Huw Jones, Chair of the S4C Authority, shared his vision of the Channel in four years’ time in an address to the Institute of Welsh Affairs today (Tuesday 18 October).
According to Huw Jones S4C will be leaner but more effective by 2015.
“It will be a multi-media organisation responsible for commissioning and broadcasting original content which will make an important contribution to a rich and attractive culture through the medium of Welsh,” he said. “It will be facilitating access to the service for those who don’t speak Welsh.
“It will be an effective partner for the BBC – managing itself but being accountable to the BBC Trust for its use of licence money and to the Government for the other public money.”
From the standpoint of the language, economically and culturally S4C will continue to play an all-important role in the life of the nation.
Huw Jones said that in 2015 ‘S4C will be an integral part of the development and continuation of the Welsh language and making far-reaching economic and cultural contributions.’
He said, “It will continue to be a firm foundation for the independent production sector in Wales which will, in its turn, be increasingly successful in wider markets.”
Referring to the discussions between S4C, the BBC Trust and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport regarding arrangements for financing, governing and managing the channel from 2013-14 onwards, Huw Jones said he did not believe ‘it was all over for S4C’s independence’ in the new structure.
“I believe it’s possible, by continuing our discussions, to come to an agreement which, on the one hand, will acknowledge the fact that most of S4C’s budget from 2013 will come from the television licence fee and, on the other hand, that there is a commitment for S4C to keep its operational and editorial independence while creating a practical new partnership with the BBC,” he said.
The intensive nature of the discussions between the three parties showed how ‘sincere efforts on both sides were to come to a conclusion which respected the principles that were fundamental to the two organisations,’ he said.
“One of the things of vital importance to S4C is to be able to show clearly, under the new arrangement, that S4C can make its own final decisions on operational matters as well as editorial, for example when making recommendations regarding different ways of operating and that its own administrative officers are free to assess the benefits of each recommendation from the standpoint of the value it will bring to S4C’s service and S4C’s viewers.
Already in 2011 S4C has lost £11m compared to the budget available in 2010. Compared to what it would have received under the Broadcasting Act the reduction is £14.5m. Next year, 2012, the income will be down to £83m and it will remain at that level without an increase for inflation for a further two years. S4C faces a cut of about 36% in its income by 2015 compared to what would have been generated by the formula existing under the present Act, namely an increase in line with inflation.
Internally, a substantial number of savings have already been made and S4C’s financial plans mean that by 2014 the channel will have reached a level of reductions in internal costs which, as a percentage, will match the cuts in the programme budget.
Huw Jones said, “At present, there is no security of any sort regarding the budget that might be available beyond 2015 and mixed messages have been given regarding who will make the decision regarding our financing beyond that and how the decision will be made. On the one hand, the new agreement between the Government and the BBC states that the level of S4C’s income from the licence fee after 2015 will be for the BBC to decide. On the other hand, the Government itself has presented an amendment to the Public Bodies Bill which states that the Secretary of State will continue to have the responsibility of securing that S4C has sufficient funds at its disposal to fulfil its statutory duties. We have already voiced our concern about these mixed messages.
“What we all know, of course, is that there is no way the BBC can make any commitment beyond 2017 because that is when its current Royal Charter comes to and end. But it might within the BBC’s power to make a financial commitment to S4C from the licence fee money which will mean financial security from that source until 2017, and also for the Secretary of State to make it absolutely clear that he is serious about his intention to guarantee sufficient funding for S4C – from more than one source – in order to gave S4C financial security up to 2017.
“These two commitments can be made within the present timetable of the present agreement between S4C and the BBC given a general desire to convince the people of Wales that S4C’s financial future is safe, albeit at a level much lower than before, until 2017. Before that too, there will be a new Broadcasting Act to present in the life of this Parliament, and an opportunity presented then to consider again the foundations given to the service.
“By getting all these elements together, therefore, our aim is that our discussions will bear fruit, that there will an agreement that protects S4C’s independence while securing accountability to the BBC for the use of licence payers’ money, that there will be a practical and fruitful partnership and also financial security up to 2017. Having secured agreement on these matters, the promise given by the Secretary of State is that there will then be a public consultation and an opportunity for everyone with an interest in expressing an opinion to say whether the agreement fulfils what they consider important as the foundation of a successful Welsh television service.