Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Society) organised a rally yesterday at Cathays Park outside what was, in pre-devolution days, the Welsh office. Core to Cymdeithas’ argument was the need to guarantee the independence of S4C from the BBC and from political interference. This follows the news earlier this week that all four leaders of the main political parties in Wales had taken the rare step of co-authoring a letter to David Cameron calling for an independent review of S4C. Addressing the thousand (or was it two thousand??) supporters gathered in front of her, Menna Machreth, the articulate young chair of the society argued that the BBC in London could not be entrusted with S4C in a context where the Beeb’s own funding of both Welsh and English language broadcasting in Wales had seen a hefty cut. Despite the arrival of the drama village in Roath basin, which will this summer become home to staple fare like Casualty, many in the Welsh media industry have been expressing concern about the BBC’s apparent tendency to support network provision at the expense of sustaining regional and national programming. The 16% cut in English-language TV programmes (by the BBC and ITV) for Welsh viewers noted by this summer’s OFCOM analysis of the communications market is an important context for debates over S4C because it makes clear the need for an inclusive debate over what broadcasting in Wales should look like and who should oversee it – Westminster or WAG. But it was striking too that many speakers at the rally were critical of S4C itself, citing its failure to listen to its own viewers as part of the channel’s recent problems. Even the channel’s supporters seem to regard the current crisis as an opportunity to make something new of the old S4C.
By the way, Welsh-speakers interested in knowing more about the protests to establish S4C in the 1970s might want to check out a booklet called ‘S4C Pwy Dalodd Amdani?’ (trans. ‘S4C Who Paid For It?’) which the Welsh Language Society has recently produced. Inevitably it tells the story from the perspective of the Society and students & scholars will doubtless want to explore other analyses. Still, the pamphlet’s reproduction of cartoons satirising aspects of the 1970s protest are useful reminders of just how much has, and hasn’t changed, in the world of Welsh media and culture in the quarter century and more of S4C’s existence.
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