To whom it may concern,
This is my submission to the Welsh Affairs Committee inquiry into Welsh language broadcaster S4C.
I have no expertise in the field of Broadcasting nor specifically regarding S4C other than being an audience member and a father to a 3 year old son who uses the service regularly.
In my submission I will state my belief that:
- S4C succeeds to fulfil its remit fully
- The impact of the recent announcements will have a detrimental effect on S4C, the Welsh Language and culture
- Funding should not be looked at through the prism of the open market
- The agreement as written by Sir Michael Lyons threatens the very existence of S4C
- A minority language and culture should not be expected to justify its existence and made to fight for its continued survival
- The cultural impact of S4C is its greatest success, but its economic impact should not be ignored
- That no other Broadcasting body could or would commission valuable programmes that are shown on S4C
- S4C has historically provided a valuable platform for developing world famous programming (not necessarily associated with S4C)
- S4C’s recent governance has been questionable and questions regarding some key decisions should have been raised earlier
- With recent cuts in programme funding by BBC Wales and ITV it is questionable what collaboration could be achieved between larger bodies and S4C without diluting S4C’s remit
- S4C should be devolved to the National Assembly for Wales with sufficient funding
- Breaking up the BBC to reflect the constituent nations of the UK should be considered
- Placing S4C under the control of the BBC will lead to the loss of S4C’s independence and threatens its future
- Television continues to be a revolutionary communication tool allowing cultures and languages to evolve and thrive, and that Wales and the Welsh language should not be denied this opportunity.
1. S4C is fulfilling its remit of providing Welsh Television Programmes to viewers admirably. The programmes range from pre-school age through to programmes for the elderly. In fact I would argue that S4C achieves a far better result than any of the other channels considering that there is only one (1) Welsh Language TV broadcaster providing programmes for every age group and every interested party while the BBC, for instance, can split its TV programming between four (4) TV channels, with specialist programmes geared for specific tastes or age groups featuring on specific channels e.g. BBC3 providing Comedy programmes and programmes for the 18-25 age range.
2. The need to achieve this balance hasn’t always been successful, with some programmes less successful than others, but this is true of every broadcaster, and is not a problem exclusive to S4C. The fact that it has to achieve this balance on one Channel means that the success or failure of any given programme is magnified.
3. I fear the proposed spending cuts and the proposal to bring S4C under the control of the BBC will have a severely detrimental impact on S4C and its ability to broadcast high quality output. Prior to the Comprehensive Spending Review BBC Wales had already announced its intention to cut spending on producing programmes for S4C by approximately 17%. This alone would affect the quality of the programming produced by the BBC to S4C, but I understand that the BBC’s internal decisions are not within the remit of this inquiry.
4. Since this inquiry was launched on the 15th of October, nearly a week before the Comprehensive Spending Review with the announcement by Chancellor George Osborne, MP, that S4C would be placed under the control of the BBC with no knowledge at the time of the launch of this inquiry regarding such an announcement, I presume that the reference to “…potential future spending cuts…” might allow me to comment on the latest proposals.
5. The agreement as written by Sir Michael Lyons to the Chairman of the BBC Trust states:
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.
This is not acceptable. The Government has washed its hands clean of S4C and given the BBC an opportunity to do so as well. The above quote does not given any qualifications or caveats to protect S4C (though it does suggest cash-back to UK license fee payers!), but simply allows the BBC to wash its hands of S4C “for any reason”. In the event of this happening Sir Michael Lyons states clearly that the Government will not fund the difference, therefore S4C would be expected to continue its service with the £7m provided by Government and any revenues it can generate for itself. This is simply not acceptable.
6. A minority language and culture should not be expected to fight for its very existence in a global village where only a hand-full of languages dominate Global Broadcasting. The UK Government has a duty to protect and promote its various cultures and languages, without which the UK would not be what it is today. Therefore the question of what level of subsidy should be provided should not be considered as a purely economic equation, but instead what value beyond economic ones does the UK Government place on its indigenous cultures in order to allow them to continue and flourish. The Welsh language poses no threat to the English language, and those of us who live our lives through the medium of Welsh pose no threat to any English speaking individual, organisation, or establishment. However, conversely our existence as Welsh speakers is threatened.
7. A small independent English language Broadcaster has a greater chance of surviving on income generated from its own broadcasting, simply because of the dominance of the English language, the market value of which would make it worthwhile for advertisers to promote in. Maintaining a small niche market English Language Broadcaster who exists to provide entertainment in an open market might be a simple economic equation, e.g. number of viewers = £X, but maintaining a Welsh Language broadcast service, which has to cater for all tastes and entertain and educate in equal measures is economically more difficult. It is nonetheless vitally important.
8. You cannot underestimate the benefits of S4C to Wales, culturally and economically. From its earliest days through until today it has provided first class children’s TV, from SuperTed to the current Cyw service. No other broadcaster would broadcast such unique programmes as Fferm Ffactor, Cefn Gwlad, Bro, or would commission the production of dramas based on the Welsh experience such as Teulu, Tair Chwaer, Con Passionate, or indeed the longest running soap on the BBC Pobol y Cwm which portrays life in the Valleys of west Wales. No other broadcaster would commission a dramatisation of the works of Saunders Lewis, Daniel Owen or Caradog Evans. These and much-much more are uniquely Welsh, and without S4C would either be consigned to the Libraries or would never have been developed in the first place. Wales and our culture would be much the poorer without them.
9. Economically a recent report has found that the channel is responsible for sustaining over 2000 jobs in Wales. These jobs are scattered across Wales, and not concentrated solely in the south east corner of Wales. But S4C has also enabled the development of a vibrant independent TV industry in Wales, resulting in first class facilities being available for use for other companies, allowing even more money to be pumped into the Welsh economy.
10. Without S4C it is questionable whether world famous personalities (on air and off air) such as Mike Young, Ioan Gruffydd, Rhys Ifans, Alex Jones, Ceri Sherlock, Marc Evans, Karl Francis, and a host of others would have achieved their successes if it wasn’t for the opportunity that was given to them by S4C. These in turn have created networks and brought in investment through their networks to Wales.
11. To highlight one example. Mike Young Productions started after Mike Young was approached by S4C to produce SuperTed. Mike Young Productions is now based in Los Angeles with the production studio in Merthyr Mawr. Today they produce worldwide hits such as Bratz, Horrible Histories, Voltron, He-Man and other recognisable cartoons.
12. It is questionable whether S4C was giving the best value for money, and according to some it was top heavy. I am not in a position to comment on its staffing structures, unfortunately.
13. I believe that S4C should have made better use of multi-platform services to deliver its output, which would have resulted in it being a class leader in new broadcasting technology. As a small broadcaster it should have researched other avenues instead of being content to compete on the same level as much larger broadcasters such as the BBC and ITV.
14. The question of reaching a wider audience is difficult. Its remit is to broadcast in Welsh. This should not be diluted. As mentioned earlier one must be sympathetic to the difficulty of having to provide programmes suitable for such an array of tastes. It could not be content on broadcasting for a niche market within the Welsh speaking audience as this would have alienated other equally important viewers. Welsh speakers after all are subject to the same whims and fashions as our English speaking brothers and sisters.
15. S4C’s decision to limit the amount of companies that it used to commission programmes from was a bad decision which should have been questioned much earlier.
16. The BBC already produces a large amount of the programming broadcast on S4C, including the News and Pobl y Cwm. ITV have slashed the hours of programming that they do for S4C to four (4) hours a week already. If collaborating with either of these two producers is a serious option, then it can only be done by providing extra funding for them ring-fenced for producing programmes for S4C.
17. The natural home for S4C would be within the National Assembly for Wales. It would however be grossly unfair to devolve S4C without also providing the funding, as the Assembly has no means to raise its own funds. The logical answer would be for the license fee to be split between various broadcasters with a percentage sliced off to fund an independent S4C. Alternatively the BBC could be broken up entirely and follow the devolved nature of the UK, with a Wales Broadcasting Corporation coming under the control of the National Assembly, and the same with a Scottish, Northern Irish and English. These in turn could opt to contribute a percentage of their funding to fund a central BBC. Therefore the funding structure would be the converse of what it is now – rather than money collected centrally and distributed to ‘the regions’ as we are called, it could be allocated initially to the constituent nations within the UK and then decisions being made locally as to how that money is to be spent.
18. Placing S4C under the control of the BBC is not the answer. If the BBC chooses to continue with the proposed set-up then they will have ultimate control and answerability over S4C, effectively having a veto over S4C decision making. After all he who pays the piper chooses the tune. The BBC have no qualms in paying in excess of £16m to eight (8) of its biggest stars (who’s contribution to culture and education is questionable), but have no reservations in getting rid of the Asian Network, and threatening the existence of 6 Music, both of which contribute greatly to the cultural fabric of the UK.
19. I have grave concerns as to the security of S4C’s budget and its independence as a broadcasting body if it was to be controlled by the BBC. The BBC will in no way allow an independent body to be run completely separate of its influence but with £100m of its money. This would also add another tier of bureaucracy on top of the existing S4C governing structure, which will in time lead to calls to eradicate bureaucracy within S4C, tying the broadcaster even closer to the BBC (if the partnership gets that far).
20. The question is if the partnership between the BBC and S4C proposed by Chancellor George Osborne MP existed in 1982, would Mike Young have been able to develop SuperTed and go on to become one of the world’s greatest animators? Would Ioan Gruffydd have graced the studios of Hollywood? But more importantly would we have thousands of hours of documented evidence of an unique and ancient culture at the end of the twentieth and the turning of the twenty first century? Would Wales, its languages and its colourful culture be what it is today? The answer on all counts, in my opinion, is No.
21. The channel gives us a platform to express ourselves, to allow our culture to evolve and learn from other cultures, in a way which is not stunted or isolated. To deny us a fully funded Welsh language TV Channel is to deny the language its chance to flourish and find its way in the modern world through the broadest mass communicating tool used in the developed world. Television’s ability to spread trends, fashion, news, and ideas to groups of people (rather than the individualist Computer or Mobile Phone) has revolutionised the way we see ourselves and the pace of our cultural evolution. To deny Wales and the Welsh language this is to stunt our language and culture and ultimately to kill it.
Welsh Affairs Committee to hold an inquiry into the Welsh language broadcaster S4C
The Welsh Affairs Committee has decided to hold an inquiry into S4C, the Welsh language broadcaster. The Committee invites written submissions and requests observations on the following issues:
• The extent to which S4C is fulfilling its remit;
• What impact recent and potential future spending cuts will have on S4C and what level of public subsidy for S4C is appropriate and sustainable over the longer term;
• The cultural and economic benefit to Wales from the investment of over £100 m per annum of public funds into S4C;
• Whether S4C is maximising the use of its financial and other resources to achieve value for money, to optimise the quality of its output, and to reach as wide an audience as possible;
• The potential for further collaboration between S4C, the BBC and independent broadcasters in Wales in order to reduce duplication and to achieve economies of scale; and
• Whether the finance and accountability of S4C, currently the responsibility of the Department of Culture Media and Sport, should remain in Whitehall or become a devolved matter.
The Committee will also examine other areas of interest that are raised during the course of its inquiry. The Committee asks for written submissions on this issue in accordance with the guidelines stated below. The deadline for written submissions is Monday 15 November 2010. Evidence sessions for this inquiry will begin in November. Witnesses will be announced in due course.
Each submission should:
• begin with a short summary in bullet point form;
• have numbered paragraphs; and
• be in Word format or a rich text format with as little use of colour or logos as possible. Please do not send your submission as a PDF document.