Dyfodol i’r Iaith has called for fundamental changes in the management of broadcasting in Wales. With the Westminster government threatening to scrap the licence fee which funds Radio Cymru and S4C, Dyfodol now wants to see the control of all broadcasting in Wales transferred to a new broadcasting authority under the supervision of the Welsh Government.
Eifion Lloyd Jones said on behalf of Dyfodol:
“For a century, the BBC has been maintained as a public service for all through the licence fee. The substantial total of that revenue has ensured adequate funding for a successful service that has set a standard that the rest of the world has aspired to. In a world which now receives information from a variety of sometimes suspect sources, public broadcasting remains the gold standard for well-researched and unbiased news.
C4 and S4C were also founded as public services in 1981, although a small proportion of their income is generated through commercial business. But these channels were not sustained by their commercial value – Welsh language broadcasting would not survive commercially. It is also impossible to imagine the present Westminster Government granting adequate funding for S4C, given the constant real cuts to the channel’s budget over the past decade.
Since broadcasting and communication in the UK is controlled by Westminster, they set the BBC’s licence fee and they decide the fate of C4 and S4C. It was Westminster, therefore, that insisted on directly linking S4C’s main budget to the BBC licence fee. That, in our opinion, was the first mistake, and although S4C itself has welcomed the security that this brings, the financial dependence of S4C on the British Corporation threatens the Welsh channel’s future funding and editorial independence.
With the current Conservative government set upon undermining the BBC’s independence as they believe the Corporation is too critical of them, their policy is now to freeze the cost of the licence for two years and thereafter only increase it in line with inflation, whilst threatening to abolish it completely in 2027. The two-year freeze is bad news for all services: Radio Cymru will be directly affected and S4C indirectly so. Scrapping the fee altogether would threaten the very existence of a public service, as any other means of funding would depend on viewers’ response to programme content. Inevitably, popular programmes would attract viewers whilst quality, time-consuming and costly programming would face oblivion. Without adequate funding, these programmes would soon disappear.
“In the context of Wales and the Welsh language, the number of viewers alone could not justify any kind of substantial television or radio service for BBC Wales, S4C, Radio Wales or Radio Cymru. We must not be fooled by the extra £7.5 million awarded to S4C for the next six years to provide content on-line. This is less than 10% of the Channel’s annual budget, and that £88 million total has decreased in real terms over the years with its effect to be seen daily on our screens.
The fate of the Welsh language would therefore follow the decline in its use on the media transmitted to our nation’s homes. In a word, the future of the Welsh language depends on its being seen and heard publicly. S4C is the main source of Welsh in our homes and its contribution to children’s language development is immeasurable. In non-Welsh-speaking households, it is the ‘Cyw’ programme genre that strengthens the work of ‘Cylchoedd Meithrin’ and primary schools in transferring the language naturally into the consciousness of our children.”
Dyfodol calls upon the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru to take the following steps as part of their agreement to develop the media in Wales. This agreement should not only concentrate on new media but should also safeguard and develop the current media outlets which are relevant to most Welsh speakers.
- Control of the media in Wales should be transferred to an independent Welsh authority, overseen by the Welsh Government.
- The future of S4C should be unshackled from that of the BBC and be an independent body, answerable to the new Welsh broadcasting authority and receiving a sufficient annual budget in line with inflation at least.
- The Welsh radio service should be safeguarded, and since the BBC’s future budget cannot adequately fund the service, it should be devolved from the British network and developed as an independent Welsh service – again answerable to the new Welsh broadcasting authority.
Eifion Lloyd Jones added:
“Although these steps may appear to be a revolution in broadcasting, we should ask ourselves: what other country in the world would be happy to see their main communication channels controlled by another country? When revolutions occur across the world, possession of media outlets becomes the priority of their new leaders. The bullet holes I’ve seen on the walls of broadcasting stations in eastern Europe bear witness to this. Our call is for a peaceful revolution: one that would secure the future of Welsh broadcasting, and through that, the future of the Welsh language.”