Jonathan's Carmarthen Journal Column - S4C

Whilst a number of people congratulate Margaret Thatcher on establishing Welsh language broadcaster, S4C, the overwhelming majority of people – particularly local residents – will rightly recognise the heroic efforts of my predecessor, Gwynfor Evans.

Not long after the Conservative party won a majority in the 1979 election, the new Home Secretary, Mr Whitelaw, decided against a Welsh fourth channel, and suggested Welsh-language programmes be split between two existing channels.
 
Official UK Government Cabinet papers from 1980, released in 2010, show clearly how the threat of hunger strike by the former Plaid Cymru leader and 'Member for Wales', as he was known in the House of Commons, forced Prime Minister Thatcher to honour her party's election promise to set up the Welsh channel. The lady that was not for turning was forced into a U Turn by Gwynfor.
 
Fast forward 35 years and we have an overwhelming sense of déjà vu – just months on from a general election in which the Conservative party formed a majority government and already an S4C election promise has been broken.  The Conservative party manifesto ahead of the 2015 general election stated "we would safeguard the funding and editorial independence of S4C."
 
In October 2010 the then Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government slashed the grant for S4C - the only Welsh language television channel in the world - by 94% over four years from £101million in 2010/11 to £7million in 2014/15.
 
The channel now receives the bulk of its money from the BBC licence fee, but it has seen a loss of £20million in the last five years.
 
Since last year's election the UK Government's Department for Culture, Media and Sport has announced it will cut £1.7 million from the broadcaster's funding from £6.7million to £5million by 2019 – a 26% funding cut which was confirmed by the Culture Minister in an early morning Parliamentary debate last week.
 
Not only is this another broken promise, it sends the wrong message to the BBC which is currently determining its budgets and its allocation to Welsh language broadcaster.
What argument can the Government now make were the BBC to deliver an equally damaging 26% cut in its funding?  With the Culture, Media and Sport department delivering an average of 5% cuts across the department, how can it justify this 26% to S4C?  Once again the future of the only indigenous Welsh channel has been considered in the context of deficit reduction rather than its role as a broadcaster. With its actions the UK Government has let its mask slip and shown how it truly feels about our channel.
 
As was said in the House of Commons last week, it cannot be a coincidence that, thanks to S4C's success, we now see in Wales 50 television and animation companies generating around £1 billion for the Welsh economy.  S4C alone contributed £117 million to the Welsh economy. In Wales, 50,000 people are employed in the creative industries.
 
As S4C continues its preparations for its relocation to Carmarthen, the broadcaster needs the long term security of its finance so that it can continue to commission high-quality programmes.  To that end, the Conservative Government must honour its election pledge and safeguard the funding.  Not doing so would lead residents to question why it is they should trust a Tory promise ever again.
 
S4C is an international treasure that we must protect. With the channel 'coming home' to our county we have a once in a generation opportunity to fast track our economy into the 21st century. We must not let Tory Westminster cuts endanger this.

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