The public debate that has been held outside of Wales is all to do with value for money, that is can it be justified to spend £100m with so few viewers.
This argument is false for a number of reasons, but it is also a morally vacuous argument.
First of all please don’t be guided by the idea that the channel should be justified simply by the number of viewers it has. The way that viewing figures is measured is faulty; they don’t count children (viewers of the ever brilliant Cyw service, from 7am to 1pm), but more importantly it doesn’t consider the importance of the priceless contributions made by S4C culturally, linguistically and economically.
As well as this what about the economic value which cannot be measured? Would TV programmes from other countries have been filmed here if it wasn’t for the brilliant resources available for TV as a consequence of S4C? Would some of the movies have been filmed here if it wasn’t for the high regard that Wales is held in as a consequence of S4C networking and successes?
These are immeasurable economic benefits, as well as the 2,000 people who are directly employed by TV companies in Wales. What about those companies that have gone on to win major contracts for other channels, bringing money into Wales? I’m thinking specifically about Tinopolis and Boomerang, companies who provide high quality programming for Channel 4, ITV, BBC, and which would not exist if it were not for S4C.
And what about those things that you cannot place monetary value on? The language and culture. I was a pupil for a time at Ysgol Gyfun Gwyr on the outskirts of Swansea. Most of my friends came from non Welsh speaking households, but I remember vividly the discussions between them around the desks talking about ‘Sgorio’ because it was the only way that they could see continental football on TV. S4C doesn’t only have a role in enriching the language and contribute in the language’s natural evolution, but the channel also has a crucial role in introducing the language and culture to people, to inspire and encourage.
S4C has other successes – cartoons such as SuperTed, Fireman Sam, Sali Mali; actors and presenters such as Ioan Gruffydd, Mathew Rhys, Rhys Ifans, Alex Jones, Gethin Jones, all are recognisable names to viewers across the globe. S4C has commissioned some excellent programmes – Con Passionate, Pen Talar, Tair Chwaer; but more importantly the channel commissions programmes which would never be considered by a British Commissioning Body, but which are important historical documents, are entertaining, and reflect the Wales of their time, our Wales, the Wales that we know – Cefn Gwlad, Bro, Fferm Ffactor, Dechrau Canu Dechrau Canmol, C’mon Midffild, Teulu’r Mans, Tipyn o Stad, and the terrific children’s service, Cyw.
This is only a quick sketch of S4C’s successes and importance.
The fact that the Government in London want to transfer S4C under the wing of the BBC is also of huge concern.
Firstly the BBC Centrally doesn’t have the proudest record of respecting ‘the regions’ as Wales is too often referred to. The BBC, like every large corporation, is looking to protect the majority at the expense of the minority. This will inevitably mean that Wales and S4C will always be considered last. Phil Lavelle’s reaction to the announcement that the Beeb were to take over S4C is an all to familiar attitude amongst BBC’s London elite. On top of that the fact that S4C will have to be paid for out of BBC’s budget, without any additional funding and a real terms decrease in their income over the next four years will have soured the relationship from the off.
It’s financial considerations that take precedence, and the way that they treated the Asian Network is testament to why we should be weary of letting the Beeb control S4C.
Will the BBC guarantee a percentage of it’s funding towards S4C? Will the BBC allow S4C to be quasi-independent or will they interfere? To what degree will the BBC interfere? Will S4C have to be answerable to the BBC?
The other concern of course is that we will have a near monopoly on broadcasting in Wales. That is why I have contacted the OFT to ask them to look into this proposed merger. I’m not holding my breath.
Some of these questions have been partially answered in Michael Lyons letter to the BBC Trustees. (http://www.culture.gov.uk/images/publications/Lyons_BBC.pdf)
This paragraph causes great concern:
In the event that a new partnership model does not prove viable for any reason, the Government will not take licence fee money itself for this purpose. But in this situation the Trust will propose a one-off reduction in the level of the licence fee which would be equivalent to the contribution that the BBC would otherwise have made to S4C.
What does this mean? It says that if the partnership fails then the Government has no intention of funding S4C. What will S4C’s budget be then? Approximately £7m and anything else they can get from advertising!
S4C’s future is in the balance!
And finally what can I say about the way that this decision was made? An agreement drawn up by English based politicians without any consultation with our own Assembly or any other representative body from Wales, without any consideration to the implications of what they are proposing. Disgrace!