Rali in support of S4C – time to listen to viewers and ensure media plurality in Wales

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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3 Responses to Rali in support of S4C – time to listen to viewers and ensure media plurality in Wales

  1. Wyn Mason says:

    I would like to add to the above by saying that I don’t think it is striking or surprising that people are critical of S4C. As someone who has made several programmes, and pitched many more to S4C’s comissioning editors over the years, I can testify to the channel’s lack of experimentation and risk taking. The channel’s very existence in the first place was the result of a hard-grafted campaign that stretched from 1968 to 1980, during which many sacrifices were made, not least Gwynfor Evans’ threat to fast himself to death. If there is such a thing as a people’s channel, then S4C surely is a prime candidate. However, since they started broadcasting in 1982 they have conducted themselves as a traditional ‘Establishment’ broadcaster, like a mini-BBC, and have consistently played it safe re programme formats and ideas, rather than fostering creativity, distinctiveness and giving voice to some of the radical Welsh spirit that led to its very existence. I think it is most fitting and comendable for Cymdeithas yr Iaith to be seizing this moment of crisis and demanding fundamental changes at the very core of S4C.

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  3. Rebecca Williams says:

    It’s interesting to square this with the recent research from S4C that claims that the channel brought £90m to the Welsh economy this year.

    Given these debates over control and funding, as well as these wider contexts regarding the economic growth of Wales, the example of S4C is especially interesting.

    The BBC Trust recently called for BBC One to take more risks in its prime-time programming, so this issue of the lack of risk-taking and experimentation is not restricted to S4C. How much can we expect channels to be experimental? How much of this is influenced by the fact that they are Public Service Broadcasters? And how can these questions be squared with the contemporary economic situation?

    I think that watching how S4C develops over the next few years will be of interest, not just to those of us who are interested in Welsh broadcasting, but to anyone interested in the media more broadly.

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