Tuesday 25 June 2013

An Open Letter to the Rt.Hon. Maria Miller MP

Update 26 June

For anyone who missed it, the UK Government announced today that it would maintain funding for S4C at £6.7 million until 2016. This was better than many people had feared, but of course that still means a cut in real terms. The BBC's contributions to the channel are also still set to decline.


Dear Secretary of State

You will probably agree that it is strange for a Secretary of State in London who represents Basingstoke in Parliament to be asked to make a decision about the future of S4C, and you will know from growing up in Bridgend that Wales often feels a very long way from London and the South East of England. Wales, the Welsh and the Welsh language probably look a little exotic from Westminster too.

One of the BBC's popular dramas is Waterloo Road, set in a secondary school somewhere in an English city. It deals with many of the problems which affect large inner-city schools, and in the most recent series one of the major plot lines involves plans to turn the school into an academy.

Here in Wales S4C has been running a popular drama series about a secondary school; it is called Gwaith Cartref. The school bears a striking resemblance to quite a few Welsh secondary schools, including perhaps Brynteg Comprehensive, and the series deals with social issues and the domestic dramas of some of the staff. There is no likelihood that Ysgol Bro Taf will become an academy because we don't have academies in Wales. Unlike the English series, Gwaith Cartref is also quite funny.

The point is, Minister, that Gwaith Cartref paints a picture of school life which is much more familiar to people in Wales. Perhaps you would enjoy the Welsh humour and understand the cultural references too.

Gwaith Cartref recently won an international prize for best drama, and other S4C programmes have met with similar success. In fact, there are lots of good programmes on S4C, and some that are truly excellent, despite the constraints the channel has to operate under.

You probably don't get much time to watch television, and it is unlikely that you will watch much S4C, even though you are responsible for it. That's a pity, because you are missing some good things.

S4C has its fair share of critics - who can name a public service broadcaster that doesn't? - but it works hard with limited resources to cram into a single channel content which is scattered across a dozen English-language channels, and the results would shame national broadcasters in many much larger countries.

Wales can be very proud of the creativity, vitality and talent which is displayed on its own television channel, and so can Britain as a whole for supporting a minority culture and setting an example to all those states which don't.

This year S4C received just £6.7 million in funding from your department. In terms of overall government spending that doesn't really register, does it? And as you know, the channel has lost 36% of its budget since the end of 2011, with further reductions in the pipeline.

Please resist pressure to cut still further, and please take a look for yourself.

Diolch yn fawr i chi, a chofion cynnes o Gymru.

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