Broadcasting Special 3: Is it a channel we want but don’t watch?

Iestyn Garlick says S4C’s financial and editorial independence is essential if it is to have a future

Despite the spending cuts there is still money on the table for S4C, and although it is less than what we’re used to it is still enough to offer a service in the Welsh language. So there is a future for S4C, but for how long? There is no guarantee of anything beyond 2015, and that’s the biggest concern.

To ensure that future we will need to ensure that S4C is a relevant and essential Channel to the Welsh nation. It must not be the Channel we all want, but do not watch.


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The independent producers association TAC represents close to 36 companies. This equates to more than 80 per cent of those working in the industry, which are therefore responsible for more than 80 per cent of S4C’s budget. These are Companies that have demonstrated over and over again that they can respond to the demands of S4C in the past, and are ready to do so in the future.

There has been considerable criticism of the policy of creating large companies, but it’s those companies that will train the workforce of the future. The training undertaken by Cyfle and Skillset Cymru is vital to any success.

Equally TAC will fight for the smaller Companies as well. If S4C is to prosper then there must be a place for a range of ideas and styles. TAC will fight for the Sector’s future, because if there is a threat to S4C’s future, then there is a threat to whole of TAC’s membership.

Others must also play their part if there is to be a prosperous future. Unlike Scotland, Wales is a country which sometimes seems to have its sights on London. On the other hand in Scotland people look first to Edinburgh rather than London.

More than 90 per cent of newspaper readers in Scotland read a either a Scottish daily paper or a Scottish edition of a London paper. In Wales fewer than 10 per cent read the Western Mail or the Daily Post and there are no Welsh editions of the London Press. This means the vast majority our nation are reading the London papers and as result know little about what is happening on their own doorstep, let alone what is happening in Cardiff Bay. The challenge for S4C is to attract an audience from amongst these people.

It’s time for the Western Mail to stop using terms like “beleaguered”, “under-threat” and “ailing” when referring to S4C. They must not continue to spread the suggestion that no one is watching S4C, which is simply not true. The more the press and media are allowed to continue in this vein, the more likely people are to start believing these allegations. For example, there has been talk recently that only 25 per cent of the potential audience had been watching the top  programme in S4C’s  top twenty. However, there was no mention that in the same week the percentage that had been watching the most popular programme on the BBC was 18 per cent. Of course, that does not make such a good story.

S4C must have stability and independence to ensure its future. This has been TAC’s demand from the outset. S4C will need to secure an agreement with the BBC so that money is in place for four years. We cannot accept a situation in which it would  have to negotiate its budget on an annual basis.

It is also essential that S4C has the right to decide how and where the money is spent, just as the BBC has the right to use money as it pleases. It must make it perfectly clear to whoever is listening that it is not BBC money, but license fee money.

The BBC will no doubt offer a strategy that benefits both them and S4C. But any deal must also be beneficial to the Welsh language and culture, since protecting them is one of S4C’s core principles. We must not forget that S4C and the BBC are in competition, not only for the audience, but for ideas, actors, writers, and rights for sporting events. The financial and editorial independence of S4C is essential if there is any kind of future to broadcasting in the Welsh language.

Iestyn Garlick is an actor, producer, television presenter and chairman of TAC. This article is based on a presentation he delivered at the Cyfrwng media conference in Cardiff earlier this month.

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