Saturday, November 07, 2015

Importance of S4C to the UK

I have always and will always live in Wales. Wales has much in common with England - a prosperous South East, large parts recovering from an industrial past, and largely overlooked rural areas. But Wales has one unique USP. We have the Welsh Language (Yr Iaith Cymraeg), the Language of Heaven. It is special. I'm not sure that our friends in England, Scotland and N Ireland fully get that. I once won the bardic chair at the Montgomeryshire YFC Eisteddfod (where English Language entries were allowed) with a treatise on the future of the the Welsh Language. I shared a widespread view at the time that it was doomed to continuous decline, and eventual demise as a spoken language. I was mistaken. The establishment of S4C in 1980, along with an early 190s Education Act has made the difference.
S4C was born to the Conservative Govt led by Margaret Thatcher. It was a quite difficult birth. As important as the establishment of the Channel was, the very generous budget agreed was equally important - linked to an inflation-based formula which lasted until the link was broken by the Public Bodies Act 2011. In 2010 the incoming Coalition Govt was faced with the challenge of establishing control over the calamitous state of the nation's public finances. I represented my party at committee stage of the Bill, and will never forget the experience - 1100 emails and protestors shouting at me. In my view, there was no alternative, as the Prime Minister who oversaw creation of S4C may well have observed! 
Let's talk money. S4C has three main funding streams beyond that which it raises in revenue. Much the largest contribution comes via the BBC from the Licence Fee - about £80million per annum. This is supposed to come without editorial strings. The second largest funding stream is also from the BBC, in the form of  broadcast content to the value of around £20 million per annum. None of this is supposed to impact on S4C's independence! 
The third income stream (and the point of this post) is the £6.7 million per annum coming from the Department of Media, Culture and Sport. I do and will continue to plead that this is not reduced. I accept that DCMS is likely to face very difficult choices, as the Chancellor finalises his Autumn Spending Review to be announced later this month. Every budget head will have it's champions. But a reduction in the DCMS contribution would be very unwise penny pinching.
Let's consider the reasons why. Breaking S4C's inflation linked funding in the Public Bodies Act 2011 was a big deal. So big that the Act specifically states that S4C would continue to receive "sufficient finance" to deliver a Welsh Language channel. A bit woolly - but hopefully more than a temporary 'sop' to persuade me and others to vote for it. Words in acts should mean something.
Another reason is the 'Independence' of S4C. To have the BBC providing all of the funding for S4C would seriously question how independence could be maintained. He who pays the piper etc...... And the BBC is far too dominant in Welsh media already.
Let me add a third reason. If DCMS reduces it's already relatively minor contribution further, the case for devolution of broadcasting could well become unchallengeable. I do not think many in the political or broadcasting world support that. And I should add that I am hugely proud that I learned to speak Welsh. Thousands of young people are speaking Welsh as their first language with pride. S4C has played a big part in the renaissance of Welsh. Let's not return to the 'dark days'
When the debate about establishing S4C was raging in the Conservative Party in 1979/80, the wise Willy Whitelaw advised Mrs Thatcher to look on it as an "investment in social harmony". So has proved. Let this investment continue.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A nitpicker might point out that we have 'yr iaith Gymraeg'...

Interesting post, though.