Concern for future of Wales' S4C as funding is taken over by the BBC

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Concern for future of Wales' S4C as funding is taken over by the BBC

Welsh government calls to preserve independent national TV channel after UK government announce funding cuts.

Welsh government calls to preserve independent national TV channel after UK government announce funding cuts.

Established in 1982, Welsh-language public TV channel S4C has been funded from London by the UK government's Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

As part of the UK government's budget cuts in October 2010, it was announced that funding for S4C would no longer come from the UK government but from the BBC, the UK's public broadcaster.

The decision to change S4C's funding model has raised fears that the Welsh channel will lose its corporate identity and editorial independence, as the BBC will have effective control over S4C's finances and operations.

The UK government also announced that S4C's annual budget will be cut by 25% by 2015 from £100 million down to £75 million.

S4C to launch legal review of decision

In response to the UK government's announcement, S4C said it will launch a judicial review of the decision to hand its funding over to the BBC.

The UK government's Department for Culture was criticised for the lack of consultation with S4C and with the Welsh government about the decision to change the broadcaster's funding.

S4C chairman John Walter Jones said he had no prior knowledge of the deal between the UK government and the BBC, and said he was "astounded at the contempt that the London government has shown not just towards S4C, but also towards the Welsh people."

S4C also released a report highlighting that funding cuts would result in drastic reductions in its service, up to a point where the channel could no longer be able to operate as a proper public service broadcaster.

Welsh political leaders call to preserve independence of S4C

The leaders of the four main Welsh political parties wrote a joint letter to the UK's Prime Minister David Cameron calling for an independent review of S4C.

In a rare display of unity in Welsh politics, the leaders of Labour, Plaid Cymru, Conservatives and Liberal-Democrats called for a sustainable and secure funding stream for Welsh language television and stated: "The review should seek to ensure that S4C as a Welsh language publisher-broadcaster remains independent."

"We agree that there may be potential for increased efficiency and effectiveness in delivering Welsh language media services through improved partnership between the BBC and S4C. This partnership has been a feature of S4C’s many successes in the last 30 years", wrote the four Welsh leaders.

BBC Wales already contributes around 500 hours of programming per year to S4C, but there are concerns about the plurality of the Welsh media and the lack of alternatives to the BBC.

Talking about the threat of the BBC taking control of S4C, the director of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, John Osmond, said: "In Wales we desperately need as many different voices as possible and this would seem to incline in the opposite direction."

Welsh coalition government partner Plaid Cymru called for broadcasting to be devolved to the Welsh Assembly Government.

S4C worth £90 million to the Welsh economy

S4C's contribution to the Welsh economy is worth an estimated £90 million, according to a report published by Cardiff University.

The report also shows that S4C sustains more than 2,100 jobs and promotes investment in new technology and training.

In a letter sent to the UK's Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, a number of TV and music Welsh celebrities said S4C is "the cornerstone of culture and creativity in Wales."

The Welsh celebrities urged the UK government not to cut the budget of S4C and stated "Our careers all began, or were given a substantial boost by, involvement in productions commissioned by S4C."

"S4C has a great pedigree in commissioning programming which is not only of benefit to Welsh speakers but, through subtitling and dubbing, audiences further afield, bringing in money to UKplc as well as providing opportunities for new local talent."

The Welsh independent producers’ trade association TAC said "The arguments against cuts to S4C are not down to narrow self-interest, but an understanding of the key role played by S4C in bringing Welsh voices, perspectives and ideas to the UK and the world."

S4C claims to have a high following among non-Welsh speakers. The channel says 28% of its average weekly peak-time audience are viewers who do not speak Welsh.

S4C poised for change

S4C has been hit by falling viewing figures in recent years and currently has an average weekly reach of 460,000 viewers in a nation of three million people.

The Welsh channel has been in crisis since March 2010 after it was revealed that only one in five S4C programmes had more than 10,000 viewers and some of its programs had technically zero viewers.

S4C's chief executive Iona Jones resigned from her post in July 2010 and the channel has been accused by some critics of making programmes for a cultural elite.

In their joint letter to the UK's Prime Minister calling for an independent review of S4C, the four Welsh political leaders acknowledged that "We have been concerned for some time that the political stewardship of S4C has been insufficiently vigilant."

The UK government's Culture Minister Ed Vaizey defended his department's decision and said that a new partnership model with the BBC was the best way to secure S4C's long-term future.

"The BBC already provides news for S4C, and when you are looking at a reduced funding environment, not just S4C, everyone has to make savings", told Mr Vaizey.


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