Fact rather than fiction at S4C

Rheon Tomos sets out how the S4C Authority has been dealing with the many challenges it faces

Geraint Talfan Davies’s recent article on ClickonWales paints a daunting picture of what faces Huw Jones, when he takes over as Chair of the S4C Authority. But if Huw is confirmed in the post after his appearance before the Welsh Affairs and Culture, Media and Sport Select Committees in the House of Commons next week, he won’t have “a mountain to climb” nor “a bed of nails” to face. Instead he will find an Authority that has worked diligently to ensure the accountability and transparency of S4C. More importantly, he will find the continuation of what Geraint himself describes as “a cherished institution”, and S4C as a broadcaster of programmes people want to watch.

Geraint makes some surprising and some serious accusations. He casts doubt on the experience and, by inference, even the integrity of members of the Authority. He states, “Huw Jones comes to the task with a much needed professional knowledge of the broadcasting industry that is in short supply in the existing S4C Authority, as well as undoubted integrity.”

Members of the S4C Authority are appointed by the Secretary of State on the recommendation of a panel that includes Department for Culture Media and Sport officials, the Chair of the Authority, a representative of the Welsh Government and independent assessors. Is there a suggestion that this appointment process is deficient in any way? Is Geraint Talfan Davies questioning the Secretary of State’s ability to appoint professional people to these roles?

Half the Authority’s members are people with direct experience of broadcasting. The other half are people with extensive relevant professional experience in running large and complex public and private sector organisations. On a personal level my career has centred around advising public sector bodies on good practice in corporate governance and how to manage performance and scrutinise effectively. I can assure readers of ClickonWales that members of the S4C Authority take their roles and decisions very seriously and try at all times to act in the best interests of Welsh language television audiences.

As a group we invited Sir Jon Shortridge to review corporate governance within the Authority and his findings were published in February. The fact that we were willing to commission this work showed our integrity and our transparency as an Authority. We asked Sir Jon to undertake the review because he is acknowledged as Wales’ most experienced and expert senior civil servant, because of his knowledge of Wales, and because his views would be accepted as being his own and no one else’s.

Sir Jon identified areas for improvement and we as an Authority took positive steps to take ownership of his recommendations. He also concluded that the Authority’s decision making had been reasonable in moving away from the previous system of ‘separation’. This previous system of governance and management that had been largely unsuccessful, and its operation deficient in providing Authority members with sufficient ‘line of sight’ to facilitate effective scrutiny. Given that this is a fundamental requirement for a public appointment role it is not surprising that the report confirmed the need for change. We are confident that the changes we have made, coupled with the implementation of Sir Jon’s recommendations, will

  1. Create the stable environment needed in S4C to provide a quality programme service despite the budget cuts now being imposed on us; and
  2. Provide greater accountability than ever before to S4C’s numerous important stakeholders.

We also welcome the recent report of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee which was constructive and, in most respects, supportive though Geraint chooses to ignore anything that was positive in it. He could have mentioned that:

  • “S4C provides value for money”.
  • “S4C’s share of the viewing audience during peak times in recent years has held up remarkably well”.
  • “The key part that S4C has played in bolstering the everyday use of the Welsh language”.
  • “The significant contribution it (S4C) makes to the cultural and social life of Wales.”

The Report states that the Committee is clear in its view that, as part of the current discussions with the DCMS and BBC, S4C’s operational and editorial independence has to be secured for the future and that its financial future has to be guaranteed beyond 2014-15.

In recent months we have reconnected with our audience by means of newly commissioned research, public meetings, consultations and an open invitation to express views and programme preferences. This extensive consultation is being led by a task force of officials assigned to consider programme strategy options beyond 2012 when our budgets will be severely reduced. As part of this process we have also held an unprecedented series of meetings with the production companies and sought their views on future provision and shared ideas on the application of the newly established co-production fund.

Over several months we have been conducting a review of our operations and taken external independent advice on some aspects of our business. The Authority is maximising the monies available for programme making and supporting initiatives that will lead to improvements in viewing experiences. Only last week we announced a voluntary redundancy scheme, a difficult decision but one that had to be made.

I believe the Secretary of State’s recommendation of Huw Jones for the post of Chair of S4C will be welcomed by most of our stakeholders and industry observers. I’m convinced that there’ll be a welcome for him among the members of the S4C Authority as well. From the outset he will find evidence of a group of committed members and staff who have worked painstakingly to ensure he doesn’t have a mountain to climb nor a bed of nails to face on his arrival in the post.

I am also in no doubt that he will see above the bickering and headline grabbing associated with too many commentators and politicians of late. Instead, he will be excited at being part of a team that is wholly committed to the future of high quality Welsh language programmes and services. We deal in fact not fiction.

Rheon Tomos has been chairing the S4C Authority for the last six months.

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