The Labour group in the Assembly has defended its decision to say no to a request to film a behind-the-scenes documentary.
The party has been criticised for blocking bids from ITV and BBC Wales to produce programmes as part of coverage of next year’s Welsh election campaign.
Opposition parties released a letter from the Presiding Officer saying that she was ‘unable to secure unanimous approval’ for the project even though she told party leaders that it was ‘a fantastic opportunity.’
Conservative, Plaid Cymru and Liberal Democrat AMs backed the move but Labour AMs were concerned about the impact of the filming.
The group has issued this statement:
Having considered the issue carefully at a recent meeting, Labour Members felt that they were unable to support the proposal at present. It was felt that the proposal came with very short notice, lacked detail and would potentially cause significant disruption to the day to day work of Members, staff and to Assembly business during an extremely busy period.
While the Group, of course, welcomes initiatives that engage the Welsh public with the work of the National Assembly for Wales, we regret that we are unable to support this current proposal.
– Welsh Labour group spokespersson
Opposition parties had earlier made it clear that they weren’t responsible for vetoing the request when they released the Presiding Officer’s letter to party leaders which you can read below:
I wrote to you on 8 October seeking your views on a proposal to film a documentary depicting life behind the scenes at the Assembly in the lead up to the 2016 elections. Whilst my consultation letter started that this proposal presented a fantastic opportunity for us to promote our work, I also pointed out that there may be some risk as we would not have editorial control over the content. On that basis I suggested the project must have the approval of all political parities at the Assembly. On this occasion and for various, reasons, we were not able to secure unanimous approval and we will therefore advise BBC Wales and ITV Wales that the project will nto be proceeding.
– Dame Rosemary Butler, Presiding Officer
The Welsh Liberal Democrats said it was a ‘huge shame’ that the request had been blocked.
It’s a huge shame that a political party in the Assembly has, it would appear, blocked these proposals. It’s essential that people are better informed about what happens in the National Assembly and this type of programme is an ideal way of doing that. ‘Inside the Commons’ was, in my opinion, a huge success in showing what politicians in Westminster do, while also adding a bit of colour to their character. Whichever political party has blocked this should be up front and publicly explain why they have done so.
– Peter Black AM, Welsh Liberal Democrats
Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies took to twitter to voice his disappointment.
Thank you to the Presiding Officer @assemblywales for putting the documentary invite to all parties. It’s a shame that it’s not going ahead.
I’ve now seen the original letter of 8 October referred to by Rosemary Butler.
The Presiding Officer was enthusiastic about the ‘fantastic opportunity’ to increase engagement and raise awareness of the Senedd. And she said there would be steps put in place to mitigate the concerns raised by the fact that AMs wouldn’t have any final say over the finished programme.
Here’s an extract from that letter.
I write to seek your view on a proposal to film a documentary depicting life behind the scenes at the Assembly. Both ITV Wales and BBC Wales have approached us and declared an interest in such a project as part of their programme schedule in the lead up to the 2016 Assembly election.
You will recall that a similar programme was aired in March 2015 by the BBC called “Inside the Commons”. The proposal from both broadcasters is for filming to take place in and around the Assembly estate and potentially in constituencies (by filming Members interaction with constituents where appropriate and/or Commission staff engaging in outreach work) from October 2015 until mid-February 2016.
Two of the Assembly Commission’s strategic goals for the Fourth Assembly are to:
* increase the engagement of the people of Wales with the work of the National Assembly; and
* make the most of our estate, particularly the Senedd, as the prime venue for Welsh public life.
A documentary of this nature presents a fantastic opportunity to contribute significantly to these core strategic goals. However, there could also be risks as we would not have editorial control over the content of the documentary.
To help mitigate these, Assembly officials would play a key role in assisting with the co-ordination and management of the filming schedule, suggest content based on forthcoming Assembly Business and events on the estate and liaise closely with political group offices.
Such a programme must therefore have the approval of all parties at the Assembly.
Subject to your views, we intend to invite both broadcasters to submit their proposals to the Assembly Commission to ensure that we have considered all possible risks and benefits relating to the project and we have absolute clarity about their intentions. The development of a robust legal agreement and consultation with the Trade Unions, Security and police would follow accordingly.
– Dame Rosemary Butler AM, Presiding Officer