The media that you will encounter in Wales is a hybrid of Welsh and Britain-wide information. Although the London-based UK media attempts to cover life in the other corners of Britain, few people would agree that Wales receives a fair share of coverage in any medium. Of all the solely Welsh media, newspapers are probably the weakest area, and periodicals and TV coverage the strongest and most interesting.
Newspapers and magazines
The British daily newspapers are all available in Wales, but news of Wales is not terribly well covered – even the goings-on at Welsh Assembly in Cardiff are rarely analyzed, let alone any other area of Welsh life. The only quality Welsh daily is the Western Mail (wwalesonline.co.uk), a sometimes uneasy mix of Welsh Assembly, wider Welsh and British news and a token smattering of international affairs coupled with populist lifestyle pap and features on celebrities. With a few honourable exceptions, the quality of writing and analysis is lightweight. What the Western Mail is to south Wales, the Daily Post (wdailypost.co.uk) is to the north of the country, with a fairly decent spectrum of news and features that marks it out from other local dailies. All areas have their own long-standing weekly papers, generally an entertaining mix of local news, parish gossip and events listings. Wales’ national Sunday paper, Wales on Sunday, from the same family as the Western Mail, has descended somewhat into tabloid trivia, but it’s still worth buying for its bright, colourful take on Welsh life and occasional hard-hitting exposés and campaigning journalism. It’s also very good on Welsh sport.
Go into any bookshop in Wales, and you’ll be surprised by the profusion of Welsh magazines, in both English and Welsh. For a broad overview of the arts, history and politics, it’s hard to beat Planet (wplanetmagazine.org.uk), an English-language bimonthly that takes a politically irreverent line, combining Welsh interest with a wider cultural and international outlook. The more serious English-language quarterly New Welsh Review (wnewwelshreview.com) is steeped in Wales’ political, literary and economic developments, while Poetry Wales is an excellent publication of new writing. The bimonthly glossy Cambria (wcambriamagazine.com) subtitles itself as “Wales’s Magazine”, an epithet that it’s doing its best to fulfil with sparky writing on all matters Cymric, together with superb photography. For a wider view of Welsh social issues, with insights into “alternative” culture and news, pick up the weekly Big Issue Cymru, sold by homeless vendors on the streets of major towns and cities. If you’re half-proficient in Welsh, the weekly news digest Y Cymro is an essential read, although younger, funkier features can be found in the weekly glossy Golwg, and more political topics are chewed over in the monthly Barn. If you’re attempting to master the language, try Lingo Newydd magazine, aimed at learners at all levels.
Television and radio
In marked contrast to the London-centric print media, TV and radio are wholeheartedly moving out of southeast England. Cardiff is home to the Welsh branches of devolved broadcasting organizations including the mighty BBC, ITV, and indigenous Welsh operators such as S4C.
The state-funded BBC (wbbc.co.uk/wales) operates two TV channels in Wales – the mainstream BBC One Wales and the more esoteric BBC Two Wales. They may sound avowedly Welsh, but the vast majority of programming is UK-wide, with Welsh programmes, principally news and sport, but also features, political and education programmes, slotted into the regular schedules. This is even more the case with the determinedly populist ITV Wales (witv.com/wales).
The principal Welsh channel is S4C (Sianel Pedwar Cymru, verbally “ess pedwar eck”; ws4c.co.uk), which has grown from shaky beginnings (see A channel for Wales) to become a major player, sponsoring diverse projects including Welsh animation and feature films. These include the Oscar-nominated films Hedd Wyn and Solomon a Gaenor and the terrifically tasteless prehistoric cartoon Gogs. It now broadcasts solely in Welsh and each weeknight includes a dose of the BBC’s longest-running TV soap, Pobol y Cwm (People of the Valley). The sister English-language Channel 4 is also available throughout Wales.
The BBC is also a major player in radio, with five UK networks, all broadcasting in Wales: Radio One combines pop with a slick interpretation of youth and dance culture; Two is pop and rock skewed to those in their 30s and 40s; Three is classical and jazz; Four offers a passionately loved ragbag of magazine shows, current affairs, drama, arts and highbrow quizzes; and Five Live broadcasts a constant, entertaining mix of news and sport. The BBC also operates two stations in Wales alone: BBC Radio Wales, a competent, if gentle, English-language service of news, features and music, with occasional dashes of élan, and BBC Radio Cymru, a similarly easy-going mix in the Welsh language. Both can often be more entertaining in the evening and at weekends, away from the daytime tyranny of rolling news, sport, weather and traffic congestion.
Of the commercial stations, the brashest is Radio One soundalike Capital FM, serving Cardiff, Newport and around, together with Capital Gold, its twin for news, features and greatest hits and oldies music. Also in the capital and along the south coast are Real Radio, for music, sport and phone-ins, and Kiss 101 for dance, hip hop and drum n’ bass. Swansea Sound, whose reception extends west towards Pembrokeshire, is solid and frequently interesting; its local twin The Wave 96.4 isn’t. There are bilingual services from Radio Ceredigion and Radio Pembrokeshire on the west coast, Radio Carmarthenshire inland and Champion FM around Caernarfon and Bangor.