mean that we unashamedly proclaim their value, so very much greater than the sum of public money seeded within them.  If we fail to challenge the miserable orthodoxy, intellectually as well as materially, we will have failed the nation. 

Yours sincerely,

  1. Mike Parker
  2. Michelle Stanistreet, General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists
  3. Christopher Meredith, on behalf of the Society of Authors Wales Steering Group
  4. Professor Kirsti Bohata – on behalf of the Association for Welsh Writing in English (Co-Chair)
  5. Professor Matthew Jarvis – on behalf of the Association for Welsh Writing in English (Co-Chair)
  6. Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg
  7. Menna Elfyn – on behalf of Wales PEN Cymru (President)
  8. Emeritus Professor Charlotte Williams OBE
  9. Patrick McGuinness
  10. Laura McAllister
  11. Gillian Clarke
  12. Jay Griffiths
  13. Rachel Trezise
  14. Professor Richard Wyn Jones
  15. Eric Ngalle Charles
  16. Jon Gower
  17. Gwyneth Lewis
  18. Niall Griffiths
  19. Ifor ap Glyn
  20. Andrew Green (Chair of New Welsh Review)
  21. Dr Daryl Leeworthy
  22. Amy Wack
  23. Owen Shiers (musician)
  24. Katell Keineg
  25. Pascale Petit FRSL
  26. Mabli Siriol Jones
  27. Dr Dan Evans
  28. Dr Kieron Smith
  29. Steve Griffiths
  30. Leanne Wood
  31. Pamela Petro
  32. Norena Shopland
  33. Dr Peter Wakelin
  34. Nia Davies (poet)
  35. Eluned Gramich
  36. Sophie McKeand
  37. Iwan Bala
  38. Peter Stevenson
  39. Dr Mary-Ann Constantine
  40. Gareth Leaman
  41. Polly Manning
  42. Professor Tony Curtis
  43. Helen Sandler
  44. Alison Lochhead
  45. Nigel Jarrett
  46. Mike Joseph
  47. Rebecca Roberts
  48. Taz Rahman
  49. Siân Melangell Dafydd
  50. John Geraint
  51. Shara Atashi
  52. Myfanwy Alexander
  53. Bethan Miles
  54. Sam Adams
  55. Sharon Morgan
  56. Francesca Rhydderch
  57. John Barnie
  58. Carole Hailey
  59. Lottie Williams
  60. Richard John Parfitt
  61. Ifor Thomas
  62. Peter Finch
  63. Steve Andrews
  64. John Osmond
  65. James Stewart
  66. Wiliam Owen Roberts
  67. Dr Gemma June Howell
  68. Sarah Tanburn
  69. Greg Hill
  70. Jane Fraser
  71. Rebecca George
  72. Mike McNamara
  73. Gaynor Funnell
  74. Geraint Lewis
  75. Nick Murray
  76. Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch
  77. Gorwel Owen
  78. Anthony Evans (artist)
  79. Emeritus Professor David Ian Rabey MA MA PhD CCDC/FLSW
  80. Colin Thomas
  81. Sara Penrhyn Jones
  82. Darren Chetty
  83. Adam Johannes
  84. Dylan Huw
  85. Harriet Protheroe-Soltani
  86. Emily Blewitt
  87. Harry Waveney
  88. Charmian Savill
  89. Huw Williams, Dean for the Welsh Language at Cardiff University
  90. Stevie Davies
  91. Bridget Keehan
  92. Frances Williams
  93. Ant Evans
  94. Katie Gramich
  95. Michelle Deininger
  96. Steven Lovatt
  97. Prof. Paul O'Leary, FLSW, FRHistS
  98. Jonathan Edwards (poet)
  99. Prof. Deri Tomos
  100. Catrin Evans
  101. Catrin Elis Williams
  102. Elinor Wyn Reynolds
  103. Dr Elen Ifan
  104. Aled Islwyn
  105. Geraint Lewis (composer)
  106. Elin Llwyd Morgan
  107. Tracey Rhys
  108. Dr Tim Rhys (playwright and Creative Writing lecturer)
  109. Rita Singer
  110. Kaite O’Reilly
  111. Adam Coward
  112. Iestyn Tyne
  113. Robert Minhinnick
  114. Aled Llion Jones
  115. T. Robin Chapman
  116. Rhianwen Daniel
  117. Carl Morris
  118. Steve Thompson
  119. Mark S. Redfern
  120. Selwyn Williams, Cwmni Bro Ffestiniog
  121. Martin Wright
  122. Morgan Owen
  123. Aidan Byrne
  124. Rhian E. Jones
  125. Kathryn Gray
  126. Ben Gwalchmai
  127. Lynne Rees
  128. Dr Sioned Pearce
  129. Meic Birtwistle
  130. Professor Jeremy Hooker FRSL
  131. Joshua Jones
  132. Dr Nia Edwards-Behi
  133. Dr Carrie Etter
  134. Vicky Morris
  135. Dr Sam Christie
  136. Ed Garland
  137. Jim Pratt MBE
  138. Graham Mort
  139. Paul Cabuts
  140. Gwen Davies
  141. Ness Owen
  142. Richard Gwyn
  143. Jo Dahn
  144. Katherine Cleaver
  145. Mark Blayney
  146. Russell Todd
  147. Liz Jones
  148. Dr Ceri Thomas (artist, art historian, curator)
  149. Prof. Marged Haycock
  150. Mike Jenkins
  151. Claire Vaughan
  152. Topher Mills
  153. Aled Gruffudd Jones
  154. Yasmin Ali
  155. John Sam Jones
  156. Patrick Jones – poet and playwright
  157. Alun Gibbard
  158. Jamie Woods
  159. Steph Power
  160. Bethany Handley
  161. Pete Telfer
  162. Rhys Owain Williams
  163. Dr Aidan Byrne – University of Wolverhampton / member of AWWE
  164. Angharad Penrhyn Jones
  165. Morgan Davies
  166. Emlyn Phillips MSc MBA
  167. Thomas Morris
  168. Kristian Evans
  169. Emma Clark – Buzz Magazine
  170. Kate North
  171. Gwenno Robinson
  172. Mair Jones
  173. Professor Helen Fulton FSA FLSW
  174. Anthony Shapland
  175. Dr Rhea Seren Phillips
  176. Rhiannon Lewis
  177. Ant Heald
  178. Fflur Dafydd
  179. Yasmin Begum