S4C at odds over appointment of new chair

John Osmond reports on a deadlock between the Department of Culture and the Welsh Government which is preventing the Welsh channel moving on

Problems never cease at troubled S4C. The latest appears to be a deadlock between the Welsh Government and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in London over the appointment of a new chair for the S4C Authority. Interviews were held on 3 March and nearly three weeks later an appointment has still to be made.

Word on the street yesterday was that Jeremy Hunt, the Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, with whom the buck stops, is arranging a meeting in Cardiff within the next week to sort out the mess. It seems London and Cardiff have preferred candidates which do not coincide.

I understand that in an attempt to break the deadlock a fresh round of interviews with the four candidates is to be held in the next week.

One problem is that Hunt would prefer to appoint a clean pair of hands – an outsider who has had no involvement with S4C in the past, cannot be accused of being part of the problem, and can arrive at the television station with a clean sheet. The problem is that all four short-listed candidates on 3 March had a previous, close connection with S4C.

But as one industry insider put it yesterday, “The next chairman needs to be a non-S4C native. He or she needs to have no previous involvement and certainly not to have been part of the  process of where we are, the mess we’re in.”

Until S4C has a new chair it cannot appoint a new chief executive who can begin to chart the new direction that S4C urgently needs. It has now been nine months since the crisis that hit S4C with the departure of its former chief executive Iona Jones following a row with the S4C Authority that governs the station.

The four figures on the shortlist, now to be interviewed for a second time, are:

  • Enid Rowlands, a member of the S4C Authority between 1999 and 2007, and former chair of the ill-fated ELWa education and learning authority that was absorbed into the Welsh Government in 2004 at the same time as the WDA and Wales Tourist Board. She is a former member of the North Wales Police Authority. Ms Rowlands is also a member of the board of Consumer Focus Wales, shortly to be wound up as part of the UK government’s attack on quangos, and a National Trustee for Wales of the RNID. She is a former member of the BBC Broadcasting Council for Wales.

  • Emyr Byron Hughes, one of the small team that established S4C as a ‘publisher-broadcaster’ in 1982. He created and managed a process for contracting programmes from independent producers. He stayed with S4C for several years in senior management roles, including Director of Corporate Policy and Secretary to the S4C Authority, with responsibility for all policy, regulatory, legal, commercial and research activities. In 1997, acting for S4C,  he founded SDN Ltd, and led a successful bid for a UK digital terrestrial multiplex licence, with shareholder investment from S4C, NTL and United Business Media Plc. Later this was sold at a sizeable profit. After five years at SDN he moved into consultancy, closely involved in several developments relating to digital TV.

  • Huw Jones, S4C’s Chief Executive between 1994 and 2005. At the time of the establishment of S4C in 1982 he set up Teledu’r Tir Glas, one of the first Welsh independent production companies. At the same time he was instrumental in establishing Barcud, the TV facilities company based in Caernarfon, acting as its Chairman from 1981-1993. He was founding Chairman of TAC, the Association of Welsh Independent Producers. His other positions have included: Chairman and Director SDN Ltd. (until the sale of S4C’s shareholding in 2005), Director Sgrin (the Media Agency for Wales), and a member of the Further Education Funding Council for Wales. He was a member of the British Screen Advisory Council and Chair of Skillset Cymru from 2002 to 2005.

  • Rheon Tomos, acting chair of the S4C Authority and a member since 2006. He has a background in Accounting and Financial Management and is CPFA qualified. Rheon has both public and private sector financial experience and has been associated over many years with a range of boards and audit committees, including a period whilst working as a Director for Deloitte & Touche LLP. In 2005 he set up his own consultancy working for a number of core clients on financial management, efficiency agenda developments and governance assignments. He is currently the Chair of CIPFA in South Wales and sits on the Institute’s Regional Council. He is also Treasurer of Urdd Gobaith Cymru (the Wales League of Youth).

John Osmond is Directior of the IWA.

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