S4C ... in English

Better late than later, we finally have the answers to the questions on S4C asked a few weeks ago in the YouGov poll for ITV. But is this really the "setback" that Peter Black seems so eager to portray?

As I see it, the answers to the poll questions are expected, and blindingly obvious to anyone who gives it a moment's thought. We need programmes about and for Wales in English just as much as we need them in Welsh. Is it fair that S4C should be allowed to have a whole channel of Welsh language broadcasting, when there is no equivalent to that in English?

Instead, the programmes we have about and for Wales in English are squeezed onto BBC and ITV, very often at the expense of network programmes, just as programmes in Welsh used to be before S4C was set up. Until recently, Wales had to put up with Question Time broadcast half an hour later than elsewhere in the UK. Now we have to put up with it at the same time ;-) Last night, The Apprentice, Spooks and The Sky at Night were all broadcast an hour late and we missed The Great British Bake Off altogether. OK, that's not a big loss to me or anyone I know, but last weekend Wales missed out on a wonderful New Zealand film called Black Sheep ... which, to anyone who has seen it, is ironically more relevant to Wales than any other part of the UK. On ITV, programmes about and for Wales have been squeezed to an absolute minimum over the last few years.

When this happens, it is hardly surprising that non-Welsh speakers in Wales are jealous of the Welsh language programming on S4C, and want the same for themselves.

And not just in Wales, the same is true in Scotland. People in Scotland have been campaigning for years for a "Scottish Six", a news programme on the BBC which is geared to international, UK and Scottish news from a Scottish perspective rather than the London perspective that they (and we) have to put up with from the BBC at present. What would that look like? ... well, it would be exactly like Newyddion on S4C, but in English. And what would be the equivalent of a Scottish or Welsh "Question Time" ... well, it would be exactly like Pawb a'i Farn on S4C, but in English.


For me, the way to solve the conundrum is to be clear about the distinction between S4C as an authority and S4C as a channel. I'd guess that 95% of us are not aware of the difference, but if we make that distinction clear there is an obvious way to solve the problem. All we need to do is look at Channel 4 in the remainder of the UK. It was set up at the same time as S4C as a single channel, but in 1993 the Channel 4 Television Corporation was set up in order to provide a range of additional television channels, so that the original Channel 4 has been supplemented by More 4, Film 4 and E4.

We need the S4C Authority to do the same thing; it needs to grow in order to provide more channels for Wales. Now that all TV broadcasting in Wales is digital, we can easily carve out room for an English language channel carrying programmes about and for Wales in addition to the S4C we know and love.

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Owen said...

In principle I wouldn't have a problem with English-language shows on S4C, or limited dubbing of popular English-language shows into Welsh. I can understand how this would be unsatisfactory though.

I completely agree that S4C (and BBC Wales) need to carve out room for more Wales-specific channels. It would be even better if a viable commercial channel could arise. I wouldn't object to UTV, STV or an indiginous company like Tinopolis or Boomerang+ taking over the ITV licence for Wales and making a competitive bid for things like Magners League games.

Another commentator on the blog (I can't remember the name sorry) who seemed to have experience in broadcasting said that creating new channels, even in the digital age, isn't as easy as it appears on the surface. With the melding of print-media, TV and Internet, there are other innovative opportunities S4C (and other media outlets) could also consider for the future.

Unknown said...

I notice that S4C has a second channel - S4C2, I think - which hardly ever appears to have any content. Perhaps that could be used to broadcast English language Welsh programs.

As for dubbing - instead of dubbing English Language programs into Welsh, how about Dubbing things like Pawb a'i farn, or Newyddion into English? Or at least provide simultaneous interpretation , maybe on the red button?

We already have Sign language interpretation on many daytime programs (which to me, I'm afraid, makes them unwatchable), so surely, English simultaneous translation is not going to cost a lot more, is it?

Simon Brooks said...

Brilliant rally for S4C on Saturday, the largest political rally in Wales for many years - 1,500 present according to ITV, Golwg etc; 2,000 according to Cymdeithas yr Iaith. I hope the politicians take note.

I don't really disagree with the need for an English-language channel for Wales.

The problem is that this is unlikely to happen unless the campaign for a Welsh-only S4C wins the day.

This is a time for realpolitik. We have to defend S4C: its independence and its cash. If we muddy the waters now with a "wider" debate about television in Wales, the result will not be lots of television in Welsh and in English.

The result will be to weaken the S4C campaign. People will be confused, and the BBC and the Government in London will take advantage to force their agenda on us.

And the result? Very little television about Wales, in either language.

Dafydd Tomos said...

I replied to Peter Black's post, but either he's taking ages to approve it, or Blogger is a bit rubbish. Here's my response anyway..

(My main point is that politicans like to propose ideas but never actually stump up the cash for them, preferring to carve them out of other already allocated budgets instead).

Maybe people don't understand what 'channel' means in the digital world. In the analogue world, the UK only planned for 4 channels, so they could broadcast signals from overlapping transmitters without interference. A 5th channel was squeezed in through clever engineering but wasn't available everywhere.

In the digital world, either satellite or terrestrial, the space available for individual channel 'streams' is still finite but much more flexible.

There is nothing to stop a commercial body (or the Assembly) funding an English-language station for Wales which would buy space just like anyone else. If you wanted guaranteed capacity on a public multiplex then obviously you have convince the UK government as well. There would be a good case for removing 'ITV2+1' in Wales in favour of another Welsh channel. (I'm sure you would get complaints from anoraks who can't watch their celebrity-based programming an hour after everyone else).

It would be a separate 'channel' , whether it was run by S4C or not is a separate matter. There is no need to return to the dark days of mixing two languages for different audiences on the same channel.

I'm not sure that such a channel would be commercially viable either, just like S4C. Most English-speakers I know don't watch much 'regional' Welsh television. Why should they? They have hundreds of channels to choose from. Of all the UK-wide programmes I've watched in the last few months on BBC/ITV/Channel 4, many have had episodes from or about Wales. As a small example - Coast, Secret Millionaire, Come dine with me, Time Team. Some BBC Wales programmes like Coal House or Snowdonia 1890 get broadcast on the network.

None of the above is possible with Welsh-language programming. Wales gets a far greater coverage on TV in English and across a wide variety of channels.

The S4C 'crisis' has slightly masked the fact that broadcasting in general in Wales has gone rather downhill in the last few years. Since the Assembly has been reluctant to fund Welsh language content of any kind (print/web/TV) then it'll be interesting to see how it handles (and funds) broadcasting for both languages in future.

Anonymous said...

"We need programmes about and for Wales in English just as much as we need them in Welsh". ..very well made point MH.......

so i find the suggestion of a dedicated welsh english language channel..running alongside s4c .....very interesting and very appealing! and the suggestions to use the broadcasting space currently occupied by s4c2 or itv2+1 seem eminently sensible!

your point MH about english language programmes about wales being broadcast at inconvenient times was perfectly illustrated last nite...an excellent hour long programme on the historic tonypandy riots gets broadcast at just before 11pm on a sunday nite..hardly the most propitoius broadcasting time audience wise for such a worthwhile programme i would think!

Of course whether any of this will actually happen i do not know...but its very encouraging to see how people in wales....as illustrated by contributors to this blog..are using the opportunities presented as a result of the shambolic treatment of s4c to try and re-invent and restructure broadcasting in wales.

It may indeed prove to be the case that the attack on s4c wil prove to be the catalyst for broadcasting in wales to become a devolved matter.

Leigh Richards

Draig said...

"We need programmes about and for Wales in English just as much as we need them in Welsh. Is it fair that S4C should be allowed to have a whole channel of Welsh language broadcasting, when there is no equivalent to that in English?"

And here we get to the nub. And we need to recognise that this issue relates to an earlier point made on this blog about the Cymdeithas' demo - that very little effort was made to advertise the demo to the 80% of the Welsh population that happen to speak English.

And then people wonder why that same population refuse to play ball and have the audacity to ask for a better English language service!

It's no use treating the 80% of us that speak English as an afterthought to be dealt with "later" - it's an arrogant assumption. The reality is that this battle will not be won by following the narrow middle class "Statws" agenda of Cymdeithas yr Iaith.

We need a broader debate about the nature of WELSH broadcasting, but if we continue to preach linguistic exceptionalism then we can forget about the support of English speaking Wales.

Anonymous said...

S4C can only benefit from bilingualism. English-language Welsh culture is majorly neglected and our channel should reflect the full diversity of the nation.

We could do with more comedy too!

Anonymous said...

Draig: 'We need a broader debate about the nature of WELSH broadcasting, but if we continue to preach linguistic exceptionalism then we can forget about the support of English speaking Wales.'

... so, what area you doing about it then. There's no point moaning about Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg as their whole raise d'erte is the Welsh language. You'll find that the most voiciferous supporters of English language broadcasting from and about Wales are Welsh speaking nationalists. We're waiting for the 80% sleeping giant to do somehting too. is a Labour MP going to do the same as Gwynfor or do they like Bryant just snipe from the sidelines. Are you going to do anything. There's only one Welsh medium channel, people are trying to defend it. They need the support of non-Welsh-speakers. Likewise, the call for an English medium channel (is that what you're calling for?) would need support of Welsh-speakers too.

'linguistic exceptioalism' erm, would that be speaking Welsh?

Lets tone things down a bit, less talk of not paying license fees, working, talking, thinking and yes, we can get as you wish (and I do too) a debate about the nature of Welsh broadcasting - Cymraeg and Cymreig.


Anonymous said...

We are a bilingual nation and we are supposed to sign up for equality
Why the opposition to S4C being bi-lingual then as long as the programmes are about Wales and made in Wales

Draig said...

"There's only one Welsh medium channel, people are trying to defend it. They need the support of non-Welsh-speakers."

And so they should. And as to what I'll do, I'll go on demos, write letters etc. like the next guy. I'd even consider the option of boycotting license payment - but I don't have a telly! I am a Welsh speaker but I just don't think S4C is as good as it used to be and I won't pay to subsidise the anglocentric bullshit that the BBC peddles.

To go back to my point, the Cymdeithas has done a great job building a broad coalition within a very short time - but until English speaking Wales is effectively engaged it won't be broad enough. Part of that engagement means a fuller debate about Welsh broadcasting per se.

MH said...

Lots of good points. I'll just pick up a few. Owen, I understand what you're saying, but it is swimming against the tide. ITV has moved from being something strongly based on regions, to providing a network service with hardly any room for regional variation. I do think Wales should have a separate licence for Channel 3, but ITV as it is is always going to be popular in Wales. So I wonder if its better to let network ITV be network ITV, but require it to provide additional output (or the money, for others to produce it) for programmes to be shown on another channel.

Simon, Yes, the rally yesterday was good. We need to keep the momentum. But I don't think I'm confusing the argument at all. The way I see it is this: People will use this poll as a means of attacking S4C in its current form as a Welsh only channel. So the best way of defending the S4C as a channel is to acknowledge the need for English language broadcasting for and about Wales as well. The approach of S4C's opponents will be to try and set Welsh speakers against non Welsh speakers, so we must say clearly that fighting for one does not mean being against the other. We will achieve more by working together. So I'm with Leigh and Draig. The point you made about the demise of BBC2 Wales was good, the new channel could build on that model ... but it needs to be wider than just the BBC, it has to include programmes from other sources.

Dafydd, agree with nearly everything. I'd just query whether any channels need to be "commercially viable". The BBC isn't commercially viable, it relies on £3.5bn or so of public money. Are the police or fire brigade or schools commercially viable, or do we take the view that we get a better service by paying for them out of the public purse?

VM, please think through the implications. If S4C as a channel has to be bilingual for the sake of "equality", then every other channel broadcast in Wales must also be bilingual for the sake of the same equality. It cuts both ways.

Anyway. some hints on Newyddion that the poll also has some positive findings that the Western Mail would have no interest in reporting. We'll find in the next thirty minutes.

Dafydd Tomos said...

Oh I totally agree that nothing needs to be commercially viable in order to exist (or I would not support the BBC and S4C). My point is that even an English language channel would probably need some government funding and support from existing broadcasters.

Of course we could just look at improving programming about Wales on existing (and competing) English-language channels, which I think is preferable. I believe S4C had become very complacent and unable to accept criticism in large part due to lack of competition, as well as the failure of regulation.

Anonymous said...

2 bwynt o wybodaeth. Polisi Cymdeithas yr Iaith o'r 70au oedd Awdurdod Darlledu i Gymru gyda Sianel Gymraeg a sianel Saesneg.
2 points of information. From the 70's Cymdeithas yr Iaith's policy was for a welsh Broadcasting Authority with a Welsh Language And English Language Channel.
Rydw i ar banel You Gov ac ni chefais wahoddiad i gymryd rhan na chlywed dim am yr arolwg tan rwan.
I am on the You Gov panel and was not invited to take part in the survey and heard nothing about it until now.

Draig said...

I think perhaps that we all accept that whatever happens over the next few years, the status quo is not an option. As Dafydd points out, S4C has become complacent, but the lack of competition is inevitable I suppose given the nature of S4C as a channel.

One earlier poster suggested the idea of using S4C2 as an English language channel for Wales. This is an idea that has merit and should be explored more thoroughly. On this basis we would have one broadcasting Authority under S4C as MH says, but it would have two dedicated channels - one committed to Welsh-language broadcasting, and the other to English language broadcasting.

I'm no expert by any stretch but would also have thought that on this basis, the cost of equipment, studios and technical support staff etc. can be shared between the two channels, so for example camera men and sound people can just as well work on English language as well as Welsh language programmes, and of course to some extent this already happens.

On this basis, while S4C1 has led to the development of an entire Welsh language industry in itself, "S4C2" would also support the development of an English language industry.

On this basis, we could go ahead and build a political consensus for change across both language communities in Wales, on a unified and equal playing field. It would be very difficult to play divide and rule with that kind of demand :-)

Anonymous said...

Agree with Draig- Welsh democrats must be seen to be championing Welsh broadcasting in both our languages, in terms of both defending S4C from the ConDem offensive and positively campaigning for a parallel English language service. Not doing so runs the wider political risk of the zombies of True Wales et al attempting to turn the present debate regarding S4C into a divisive Welsh language vs. English language squabble, something I'm sure anti-devolutionists would be only too happy to see as the powers referendum approaches.

Peter Black said...

Dafydd, sorry about the delay in approving comments. My Blackberry is refusing to play ball. The fact that I highlight something on my blog does not mean that I am 'eager' to take a particular anti-S4C slant. That is not my position at all. I am just highlighting it. After all blog is short for web log, literally a record of what you think is interesting on the web. We do not all have the time to develop references into huge philosophical discussions.

MH said...

"Setback" was your word, Peter, even if chosen quickly.

But when you have a moment to think it through, ask yourself why wanting more English language programmes for or about Wales (this is what it must mean, because there are more than 30 channels of general English language programming available, including a full Channel 4) should be a setback for those who want Welsh language programming ... something that is almost by definition for or about Wales.

With room for so many digital channels, we don't need to compromise one to get the other.

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