Inappropriate and unacceptable

The currently breaking news that the BBC is to take responsibility for funding S4C is very disturbing. It's obviously hard to comment without knowing the detail, but even without knowing the detail I can say this much:

The position of S4C and the S4C Authority has been established by Act of Parliament. No Act is sacrosanct, but changing the statutory basis of S4C requires repeal of the existing legislation and probably (but not necessarily, for S4C could simply be abolished) a new legislative framework. This will take time, time that needs to be spent on scrutiny of the proposals both by the public and by members of Parliament.

What concerns me is that deals are being made behind closed doors without any opportunity for discussion or debate. Obviously the ConDem government can form an opinion on what they see as the future of S4C, and it is perfectly proper for them to have discussions with S4C and the BBC to sound out opinion on the matter. But it is entirely inappropriate for either S4C or the BBC to agree to new arrangements for S4C behind closed doors.

Yet it is being presented, certainly here on Betsan Powys' blog, as a deal that has already been made between the Westminster government and the BBC in London ... with John Walter Jones of S4C only being told about it this evening. This is not acceptable. I've said it before, so of course I fully agree with Alun Ffred Jones when he says:

The future of S4C and its budget should be a matter of open and transparent debate among the people of Wales and not rest solely with a single UK government department.

It most certainly sounds like a "stitch up" to me.


In terms of a solution, I wouldn't object to S4C being funded out of a fixed proportion of the TV licence fee. But for that arrangement to work, it would have to be "top sliced" rather than for money to go first to the BBC coffers, and then only handed back at the discretion of BBC management. Certainly not after this decision.

Top slicing would at least ensure parity of treatment between two public service broadcasters, which is one of the main objections I and others had to Jeremy Hunt's plan's to unilaterally cut S4C's budget. It would mean the independent statutory structure of S4C could remain intact, with only the basis of its funding changed ... although the most outrageous part of the current arrangement is that the BBC's obligation to provide programmes for S4C has not changed since 1982, even though the hours of English language programming they produce has quadrupled since then.

However the BBC has up to now fought tooth and nail against top slicing as a way to fund national and regional news on ITV, so I doubt they would now agree to it in S4C's case. It would set a precedent ... but then again, it might be a very good precedent to set.

Bookmark and Share


Anonymous said...

It's worse than that. It's a merger and its independance has gone. It was decided in London without consultation with either WAG, S4C or BBC Wales and I am informed its funding will now have to come from the BBC. It's budget has effectively gone, along with its independance and future as our national broadcaster.
Read tomorrow's press and keep your head down.

Simon Brooks said...

If the BBC holds the purse strings, how can S4C seriously be said to have editorial independence?

The Treasury will take a bite out of the S4C budget in the Spending Review, and then the BBC will bleed away the rest.

Eventually of course BBC figures will begin to lobby for a "bilingual" channel to get the viewing figures up.

We will return to a pre-1982 situation in Welsh television. It is a disaster.

Anonymous said...

An absolute disaster that was decided this afternoon in a room in London. It was an alternative suggestion to pushing the costs of free tv licenses onto the BBC and it is combined with the BBC now covering the cost of the world service. The BBC was relatively safe last week, but apparently, they have saved less in Defence than they planned, so S4C's funding is apparently being combined and not totally cut, which is good news to an extent. However, it is now effectively an arm of the BBC, with absolutely no consultation whatsoever with BBC Wales, Cheryn Gillan or WAG. It was as if devolution never happened.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to wait and see. If it means S4C is funded from the licence fee and independent of the BBC that would be a good thing. If the BBC think they're in the driving seat then S4C and WAG need to stand up to them.

MH said...

Some good points, which I accept. As more news has unfolded, it has become clear that S4C's £100m was just a "small fry" item. The DCMS had a much bigger fish to fry with the BBC.

Yet all is not lost. The same facts hold true. S4C and the S4C Authority exist by statute, therefore those statutes need to be repealed and replaced. S4C cannot become a department of the BBC without that proposal being scrutinized and passed by Parliament. This is not an executive decision within the competence of a minister.

Remember also that this deal has been agreed between only the DCMS and the BBC. S4C haven't agreed to it. They don't even seem to have been involved. So I hope S4C show the same backbone as they showed by refusing to accept a "voluntary" cut. I hope, but I'm not completely convinced they will. If anybody from S4C is reading this, I'd urge them not to accept the deal. Hold out, and a lot of people will stand beside you. Not least the Welsh Government and the Labour Party ... who are spoiling for a fight to make political capital from the ConDem's anti-Welsh agenda.

This is about money. Nothing else. So the path I would advise is first to insist on maintaining the S4C's current statutory structure, and only change the source of its funding. If that funding is to come from the licence fee, that in itself is not a bad thing because it ensures parity between S4C's funding and that of the BBC ... which is what we should reasonably expect. So the name of the game is to get a binding commitment to a percentage of the licence fee, rather than for S4C's funding level to be at the whim of a management decision within the BBC.

Top slicing would be best, but second best would be to get the BBC to commit to a minimum level of funding in the same way as the Guardian reports here:

In addition [the BBC] will provide £150m a year for the rollout of superfast broadband to rural areas from 2013 and £25m a year for local TV and online content. A further one-off capital investment in local TV and online services of £25m will also come from the licence fee and the BBC will also underwrite the rollout of the digital radio network nationally.

If the BBC can make these commitments, they can make at least a similar commitment to fund S4C.

MH said...

Just a quick one for Anon 23:55, who said,

It was as if devolution never happened.

Sadly, devolution of broadcasting never did happen. But if we kick up enough fuss—and if we do it not just from the point of view of Welsh language broadcasting, but also with regard for the even greater inadequacies of English language broadcasting about Welsh affairs as opposed to a UK wide network agenda—this stitch up behind closed doors in London might prove to be the catalyst that leads to broadcasting being devolved to both Wales and Scotland.

Anonymous said...

... thi si what comes of governments who say they exempt the NHS of cuts - other places get more cuts.

The Referendum in March 2011 won't offer us much at all. Can't Labour and Plaid get a refferndum on more powers not just better oil for the system?

Disappointed S4C viewer said...

Does anybody watch S4C these days, and is it really worth saving in it's present form. What’s the point of editorial independence if the output is poor and not value for money?

I think that we should disband the S4C Authority and move the responsibility to the BBC Board by amending the BBC charter. The BBC is already well placed to commission programs; above all, we need to return to the days when small independent companies produced excellent programmes rather than sadly the bland output of these days.

If the channel (S4C) is to be of any purpose it needs to have a distinct output and produce excellent programs, after all if it’s a choice between a good English program and a poor welsh program - well just because it’s in welsh doesn’t mean we will watch it.

MH said...

Well, Disappointed, if you really do want S4C to have a "distinct output" that's hardly going to be achieved by making the BBC responsible for commissioning all its programmes. We need the plurality.

Anonymous said...

I don't go along with this 'S4C is crap' argument. I don't watch S4C all day every day. But just off top of my head, I've enjoyed 'Sgota' (to my surprise - programme about fishing), 'Byw yn ol y Llyfr' (following the guide of a 1870 book on life); the kids watch all kids programme (no, and under no duress from father); Sgorio and a lot of their music stuff. I think the weakest things are news - boring ... which, unfortuntaely, is BBC).

S4C-BBC1-BBC2-BBC4-Newschannels(except boring BBCNews 24)-BBC Alba-More4ITV1(silly programmes for kids)Viewer

Anonymous said...

It's become a bit of a fashion hasn't it to say how crap S4C is .... I think this is called the cultural cringe.

Disappointed S4C viewer said...

I think it's called reality and is based on poor viewing figures.

The important thing is not who delivers the programmes, but the quality of the programmes, the purpose of the programmes and an essential element that it makes the Welsh language more relevant to today's youngsters and teenagers.

To finish the internet is a growing media, has nobody thought of launching a welsh tv internet channel as a true independent choice to S4C?

Anonymous said...


There was a great need for S4C to do things differently. That's why i was quite supportive of the Tories to begin with in the summer - yuo can't create and omletter without breaking a few eggs so to say. The 2% cut didn't seem to bad either.

S4C do have online content ... but not on YouTube (like everyone else). They could also have done more to foster the internet in Welsh -simple things like sponsoring Welsh blogs. They could even with their budget run a radio station - but this would be in compeititon/complementary to the BBC.

What we have now is the London government playing hard and fast with the only channel in Welsh - there are loads in English. S4C has less than half the budget of Channel 5 without the option of buying in good (but-cheaper-than- producing-youself) series from the US.

Do you think S4C will produce better programmes under the BBC?! The BBC News online service in English is about 4 times bigger than the Welsh language. BBC, as MH has linked, already decided to create less programmes for S4C earlier this year. There's be less choice, more conservatism (producers will play safe for fear of offending programme controllers) and awful part of BBC smugocracy will pervade into commissioning and the general culture.

The answer is two national (Welsh) services; one in English one in Welsh. This is what Saunders Lewis argued for decades ago. This is what was set up in the Basque Country in 1982.

The BBC will be under pressure internally to create a bilingual station. All kinds of 'nation building' and 'equality' arguments will be used by the Left and Right. The end result will be a diminishing of the budget and prestige for Welsh language television and by implication, the Welsh language itself.

This is a very bad day for Welsh language broadcasting.

As we're getting so little now from the British state (Labour's traditional argument against imdependence) and so little clout and understanding, I have to ask myself how worse off would we be with independence?

there's a lot I agree with in Osborne's statement today - raising the pension age being the most obvious. But I have the feeling that a Rubicon has been passed today in the future of Wales. I think George Osborne is wrong to crow words to the effect that 'Britain's fight back begins today' I think it's be beginning of Wales's fight back.



Disappointed S4C viewer said...


I see what you are saying, but fundamentally, a channel supported by government money will eventually need to dance to the governments tune. So that an argument maybe to devolve it’s financing to the Welsh Assembly, but would replacing one set of politicians with another really make that much of a difference?

Lets leave S4C to broadcast safe if boring programs, I challenge Syniadau and it readers to come forward with a new means of producing cutting edge welsh programs, free from government money, free to push forward an agenda that’s attractive to all especially the youngsters and teenagers of Wales. After all there is more to Wales than farming, the eisteddfod and bloody rugby!!!

Anonymous said...


and I see where your comig from too. Trouble is policies over generation and generation by London government has lead to a Wales where only 20% of the population speak the language which means that it's economically unviable to produce programmes which are 'free from government money'. It's a bit rich for a government (UK) which has lead a policy of systematically undermining Welsh over centuries to then expect the language community to be able to be economically viable.

The trouble with this new scenario is that there could be less commissioner and more conservatism. The whole of Welsh broacasting could be literally in one building in Cardiff. So, if you're a producer you're not going to step on a commissioning editor's toes 'cos you'll literally have nowhere else to pitch your idea to in Wales.

Would it be better under the Assembly. It would be better in as much as one hopes AMs would have an understanding that there is but one Welsh language channel in the world and a substantial cut in that channel's budget has a disproportionate effect on similar (or even larger) cuts in all English medium channels.

... still agree with you about farming, eisteddfodau and rugby (though, I don't mind watching a bit of those in moderation!).

S4C's big problem is that it's 'next door' to possibly the best tv set-up in the world. Other nations (Denmark, Germany, Argengina, Catalonia) can get-away broadcasting dubbed or subtitled versions of good American series. S4C just can't do that. Is has to commission new work - which is one reason Cardiff has a strong media and IT sector disporportionate to its size which also employs loads of non Welsh speakers. Commissioning that work calls for imagination as you say, it also calls for working on budgets which are about a third or a quarter of similar programmes on BBC1. It's a tough call for anyone.

Unfortunately theres a lot S4C could have done and now it will have less ability and space to do it.



Anonymous said...

One longer term-solution for funding a devolved public service media system (in both our languages) in Wales is perhaps to implement one of the recommendations of the Holtham report in relation to taxing natural resource use: how about a levy on electromagnetic spectrum use by non-psb broadcasters, mobile phone networks etc in Wales?

Probably not a full solution by any means but an idea worthy of investigation as a means of at least part funding S4C and an equivalent English language service in the future?

Cibwr said...

Creating an internet channel is not the solution, as most will be aware fast broadband, at least fast enough to stream real time programs in any size window or picture quality is not available over vast swathes of Wales. I am in Cardiff any my broadband (non cable) is really slow. Watching anything on the Iplayer from the BBC is torture.

The reality is that the UK governemnt wanted headline cuts everywhere and have not even considered the special circumstances of S4C i.e. its a unique channel that applies only to Wales. That no consultation was held with the Welsh Government, BBC Wales let alone S4C speaks volumes.

Given the alternative of a truly extinction event cut of 40% putting it under the BBC for funding looks like the least worst option available. Which in other words is a nice bit of spin, fly a kite and then give something less worse and claim it as a victory.

MH said...

Disappointed, you said: "I think it's called reality and is based on poor viewing figures."

This decision has nothing whatsoever to do with viewing figures. It is based on the desire of the ConDem government to cut public spending. You are confusing two unrelated issues.

And you said: " I challenge Syniadau and its readers to come forward with a new means of producing cutting edge Welsh programmes, free from government money ... "

Firstly, I don't buy into your premise that S4C only produces safe and boring programmes about farming, the eisteddfod and rugby. A simple glance at the programme schedule would be enough to show anyone that it doesn't. Neither do I see what's so special about "government money" ... I suppose that's meant to imply that the BBC doesn't receive "government money" because the licence fee is something different. It isn't. A compulsory fee is just public funding under another name.

But I did address how both S4C and English language programmes for and about Wales could be funded in this post.


In fact Anon 22:30 has picked up the same theme when s/he talks about a levy on the electromagnetic spectrum. The UK government does this in awarding licences to bidders for both broadcasting and mobile phone networks. They received almost £22bn for the five 3G licences.

Anonymous said...

i dont know if people in wales have seen this - but they certainly ought to! These comments were made by rod liddle in the most recent edition of the right wing spectator magazine...thanks to the welsh blogger 'grangetownjack' for bringing it to our attention

" What an epic waste of money just to assuage the sensibilities of some of those miserable, seaweed munching, sheep-bothering pinch-faced hill tribes who are perpetually bitter about having England as a next door neighbour. S4C has become a state funded sinecure for the utterly talentless, the dregs who cannot even get a job at HTV (Cymru); a corrupt political sop of not the scantest interest to even Welsh people. Bin it, Johnny Bach. Bin it."

aside from his dreadful comments about s4c i think liddle's comments may be racist and he could be prosecuted for them!

Leigh Richards

Disappointed S4C viewer said...


I said, “I think it's called reality and is based on poor viewing figures.”

In reply to “It's become a bit of a fashion hasn't it to say how crap S4C is .... I think this is called the cultural cringe”

In other words, I was justifying my disappointment about the quality of S4C programs; it was not as you seem to imply to justify the actions of the Coalition Government.

My challenge still stands, it’s a new service in addition to S4C, a self funding website based TV, that builds on the reach of mobile phones and targets the key group we need to ensure the future of the Welsh language. (the quality of the pictures need not be broadcast quality, so equipment costs would be less). Live broadcast of new welsh bands, music festivals etc etc.

Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

DS4CV @ 1748:

There is scope for the niche programming you are suggesting. The technology is out there now, and there is nothing stopping anyone from going ahead with pod-casting, YouTube and similar delivery media.

S4C, though, needs to be different. It needs to provide quality, mass appeal programmes in the most readily accesible medium, viz. broadcast to all homes in Wales via tv aerials and satellite dishes.

I'm all for a smorgasbord of smaller scale stuff; experiment as much as you like, DS4CV, but there must still be Welsh medium public service broadcaster.

MH said...

If anybody is thinking of using YouTube, I would just say that there are other, probably better, video hosting alternatives. YouTube is fine for short clips, Vimeo isn't at all bad for better quality, longer clips, but I think Viddler—the host I use—is much better than anything else I've found.

Anonymous said...

I think DS4CV's comments that S4C is full of 'rugby, eisteddfodau and farming' programmes is a common view/prejudice. And it's difficult for S4C.

As MH points out you need only take a quick look at the listings to see that's not the case.

What is the case however, is that people tend to notice things which S4C does which is different to other English channels. All channels have their (crap) game shows; all have news; all have kids programmes. People gloss over these and so home in on what is unique.

Farming - because of the demographic make-up of the Welsh-speaking community (though changing - and that's where DS4CV is right), rugby and eisteddfodau.

It's a bit like me. I've been to Germany a few times and for me German TV is 'schlagermusik' shows - a kind of German folksy verion of Noson Lawen. I remember it because it was different. Likewise, Basque tv is people composing poetry live on stage, a kind of Basque stomp (or Talwrn y Beirdd, but with rows of people eating and drinking and laughing) and of course the live pelota.

So, does S4C not cover these events because they're different and so likely to give a 'bad' image of the channel? I'd say no. The eisteddfod coverage gets good vewing figures as does rugby and the Royal Welsh. Why? Because no body else does it. And, because we're a nation and the concept of a nation is a cultural one and if you don't have a different culture with different cultural priorities then you're unlikely to call youself a nation and less likely to be recognised as one. Why have a tv channel if it's just a dubbed version of what ever is in English?

There of course is a strong case for targetting the new Welsh speaking audience which DS4CV alludes to . it's unfortunate (tragic!) that this will be even more difficult now that S4C is facing a 25% cut in its budget ... and I don't trust BBC to run it in 3 years time either.


Post a Comment