Chief executive of S4C, Arwel Ellis Owen today warned that the change in the Channel’s funding formula by Culture Minister, Jeremy Hunt, posed dangers for public service broadcasting throughout the UK.
In a speech at a conference to mark the 40th anniversary of the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, Arwel Ellis Owen said the amendment by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport even sent a clear message to the BBC whose own ten-year funding formula ends in 2013.
He said, “Yesterday Jeremy Hunt introduced a one-line amendment to the funding formula for S4C in the Public Bodies Bill. The announcement seemed innocuous – a break in the RPI link to S4C’s funding. This is a formula inserted into the statutory provisions that established S4C – for a purpose.
“It gave S4C a continuity of funding that allowed long-term planning – Pen Talar, for example, a nine-part drama shown for an hour on Sunday nights dramatically recreating the last 50 years in Welsh history – took three years from script to screen. A guaranteed income formula made such long-term investment possible.
“The second reason for having a statutory formula was to ensure that the S4C Authority’s independence was guaranteed by law from interference by politicians. This formula kept politicians at arm’s length from sensitive issues of editorial independence and content policy.
“By doing away with that protective formula the Minister has assumed the power to control the funding stream of a public service broadcaster. Whilst such a one-line amendment concerning a minority language television service may be of marginal interest to journalists and news operations in the UK, they should pause and reflect on the implications of this crucial principle of independence to public service broadcasting across the UK.
“S4C this week – BBC next? I have been around long enough to remember the challenge posed to freedom of information and to the health of investigative journalism within the BBC when the Corporation was caught in the annual fight licence fee income.
“The BBC is indeed fortunate to have a ten-year funding formula but that comes to an end in 2013.
“The clear message from yesterday’s change in S4C’s funding formula is – watch out!”