Monday, 25 October 2010

Time for a WBC

I suspect that Jeremy Hunt has been truly surprised by the reaction to his pronouncements and announcements about S4C.  He shouldn't have been, of course, but the fact that he was surprised should come as no surprise to Wales.  They don't get it, never have, and probably never will.

That doesn't mean that he can't get some things right by accident though, and I think it's important that we don't allow obvious and justified outrage at the arbitrary and rushed way he's decided the future of S4C to detract from a more rational analysis.  What is the real objection to what he's proposed?  Is it the funding of S4C from the licence fee, is it the idea of placing all publicly funded broadcasting in one place, or is it the submerging of S4C into the BBC?

I don't have any major objection to any of those, in principle - it's the detail that's the problem.  The fear that I have about giving control to the BBC is more to do with the anglo-centric nature of the BBC than with the underlying principle that the main public service broadcaster should have responsibility for braodcasting in both languages within Wales.  If a Welsh Broadcasting Corporation were on offer, funded by all licence fees collected in Wales, and answerable to the Welsh Government rather than the UK Government, how many of us would really object to giving that WBC the responsibility of providing a comprehensive service to Wales in both languages?

The apparent loss of S4C's independence appears tragic at one level; but what recent events have surely taught us is that that independence has always been somewhat illusory anyway.  He who controls the budget controls everything else, and a period of benign arms length management has lulled us into a false sense of security.  We now face the danger of a Welsh language service managed at the whim of faraway people who know little of Wales; but that's exactly where our English-language service has always been.

Time, I think, to turn events to our advantage, and use the underlying decisions of the government to make the case for a break-up of the BBC into an EBC, WBC, NIBC, and SBC.  In a digital age, those wishing to watch the England service could still do so - just as I can choose to watch French services if I choose.  And channels in Wales could always buy in programmes from elsewhere if they wanted to.  But 5% of the licence fees, re-directed to a new WBC, if used solely to produce a high quality service on TV and radio, one channel on each in each language, would go quite a long way towards giving Wales the sort of national media which are currently in short supply, I suspect.


Anonymous said...

Very true. A fully federal model for the BBC seems like the way to go, with an appropriate rebalancing between Welsh, UK and international content. UK network programming would opted into when desirable, rather than Welsh programming being an afterthought squeezed into marginal opt-out slots as as present. Given that licence fee top-slicing is now a fact of life, it would make sense that the licence fee in Wales be set, collected and allocated to various Welsh PSB entities by an autonomous Welsh Media Commission, rather than licence fee revenue being treated as the private property of the BBC.

Spirit of BME said...

I think the important question is - who determines the editorial content rather than the ownership of any station and do they follow the British( English) rules and guidelines.
I would like to see a Welsh Broadcasting Authority that would set a Welsh perspective on what is the truth and be able to post on BBC news from London additional notice like " under military censorship" when we get news from the front.