Been involved in much discussion about S4C, the Welsh Language TV channel lately. Its going to carry on. This post reflects on some of the issues, and outlines some of my thinking - which seems not to be universally popular. The more I've had to confront the issues, the more comfortable I've been with my opinions. Just don't think my critics are realistic - and I don't live in the world of make believe.
A recurring question is whether broadcasting in Wales should be devolved to the National Assembly. Have to concede that personally, I have no real objection to this, but its not going to happen - any time soon anyway. A referendum of Welsh voters was held in March which delivered a new devolutionary settlement, and its not going to be revisited while the signatures are still not dry. The reality is that S4C is accountable to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport at Westminster - and that's how its going to stay. The long-term future is another matter.
A second issue is the level of funding for S4C. Roughly speaking, the budget has been reduced from around £120 million to around £100 million - totals derived from the BBC licence fee, the Treasury and BBC programming costs. This budget figure has steadily grown over the decades by guaranteed annual inflation-proofed increases(written in legislation). In my opinion, it is totally unsustainable that while the budgets of defence, policing, education, welfare, and every other part of the DCMS budget is being cut by large percentages, S4C alone should not be. The link in legislation which guaranteed annual increases has to be broken - which is why its included in the Public Bodies Bill.
A third issue of contention is 'accountability' - and here I share some of the concerns of my critics. Since most of S4C's future budget is to come from the BBC licence fee, I accept that the BBC must be involved in governance arrangements - but it must not be in a position of dominance. We have not yet seen the agreement between DCMS, S4C and BBC. But to listen to the critics, the idea of being 'accountable' at all is unacceptable. While public money is funding S4C, it must be accountable. It cannot be allowed to do just what it wants. No body receiving public money can be. The issue revolves around the right balance between 'accountability' and 'independence'. And there is still work to be done on this before concerns, including mine are met.
Another issue that has not received much public attention is the intention of DCMS to undertake a review of S4C over the next year or so. It seems that Jeremy Hunt intends to take his responsibilities seriously. Important that this establishes the role and objectives of S4C, beyond the reach of BBC. Its also interesting that funding for S4C (currently settled until 2015) will from 2015 to 2017 be decided on by the BBC. Its crucial that there are effective levers over the BBC to deliver budgets acceptable to the DCMS. I need to be reassured that the 'review' process for S4C and licence fee negotiations running up to charter renewal in 2017 are strong enough.
There remain uncertainties, and potential for disagreement and debate - which is why I anticipate an important role for Welsh MPs in ensuring a strong Welsh Language TV channel continues into the future.