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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Leaked figures and S4C

Are the interests of Welsh language fourth channel, S4C synonymous with those of the Welsh nation and the Welsh language? I only ask because an article in this morning's Daily Post has the channel's Chair suggesting that these matters are inseparable and that by implication S4C should therefore be above criticism.

John Walter Jones has questioned the motive behind the leak of the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB) research which revealed that fewer than one in five of its programmes attracted more than 10,000 viewers. 196 of 890 programmes sampled were zero-rated for viewers, or had below 1,000 viewers. He said that the reputation of S4C has been damaged by the leak:

“S4C publishes its viewing figures so they are out there, but these are detailed figures and I wonder what’s behind the leaking of this kind.

It has an impact on people’s perception of Wales as a nation and the development of the Welsh language, all the positive things can be knocked. We have companies who are trying to attract investment.

“It is beyond me. It is very personal and someone must have a deep-seated grudge against S4C and against things Welsh. S4C figures are holding up. Of the figures published last week, almost 80% relate to Cyw which is the children’s service and BARB doesn’t measure audience below the age of four.”

There is no doubt that S4C is crucial to the development of the Welsh language and that is why it has secured cross-party support. However, that does not mean that the same aims cannot be achieved in different ways so as to secure better value for money.

We may not reach the same conclusion as former Tory Minister, Rod Richards that Welsh Language programming should be given back to the BBC but it is legitimate to question whether S4C is doing the job effectively and whether or not changes need to be made to that channel.

Complaining that hitherto secret figures have led to the channel appearing on Page Three of The Sun does not advance that debate, nor does the defensive ramblings Mr. Jones indulges in during this interview.

S4C may be the Welsh Language Channel but it cannot hide behind the Welsh language for ever so as to justify its existence. It needs to show that it is actually reaching Welsh speakers and learners with its programming, something it is clearly not achieving at the moment.
In fairness, the figures prove nothing. We can't be sure that Welsh speakers were involved. It's a bit like bashing Channel 5 with European-wide figures.

That's not to say I think S4C is doing a great job, it's not. But before saying so, you need detailed figures taken from it's target audience.
Do the figures include viewers outside Wales?
S4C should in my view be largely paid for by the people that watch it. I belive that S4C should be moved to a subscription basis with perhaps 20% of its cost paid for by the Welsh Asembly

The current level of public subsidy is unacceptable when 25% of its programes register ZERO viewers and another60% only make it to a few thousand viewers.
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