A revolution needed in S4C


By Bethan Jenkins, AM for South Wales West. 

'Save S4C ' is the slogan of the campaign against Westminster's cuts to our national channel. It is a message that is directed mainly towards politicians in London, demanding them to respect S4C and  to ensure it remains independent of the BBC in terms of creative content, in terms of management and operational structures. These demands are fair in the light of Jeremy Hunt's agenda which seeks to disregard the importance and value of the channel. It is crucial that we restore the channel that was won after a hard battle - a channel that  is integral to our culture, and plays a key role in our lives. S4C adds value to what we're trying to  restore and build here in Wales in terms of strong national institutions.

But, we must realise that we cannot move forward, nor develop the channel and the debate about broadcasting in Wales, without recognising the need for a revolution in S4C. After I received the Heritage brief within the Plaid Cymru group in the Assembly, I had a discussion with others about S4C - with constituents, with people in the media, creative sector companies, and other politicians. It is too black and white for us to say that we want to fight to save S4C without scrutinising what S4C offers now, and how it needs to adapt in order to prevent it from facilitating its own destruction.
Currently, there is a feeling bubbling under the surface that people are afraid of the implications of questioning how S4C is controlled in the current political climate of cuts, but this is a golden opportunity to ask questions, so as to create an S4C which is relevant to the future, to a new generation of viewers. There is a silence about what is needed from those who manage S4C in order to create a new S4C, and nurture the unique talents instead of saving S4C as it is now.

And so, what S4C should do first of all is delay actioning the 2012 Vision document until consensus of opinion is achieved about the right way forward . S4C should wait for the appointment of new Chief Executive and Director of Programming before making decisions that can affect long-term output of the channel. It is important that they appoint someone to the role of the Chief Executive that comes from a new generation, with radical and fresh ideas. What is the point of appointing a Chief Executive if he or she is unable to shape the channel? After all, commissioning discussions will begin immediately. How will this allow any new Chief Executive  to put their own stamp on the direction of the channel?

A number of independent creative companies that make programmes for S4 / C channel are angry that the channel, up to now, has not truly considered their comments and ideas for the channel, specifically in terms of encouraging more companies to be established in Wales. The last television company in Wales was created in the mid-1990s. How can this sector grow without recognition of the need to create sustainable jobs, and promote talented young people to work in this area in Wales, rather than taking a job in London, for example.

Workers in the independent creative sector foresee that the publication of S4C's Vision will potentially  lead to job cuts withintheir companies. While at the same time, there is a feeling that the efforts to save money internally within S4C is lacking in terms of assessing the pay of principal managers. Undoubtedly, tensions have existed within this sector in the past between the big companies and the smaller companies, but on this issue in particular, it seems that they are united in their criticism of the channel.

And so my second suggestion is that we need to reform the way the channel operates on a daily basis. Sir John Shortridge's review in 2010 on how the channel is governed is critical of the channel's structures, particularly the relationship between the management team and the S4C Authority. After the channel received the review, there was an announcement that they would be conducting an internal review to be completed in June 2011. No announcement about the conclusion of the review has taken place, but the 2010 Annual report describes how they intend to approve a strategy to implement the proposals made by Sir Jon Shortridge. Again, approving a  new strategy should happen alongside a vision document for S4C. It is surprising to me that no connection is made between the two. How can  you publish a vision for the channel, without ensuring that work processes are changed in order to implement the important that work?
Budget and processes need to be monitored independently. Sir John Shortridge's report acknowledged that the channel has not ade an adequate attempt to consider its value for money, and that audit and content committees were not given clear responsibility for action in this field. This is unacceptable, and it would be good to see S4C recognise that now, not later, is the time for a statement on the channel's processes in the future. Seeing S4C  ask the Wales Audit Office to assess its value for money, for example, would be a positive step forward. It would allow the public to take a key role in their assessment, bridging the gap between people and the channel.

There is no direct link of responsibility between the S4C Authority and the National Assembly, so there would be no requirement on S4C to ask the National Auditor of Wales to assess its value for money, but section 61 of the Government of Wales Act says that 'the Welsh Ministers can do anything they consider appropriate to support ... cultural events and projects relating to Wales and the Welsh Language.' To that end, the S4C Authority has a responsibility to provide information about their developments to Ministers, and to give evidence to Assembly committees. If S4C took the above steps, it would be acknowledging that Wales has a clear role to play in the future of S4C, until the debate over the devolution of broadcasting is won.