Wednesday, September 29, 2010

S4C matters to me as well.

The Assembly Government Heritage Minister, Alun Ffred Jones is a decent enough fellow, but even these can irritate at times. And he's irritated me today. Or at least something he's said has irritated me. According to the BBC, it seems he has arranged a meeting with UK Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to discuss the future of S4C at the Ryder Cup. Nothing wrong with that. And Alun Ffred says "S4C is not merely a channel. It is part of a wider strategy involving the Welsh Language". Nothing wrong with that either. But he followed it up with "I'm not sure Mr Hunt understands that." I reckon that Mr Hunt understands this only too well. I think I understand it. The Wales Office team understand it, and there are other Welsh Conservative MPs who understand it as well. The future of S4C, including its funding is a devilishly difficult and complex issue to deal with. Neither Assembly Government Ministers or Plaid Cymru have a monopoly of concern for the channel's success. Irritating.

Now I don't know what is in Jeremy Hunt's mind, but we all know that he has been challenged by the Chancellor to consider how to accommodate significant cuts in public spending. I would be surprised if he is not having to look at every single budget head - such is the scale of the wreckage left by the last Government. Actually, even Alun Ffred is reported to have said that S4C is "not untouchable". Perhaps he'll be able to explain to Jeremy Hunt just what he meant by that. Could it be the basis for agreement?

Because I'm a PPS in the Wales Office, I have to be circumspect - but I can reasonably pose some simple obvious questions, such as;

Was it not reasonable to assume that S4C was content to accept a £2million cut in funding this year if its Chief Executive so informed Jeremy Hunt's Department, and what sort of an organisation is it that has its Chair and Chief Executive taking diametrically opposing views on such a crucial issue? Were they not talking to each other?

If The UK Government is forced, by the incompetence of its predecessors, into making cuts in spending across almost all fronts, including what impacts on vulnerable people who depend on Government support, should a broadcaster be regarded as being uniquely exempt?

Should a broadcasting channel, dependent on huge public support, just sack a Chief Executive, appoint a successor without any sort of advertising process, and treat its paymaster as being without any rights at all to an explanation? We all know what shareholders would have done!

And there's a whole lot of other questions as well. At present, all sorts of barely credible rumours are circulating about what is, and has been going on. I really care about S4C, and if its decided that the channel must take some of the spending reduction burden, I hope it can be done without causing structural damage to a star in the Welsh firmament. What I really dislike though, is listening to people like Alun Ffred assuming that he has a monopoly on this.

19 comments:

Simon Brooks said...

You're right, Glyn, that nobody has a monopoly on concern for the Welsh language. Nobody doubts your concern for the language, nor that of Tory MPs like Guto Bebb. Plaid too have made mistakes on the language - the Welsh language newspaper debacle, for example.

Nevertheless, there are a number of issues here.

i) S4C is not the only broadcaster financed from the public purse. The BBC licence fee may be collected in a different way to other Government taxation, but it is nonetheless a form of tax (and a rather costly one too!)

Welsh-language campaigners are saying: hold on, why can't BBC and S4C be treated in a similar manner. Fair enough if broadcasters are to take a hit, but let's have parity. A 25% cut for S4C while the BBC swan around with no more than a voluntary freeze of the license fee is not on.

ii) I hope that Jeremy Hunt realises that S4C is "more than a TV channel". I regard the decision in 1980 by the Tory Government to set up S4C as a very important step in making the Conservative Party more acceptable in Wales to Welsh interests. It also made the Welsh national movement more moderate, and the Welsh language movement too.

Jeremy Hunt needs to understand that taking a bite out of S4C is different to taking a bite out of some quango somewhere.

The sensible thing would be to suspend any cuts in the S4C budget to 2013 and then cut in tandem with cuts to the BBC licence fee.

Roman Jones Esq. said...

I disagree, I consider S4C just a TV channel for a minority (albeit an indigenous) interest. At a time when medical treatment is being restricted for cancer patients, our troops are being given P45s whilst serving, when our schools are crumbling and old people die of the cold - subsidising a %@&@% television channel is ludicrous. I am Welsh, and speak a little, but if the institution of the language is such an important bedrock to the Welsh people; then advertising revenues should cover the costs because it is such a popular channel. But it isn't. Since the onset of digital TV, there has been a rush of Welsh viewers switching to Channel 4. I not only think that S4C should be left to the market, but quite frankly I would scrap the BBC licence fee too. The quality can't sink much lower than it is already.

Carl Jenkins said...

To be fair Glyn I think it is justifiable for Alun Ffred to say that he is unsure that Jeremy Hunt knows the score. He has been referring to S4C as a government department when it is not. His department has also indicated on the record that they are treating it different to BBC and Channel 4 showing they are not considering it equal in terms of broadcasters. What is more the mere fact that they have chosen to pursue S4C for cuts when they must know to do so would require a change to the Broadcasting Act shows that they have disregard either for S4C or the law that protects it.

"Was it not reasonable to assume that S4C was content to accept a £2million cut in funding this year if it’s Chief Executive so informed Jeremy Hunt's Department?"

I have seen the FOI Rhodri Glyn brought to the media attention recently and it is quite clear from that that Jeremy Hunt was perfectly aware that legally the Chief Executive had no right to agree to any cuts. Personally I have yet to see any proof that on any level S4C agreed to a £2m cut other than contradictory insistence from DCMOS. However, even if that was the case Jeremy Hunt knew perfectly well through legal advice that S4C were not entitled to offer any cuts to their budget and so for him to act the way he has shows a total disregard for the law in this matter.

Anonymous said...

In agreement with Roman, I am welsh speaking but rarely watch S4C. If it had to sustain itself with sourcing its own money, it would disappear. Radio Ceredigion is much the same, supported by voiceferous welsh speakers in the area, but sorely lacking in advertising revenue, as local business wont advertise..but would if there were more English programming...I knew a manager that worked there, but left due to the hassle from the welsh language supporters,insistent on the majority of output staying welsh, despite the station having to be bailed out financially - how many times has it been sold ? again not so long ago again...NWM did have it but found it to be a non starter financailly , they got out quick...much as is S4C imho

Some dope who lived on Trowbridge and Lansbury Park CH estates said...

I remember our TV antenna was always pointing to Bristol - I guess now with cable this isn't necessary to get some decent TV. Same went for the rest of our street. Does this make me 'Bad'? Y do I feel 'Glyntaff' guilty?

carl jenkins said...

Hi Glyn,

Thanks for posting my comment. I would appreciate if you would reply to some of the points raised.

Glyn Davies said...

Should apologise to those of you who comment. I'm working on the edge of time available at present, and my pleasure comes writing the original posts. Also, this issue is highly sensitive for me because of my PPS position. I cannot just say what I want to. But I will respond within self imposed limits.

Simon - The two points S4C put to me were its position vis-a-vis comparison with the BBC, and that much of its expediture is forward committed. And they are two good points for sure. But almost every other expenditure head has good points as well. Against this has to be set the first question I asked in my post - about how others who have to accommodate difficult cuts will feel if S4C is exempted. I can say that everyone connected with the industry with whom I've spoken seem to have little sympathy with S4C, and believe there has to be fundamental reform. I cannot take a public view on this. And I have no doubt whatsoever that Jeremy Hunt fully understands the sensitivity of this issue.

Roman - You go much too far (in my opinion) - but I sense that most people think along a line in your direction. For me S4C is special, and is a key part in what makes Wales different.

Carl - You make interesting points. Firstly I simply do not agree with those who say they do not think Jeremy Hunt fully understands this issue. He is well up to speed and is an extremely able man - trying to accommodate the demands of the Chancellor, who is trying to restore some credibility to the British economy. He is situated amongst several 'hard places'. My guess is that Alun Ffred Jones will have a 'revised' opinion of Jeremy Hunt when he meets him.

The issue of 'legality' is interesting. All I would say is that Governments are in a position to change laws, if needs be. Neither am I sure that the £25million worth of programmes delivered free to S4C by the BBC is protected by law. I'll have to check up on this. Perhaps you can tell me. Whatever, I cannot see the sense in taking this line with Government. I will add that I've spoken with several people closely connected to Welsh broadcasting who have no doubt that the Chief Executive 'agreed' a cut with the Heritage Department. They all think it was the reason the the S4C board sacked her. The truth will come out eventually, especially if she takes S4C to court. In the absence of any public statement by the S4C board, providing justification for their actions, what are we all supposed to think?

Glyn Davies said...
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Glyn Davies said...
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Carl Jenkins said...

Thanks Glyn,

I take your point that Governments can change laws. If they did then I would oppose that but accept it is a right of the government. However, in this instance they are proposing cuts that need a change of law to impliment without changing they law.

Saying we can change the law is not the same as doing it.

In so far as the legal issue. If the chief executive did or didnt agree cuts is a smoke screen really. I have seen only hearsay but the fact is that if some of your sources are correct and she did it still doesn't change the fact that Jeremy Hunt was well aware from an early stage that legally the chief executive has no right to do that. It doesnt matter if she has agreed when DCMOS knows she can not legally do that.

Carl Jenkins said...

After this article in the Western Mail today you can not seriously continue to believe Jeremy Hunt has a good understanding of the cultural significence of S4C!?

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/welsh-politics/welsh-politics-news/2010/10/04/language-campaigners-see-red-over-voiceover-idea-91466-27393504/?sms_ss=twitter&at_xt=4ca984509ed9fa3b,0

Penbedw said...

Glyn – would I be right in thinking that you have a ‘revised’ opinion of Jeremy Hunt and his understanding of the sensitivity of this issue following his red button comments?

Glyn Davies said...

Carl and Penbedw - Actually Martin Shipton telephoned me about this issue (because I know him) and I said I just could not comment on hearsay from a private meeting. I've been around long enough to know that what one person says is not what another person hears! And even if it was said, I'd need to know in what context. When I met with S4C at Westminster, I asked them to comment on a merger betwen S4c and the BBC - because I wanted to guage reaction, rather to signify that I thought it a sensible idea. I tend to believe what I hear Jeremy Hunt actually saying - not what others (often with a political agenda) tell me he said.

Anonymous said...

but you are willing to believe on hearsay that S4C's chief executive gave away 2m. odd

Glyn Davies said...

Anon - perhaps you should read Betsan's Blog of the 21st September. You can access via the link on my blog. According to released communications between DCMS and S4C, there was an 'assumption' (to put it at a minimum) that a £2million cut had been agreed. This had much more credibility than a 'rumour'. But as I often say what one person says is not what another hears them saying.

menaiblog said...

Annwyl Glyn

I post the following message in two parts, as your blog won't accemt it in one chunk - it's too long. Please read it as one message.

As a member of Alun Ffred’s party who blogs regularly on Welsh language issues, I’m more than willing to recognize that your party has an honourable record of supporting & encouraging the language. After all S4C was established under a Tory government, as was the first Welsh Language Act.

I’m also happy to endorse your suggestion that it’s not in the interests of the language to be seen as the sole preserve of my own party. The language belongs to all the Welsh people whether they speak it or not, & people from right across the political spectrum should be encouraged to support it. The support that you & other Welsh Tory politicians have given to the language is testament to the eclectic nature of political support for it. I’m even willing to give Jeremy Hunt the benefit of the doubt, & accept your assurances that Mr Hunt recognizes the importance of S4C to the language – although I suppose that it wouldn’t be wholly surprising if he wasn’t 100% au fait with the intricacies of the Welsh language & the structures that support it four months into his spell as UK culture minister.

Having said all that, the support that you and other members of your party give to the Welsh language does bestow a responsibility on you, as it does on the rest of us. This responsibility involves recognizing that the survival of the language involves proactive support at all levels of government. In practical terms this means that as a general principle, supporters of the language should recognize that the structures that support it should be protected insofar as that is possible, & use whatever influence they have to protect those structures. S4C is a vital component of that support structure.

(see next message)

menaiblog said...

People of my generation who took part in the campaign for a Welsh language TV channel in the late seventies remember well the feeling then that the Welsh language was in terminal decline, & that the numbers & percentage who spoke it would continue to decline until both reached negligible levels. Happily this vista failed to materialise, & the prospects for the language have improved considerably since that period. It isn’t difficult to see why – in contemporary Wales the language is seen by many as relevant, dynamic and modern - and is thus linked to personal and collective aspiration. This is the complete antithesis of how the language was viewed for much of the last century. S4C – whatever we might think of it’s Authority, & whatever we might think of it’s corporate behaviour, has been a key component of the set of factors that came together to transform people’s attitude to the language & their understanding of it’s relevance to their lives.

It goes without saying that severe cuts in the broadcaster’s budget would have a severe effect on the channel, & more importantly on the way people perceive it. I commented earlier on the responsibility that all of us who support the language have to ensure it’s well being. At the risk of causing offence by suggesting that Mr Hunt’s understanding of the importance of S4C to people’s perception of the language might be limited, I’d like to implore on you & the other Welsh Tory MPs to reiterate to him S4C’s key importance in supporting the language, & to keep any cuts to a minimum. I realize that many Tory MPs are busily lobbying to protect various recipients of public money at the moment. But knowing as I do that the language is as important to you as it is to me, and knowing that at this point representations by Tory MPs carry far more weight than those of politicians from other parties, it’s of the utmost importance that you utilise that influence to it’s maximum at this juncture.

Failure in this regard would be extremely detrimental to the Welsh language, but it would also be detrimental to the reputation your party has built of being broadly supportive of the language and it’s interests. Political parties are usually judged by their most recent actions, & your party will be judged harshly by the Welsh people and by history if you inflict the ruinous cuts that are being considered at the moment on the S4C budget.

Glyn, please see what you can do, and encourage other Welsh Tory MPs to do all they can do. Much depends on your success.

Diolch

Cai Larsen

menaiblog said...
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menaiblog said...
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