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Monday, November 08, 2010

Setback for S4C campaigners

Those of us fighting to secure the future of Wales Welsh language channel, S4C received a bit of a setback this morning with the publication of the results of an opinion poll that found that most people in Wales, including a narrow majority of Welsh speakers, believe S4C should show programmes in English.

The Western Mail says that the YouGov poll, commissioned by S4C programme Y Byd ar Bedwar being broadcast tonight, found 53% agreed the channel should show English programmes, with 18% disagreeing and the rest not expressing a view. Welsh speakers were more evenly split, with 36% backing English-language programmes on S4C and 35% against.

What this underlines is how precarious the support for the present system is amongst the public. It also, in my opinion underlines another problem, namely that programme schedulers on S4C are no longer producing programmes that people want to watch.

Neither I, nor the Welsh Liberal Democrats want to water down the present offering of Welsh language programmes, but we do need a recognition from S4C that they must change to survive. In the meantime we will continue to argue the case for the retention of an independent channel with a remit to deliver programmes through the medium of Welsh.
Maybe people don't understand what 'channel' means in the digital world. In the analogue world, the UK only planned for 4 channels, so they could broadcast signals from overlapping transmitters without interference. A 5th channel was squeezed in through clever engineering but wasn't available everywhere.

In the digital world, either satellite or terrestrial, the space available for individual channel 'streams' is still finite but much more flexible.

There is nothing to stop a commercial body (or the Assembly) funding an English-language station for Wales which would buy space just like anyone else. If you wanted guaranteed capacity on a public multiplex then obviously you have convince the UK government as well. There would be a good case for removing 'ITV2+1' in Wales in favour of another Welsh channel. (I'm sure you would get complaints from anoraks who can't watch their celebrity-based programming an hour after everyone else).

It would be a separate 'channel' , whether it was run by S4C or not is a separate matter. There is no need to return to the dark days of mixing two languages for different audiences on the same channel.

I'm not sure that such a channel would be commercially viable either, just like S4C. Most English-speakers I know don't watch much 'regional' Welsh television. Why should they? They have hundreds of channels to choose from. Of all the UK-wide programmes I've watched in the last few months on BBC/ITV/Channel 4, many have had episodes from or about Wales. As a small example - Coast, Secret Millionaire, Come dine with me, Time Team. Some BBC Wales programmes like Coal House or Snowdonia 1890 get broadcast on the network.

None of the above is possible with Welsh-language programming. Wales gets a far greater coverage on TV in English and across a wide variety of channels.

The S4C 'crisis' has slightly masked the fact that broadcasting in general in Wales has gone rather downhill in the last few years. Since the Assembly has been reluctant to fund Welsh language content of any kind (print/web/TV) then it'll be interesting to see how it handles (and funds) broadcasting for both languages in future.
First things first: I thought the
S4C rally in Cardiff which both ITV and Golwg claim 1,500 went to, and the BBC said "more than 1,000" was great. You have been around long enough in politics, Peter, to know that when 1,500 people turn out on a political rally, the issue is significant.

The rally was for the future of a Welsh-language public broadcaster, and for the future of television in the Welsh language.

On the poll, it is less significant than it first appears. It is hardly surprising that people remember the old analogue model when Channel 4/S4C programmes both appeared on S4C. But this model cannot be recreated in the digital age, and there is no point pretending that it can.

I agree that we need more English-language programmes about Wales. But putting them out on S4C at 3 in the afternoon, and 11 in the evening (i.e. to follow the old
S4C analogue model) is no solution.

The BBC2 Wales model run a few years ago is a better idea. Why was this scrapped? To be perfectly honest, I think we need to unite and ask why all the devolved nations get such a shabby service from the BBC for their licence fee money.
I don't think anyone would challenge the need for S4C to change. All broadcasters find themselves suddenly in an environment that is different from the one for which they were established. S4C is no different.

As SYNIADAU says, there is an unfulfilled need for good English Language, specifically Welsh programming that S4C might be able to fulfil, at last as a broadcaster, if not as an original commissioner.

Last night I watched Eddie Butler's program on the Tonypandy riots- and that is exactly the sort of program that deserves its own channel! Why not use S4C2 as it doesn't seem to be used for anything else?
The BBC 2W model wasn't very popular. The same people who complained about the S4C/C4 channel-sharing problem also complained about having 'regional' programmes shoved down their throat! (ok some were English people living in Wales, but many Welsh people didn't like the arrangement either). Many popular network programmes were delayed by days, weeks, shoved on late at night or never shown.

Re-arranging BBC2's schedule to accommodate Welsh programming was never going to be satisfactory, just like it wasn't when Welsh-language programmes were shoe-horned into BBC/ITV schedules.

It's perfectly feasible to have a separate English-language channel that could show content from the BBC/ITV Wales as well as independent producers.. you just need the political will to do it.
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