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Abolishing license fee ‘existential threat’ to the future of the Welsh language says top academic

17 Jan 2022 6 minute read
Richard Wyn Jones. Picture by Plaid Cymru

The announcement by the UK Government’s Culture Secretary that the license fee will be frozen for the next few years and scrapped in 2027 is an “existential threat” to the Welsh language, a prominent academic has said.

Prof. Richard Wyn Jones, Director of Cardiff University’s Wales Governance, warned that the announcement was a threat to the futures of both S4C and Radio Cymru, which depended on the survival of public service broadcasting.

His assessment comes after UK Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said that the next announcement about the BBC licence fee “will be the last”.

“The days of the elderly being threatened with prison sentences and bailiffs knocking on doors, are over,” the Culture Secretary said. “Time now to discuss and debate new ways of funding, supporting and selling great British content.”

Broadcasting is currently a reserved matter for the UK Government and not devolved to Wales.

But Richard Wyn Jones said that her words were an “attack on the very principle of public broadcasting is an existential threat to all Welsh language broadcasting and therefore to the future language itself”.

“More people in Wales consume public broadcasting than in any other part of the UK,” he wrote. “In terms of Welsh language broadcasting, BBC Radio Cymru and S4C are basically ‘it’ They are fundamental to the use and transmission of the language.

“Importantly, while S4C tends to get all the attention about 70% of all Welsh language media consumed are broadcast by BBC Radio Cymru. It’s really hard to overstate the importance of Radio Cymru for the language and its speakers.

“Even in the short term, it’s impossible to imagine Radio Cymru’s current service being maintained. Inflation in the broadcasting sector is currently running at circa 10% p.a. so freezing the BBC’s budget for two years will inevitably lead to swinging cuts across the board.

“Not only that, but S4C is itself very much dependent on the BBC. The BBC provides S4C with around £20M of programming annually. So even if we see a short term increase in the budget of S4C, swingeing cuts to the BBC will inevitably have a negative impact on the channel.

“Why do I say increase? Because S4C acts as the institutional equivalent of a human shield for the UK Government. ‘Of course, we care about the future of the language. Look…S4C!’ The BBC not S4C is the object of the culture war. I expect an increase to be announced very soon.

“But even if that was to occur we need to be hard-headed about this. The Johnson government’s attack on the very principle of broadcasting – if nothing changes, the BBC as we have known it will cease to exist after 2027 – means that there’s no long term future for S4C.

“After all, can you really imagine a situation in which S4C is the only surviving public broadcaster in the UK that is directly funded by the Treasury in London? If so then, dear God, I’ve got a bridge to sell you…

“To conclude, the future of Radio Cymru is as important S4C’s. S4C is dependent on the health of the BBC but – more fundamentally – on the survival of the principle of public broadcasting.

“Dorries’ announcement is an existential threat to the future of the Welsh language.”

‘Over’

The license fee freeze is yet to be announced in parliament but briefed to the Mail on Sunday who suggested the government would soon announce it will freeze the £159 annual charge until April 2024.

Later on Sunday morning, Nadine Dorries tweeted: “This licence fee announcement will be the last.”

S4C’s public funding will be provided entirely through the licence fee from the 2022-23 financial year onwards, with all future funding decisions made as part of the BBC licence fee funding settlement.

If there is no increase in the license fee, S4C’s share of that money is unlikely to rise also, leaving it facing possible cutbacks if inflation rises 5% as the Bank of England expects. If the license fee did rise in line with inflation it would be £175 in two years’ time.

The license fee agreement was due to be announced in the summer before Nadine Dorris took the culture brief in a reshuffle, and decided to revisit it. The decision due to be announced by the end of the month will come into effect from 1 April.

Nadine Dorris’ allies briefed the Daily Mail that “the days of state-run television are over” due to the corporations’ “left-leaning mindset,” suggesting that the license fee freeze may only be the start of cutbacks.

A source within the BBC told the Sunday Times that “anything less than inflation would put unacceptable pressure on the BBC finances after years of cuts.”

‘Intervention’

Campaign groups such as Cymdeithas yr Iaith have previously called for broadcasting to be devolved from Westminster to the Wales so that S4C can be funded from within the Welsh Government’s budget.

Last month, a Senedd report called for the Welsh Government to have a bigger say when the futures of the BBC and S4C in Wales are discussed by the UK Government.

The Senedd’s Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport and International Relations Committee said that the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport within the UK Government should include a representative from the Welsh Government when discussing the future of public service broadcasting in Wales.

The report says that the rules that govern the media need to change to ensure audiences in Wales “can watch content that reflects and informs their lives”.

Particular regard should be given to the need for intervention to ensure programming in the Welsh language, and content reflecting Wales in both languages, is safeguarded, they said.

“The negotiations on the funding settlement for Wales are an essential step to guarantee PSBs can continue to serve Welsh audiences by covering our shared cultural events and providing trusted news,” the report says.

“The Committee is calling for a seat at the table for a Welsh representative in the negotiations on the next licence fee settlement from 2022-2027. The role of this representative should also be included as standard for the next round of negotiations.”

The report also adds: “The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Public Service Broadcasting Advisory Panel should include representatives from the devolved administrations in their discussions on policy and legislative solutions to the challenges facing PSBs in the digital age.

“Particular regard should be given to the need for intervention to ensure programming in the Welsh language, and content reflecting Wales in both languages, is safeguarded.”

Responding in 2018 to the news that S4C would be funded entirely from the license fee, the BBC said that it was opposed to the move.

A spokesperson said that “the channel and its audiences are best served by a funding model based on a plurality of funding sources”.

In its last financial year, 2020-21, S4C received £74.5m from the BBC licence fee and £21.85m from the UK Government.


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Gareth Wyn Jones
Gareth Wyn Jones
8 months ago

We need Labour in Cymru to put a timeframe together that eventually see our country independent from the savages that rule England

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
8 months ago

Alas labour in cymru remains a staunchly unionist party – indeed during last year’s Senedd election party leader Mark Drakeford repeatedly attacked plaid cymru for its support for welsh independence

Dafydd
Dafydd
8 months ago

The One Nation Tory’s are hell bent on destroying one of the most one obvious things that binds us together as a ‘united kingdow’ – its been with me every day of my life as a tangible ‘benefit’ of being in this union. Commercialise it and it’ll be fatally diminished. Unless devovled, the effect on S4C and Radio Cymru may be catastrophic…but so too will the effect on the organisation, that for many, is the only remaining honest and dependable facet of the UK state. If you destroy the BBC you eventually destroy the UK. That probably hasnt even occured… Read more »

Gareth Wyn Jones
Gareth Wyn Jones
8 months ago
Reply to  Dafydd

That is the irony, they are to dim or just don’t care, they are English nationalist anglo supremacists

Erisian
Erisian
8 months ago

Your loss

Erisian
Erisian
8 months ago

Nil desperandum!
I think Nadine meant HER last, rather than THE last.
She surely cannot expect another term for this shameful administration.

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
8 months ago
Reply to  Erisian

I wouldn’t hold my breath for any change. The ‘opposition’ is woeful, Tory-lite and not much better for us long term than the present incumbents.

J A M Davies
J A M Davies
8 months ago

Devolution of broadcasting has to be the only option open to the people of Wales now. But a Welsh broadcasting body with its own world view, potentially and probably at constant loggerheads with the Tory Eng-Nat narrative, would be the very last thing Westminster would be willing to devolve. Dim tra bo twll yn eu tinau. The fight for the devolution of broadcasting would inevitably be frustrating and disheartening at every turn. We must be ready for this. Boris’s Eng-Nat government is well aware of the cultural consequences of yesterday’s announcement; the deletion of the cultural nuisance that they’ve always… Read more »

I.Humphyrs
I.Humphyrs
8 months ago
Reply to  J A M Davies

Put it visibly on posters and your letters to editors everyone.

Grayham Jones
8 months ago

It’s time for a New Wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 stop being little Englanders and be proud to be welsh

Grayham Jones
8 months ago

There is a border to England welsh is the first language in wales

hdavies15
hdavies15
8 months ago

It is arguable that resources would be too scarce to fund a P.S.B in an independent Wales. But, if we had one it would not need to be operating on the extravagant level of the current BBC, which let’s honest has a lot of overpaid self loving types on board who are seriously out of touch with any kind of reality. Secondly we would not be blowing resources on the galaxy of vanity projects that successive Anglo Brit regimes have enjoyed with the connivance of their little Welsh and Scottish lackeys. If Wales learns to run a tight ship most… Read more »

I.Humphyrs
I.Humphyrs
8 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

This is the way: from our taxes and also advertisments, such as RAI in Italy. Of course it wouldn’t be as rich as RAI, but it should do reasonably well.
If I could add, I don’t expect the English people to go with the Tories on this, and we could still have a devolved BBC Cymru plus, so all nowhere near lost!

Last edited 8 months ago by I.Humphyrs
Rob Pountney
Rob Pountney
8 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

The best PSB I’m aware of is in fact the Belgian Flemish Language service, it serves a population of around 5 million…
I would suggest that it is very rare to find a democratic country without a PSB…
I would however fund it through taxation, the license fee being in essence a Poll Tax…

Rhosddu
Rhosddu
8 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

There are relatively few extravagant frills attached to S4C broadcasts, and the budget for it wouldn’t bankrupt the country.

Gareth Wyn Jones
Gareth Wyn Jones
8 months ago

Dealing with people with your attitude is just tedious

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
8 months ago

If the BBC is to survive seriously needs to be reformed , and by this I mean devolving responsibility to Wales broadcasting so what’s transmitted into our homes reflects us as a people and our Senedd Cymru democracy.

At present we pay through the nose for a publically funded broadcaster that doesn’t provide sufficient Welsh & English language programming of quality. Reflect our Senedd Cymru or provide value for money to the Welsh licence fee payer.

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
8 months ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

43 pence a day, or three quid a week for what the BBC provides is hardly ‘paying through the nose’. I think you’ll also find that the general quality of programming is consistently high, even though it might not be to your taste or mine. Could it do better? For sure, and part of that would be devolution of broadcasting to Wales, and making more local content that reflects life in Wales. 90% of adults use BBC services every week, so it goes to show that despite a few vocal idiots on the lunatic fringe, the BBC remains hugely popular.… Read more »

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
8 months ago

Catastrophic news for the welsh language but maybe it will boost support in wales for the devolution of broadcasting, and maybe for independence for Wales to – which is the only way of truly guaranteeing the future of the welsh language

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
8 months ago

Er that should be “you’re”….ffŵl 😉

Caroline L Royle
Caroline L Royle
8 months ago
Reply to  Leigh Richards

In Welsh 🤡

HywelE3
HywelE3
8 months ago

No apostrophe in ‘posts’. Try improving your own grammar before commenting on someone else’s language. 🤡

Caroline L Royle
Caroline L Royle
8 months ago
Reply to  HywelE3

Try posting in Welsh 🤡

Bill
Bill
8 months ago

Hardly any of them speak welsh even fewer can read it

Erisian
Erisian
8 months ago

Gwefan (iaith) Saesneg yw hon. Mae sylwadau yn Gymraeg yma, ond yn gyffredinol maen nhw’n fyr a phithy mewn Cymraeg syml, byddai bron unrhyw ddysgwr yn ei deall.

This is an english language site. There are posts in Welsh, but they are generaly short and pithy in simple Welsh which almost any learner would understand.

Last edited 8 months ago by Erisian
Bill
Bill
8 months ago

Speaking Cymraeg doesn’t make you welsh, hardly anyone watches S4C if you want it pay for it yourself.

Caroline L Royle
Caroline L Royle
8 months ago
Reply to  Bill

Totally agree 👍

Bill
Bill
8 months ago

Better screenshot these comments before they remove them, despite receiving public money for this site they only allow nationalist sentiments

George Bodley
George Bodley
8 months ago
Reply to  Bill

You could always move to England if you don’t like it

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
8 months ago
Reply to  Bill

Replying to your own fake profile comments 😂 You must be very very lonely….

Rhosddu
Rhosddu
8 months ago
Reply to  Bill

You are quite right that there are many Welsh people who are proud of being Welsh but who have not inherited the language.
You are quite wrong that “hardly anyone watches S4C”.
S4C is a public service broadcast, not a PPV. Its funding will continue to come from a budget allocated for that purpose, and this will apply if and when broadcasting in Wales is devolved to this country.

Ped Ant
Ped Ant
8 months ago

‘Licence’

Llyn expat
Llyn expat
8 months ago

The Welsh language would survive the end of a compulsory levy on televisual equipment, as it has survived other challenges over the years, decade, and centuries. However, the crachach that the levy funds in Wales might experience some difficulties.

Andy
Andy
8 months ago

Licence fee, not license

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