Bethan Jenkins says problems at the Welsh language channel could provide a springboard for a radical repurposing of the channel so that it offers a range of multi-media services to Welsh-speaking audiences.

August 26th, 2010

It is  a depressing feature of debate in Wales that topics fundamental to the interests of many people often become mired in the trivial, with personalities taking precedence over issues.

So it has come to be with S4/C following the resignation of its chief executive, Iona Jones. What began as an examination into the channel’s role in a changing media landscape and evolving Welsh society has instead been driven up a cul-de-sac over the credentials of the stand-in chief executive.

Some of the immediate post-Iona Jones commentary had focussed on old but still unconvincing arguments over whether S4/C should begin carrying English language content as a means of widening its appeal, even whether the channel should continue to exist at all, or whether it had fulfilled a function from a different age that had now run its course.

S4/C’s viewing figures are usually the only basis for this argument. Such figures often seem to work in a way that either completely flatters a channel or condemns it to ridicule and questions about its viability. It is particularly unfair for S4/C because there appears to be no similar scrutiny for English language public service broadcasting (PSB) in Wales. For example, some of its PSB slots are placed opposite EastEnders, and compiled frequently from archive footage. What size audience does ITV1 Wales achieve for such programming?

S4/C is unfortunate in having had two pieces of misfortune visited upon it at the same time. Warnings that the Westminster Government was to cut its funding came just a few days before Iona Jones’s sudden departure. But talk of English language content (let alone even more radical solutions) is a red herring, principally because the real issue at stake here is viewer engagement.

S4/C’s importance to the language goes far beyond providing unique programming for Welsh speakers. Given its position, it can be used as a tool to encourage wider take-up of – and greater participation in – the language. It is a selling point for the language, a shop window that makes the language attractive and easier to engage with.

What appears to have been missed in this debate over the channel’s future is that Wales has only recently been involved in an exercise where the ultimate and sole aim was greater media engagement from Welsh consumers. The pilot scheme for Independently Funded News Consortia (IFNC) may have been canned by the new Westminster Government, but that does not mean that we cannot go back to the proposals and see which ideas contained within them might be of use to a re-purposed and perhaps restructured S4/C.

For example, the three proposals – from UTV, Tinopolis and the Taliesin alliance – all suggested providing content across a range of media platforms, including online. This would have involved far more than just providing a news site similar to BBC Wales. There would have been a big emphasis on social media, streaming and other self-produced content from visitors, capitalising on the online trends that have become possible through blogging and platforms such as YouTube.

Had the IFNC pilot been allowed to develop to this stage, we would have hopefully seen a varied range of content subjected to editorial standards all too infrequently available elsewhere on the internet, in order to deliver quality and the ‘me, too’ factor so vital in media engagement today.

There is plenty of evidence to underline how important giving consumers the ability to shape their media has become. If readers, viewers, listeners and visitors believe that they can influence – that they, in fact, can claim ownership over – their media, they will as a matter of course engage more closely with it.

Where the IFNC pilot was unable to deliver, S4/C is perfectly poised to inherit. To achieve that end, the channel should begin an internal debate, where it considers less its role as a broadcast provider and more the opportunities that becoming a hub for the Welsh language would present to both it and Welsh speaking consumers.

It could, for example (and provided the regulatory pathway was clear) provide funding for hyperlocal Welsh news, community or specialist interest websites. In this, costs can be kept low and – crucially – highly targeted. WordPress, Tumblr and other open source content management systems are free to use. And instead of providing a lump sum of money that might be used to pay wages, or office rent, S4/C could make available its expertise in growing a commercial media business, providing or paying for training that would allow it to nurture small online ventures so that they stand on their own two feet and prosper.

In such a scenario, as well as encouraging plurality and increased Welsh language use, S4/C would be able to cast itself as an entrepreneurial enabler. If it were to provide clear results from its money, in the form of rising audiences and routes to wealth creation, it would make the job of cutting its funding that much harder for whichever government has to make the decision in years to come.

There would be another advantage if S4/C were to spread its media wings a little wider. At present, it is fairly common for online content to follow on from programming. In many cases this makes sense; the BBC uses its Dr Who website to drive interest in the TV series. However, by building a strong, grass roots media community, ideas can travel upwards, too, from the sites to the TV screen.

It could lead on to stronger programming content and potentially greater wealth creation for the originators. It would also answer the issue of engagement, as it would ultimately mean that anybody involved with the channel, even at arm’s length, could influence its output.

This is not an overnight solution. But it could lead to a new, multi-media S4/C with content so exciting that it not only encourages the participation of Welsh speakers but spurs others to learn so that they may also participate. This potentially opens another avenue, one where S4/C is more closely involved in promoting and supporting Welsh in the education system. As such, it could usher in a new era of public service broadcasting.

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Bethan Jenkins is the Plaid Cymru Assembly Member for South West Wales

6 Responses to:“Time for S4C to spread its wings”

  1. Rhodri ap Dyfrig says:

    Dwi am ateb yn Gymraeg, gan bod hynny’n un peth arall mae’r drafodaeth hon yn brin ohoni.

    Diolch yn fawr am dy erthygl bositif sydd yn ategu fy agwedd innau at ddyfodol y sianel. Mi wnes i amlinellu rhai o’r pwyntiau hynny ar wefan Nationalia (http://www.nationalia.info/en/news/758) cyn i’r drafodaeth am S4C gael ei herwgipio gan ddigwyddiadau mewnol y sianel.

    Mae’n rhaid i ni frwydro ar ddwy ffrynt gysylltiedig yn fy marn i:

    1. Atal toriadau i’r sianel.
    2. Gwthio am symud elfennau o’r cyfryngau Cymraeg (nid yn unig S4C – mae gan y BBC ac eraill lawer iawn o waith i’w wneud hefyd) tuag at fodelau digidol, agored, cysylltiedig, a rhwydweithiedig.

    Efallai bod angen ychwanegu trydedd pwynt hefyd er mwyn gweithredu’r ail bwynt i’w botensial mwyaf, sef sicrhau cydweithio llawer agosach rhwng holl ddarparwyr cyfryngau Cymraeg ein gwlad. Mae hynny’n cynnwys pawb o’r Cyngor Llyfrau, i faes addysg, i ddarparwyr iechyd. Nid yw’n bosib rhoi cyfryngau gwahanol mewn ‘silos’ fel y bu, mae ein cyfryngau wedi eu plethu gyda’i gilydd mewn byd cydgyfeiriol, rhaid helpu hynny i ddigwydd yn well yn y Gymraeg. Pam na all corff cyfryngau Cymraeg ddarparu cynnwys Cymraeg ar gyfer radio masnachol? Pam na all y Cyngor Llyfrau ddatblygu apps symudol clyweledol gyda S4C? Mae lle i Golwg360 ac S4C gydweithio’n agosach. Lle mae cyfryngau lleol Cymraeg Cymru’n mynd wedi oes y papurau bro?

    Dydw i ddim yn son am dynnu grym dros gyfryngau Cymraeg dan un awdurdod, gan y byddai hynny’n hynod beryglus ar gyfer plwraliaeth cyfryngau Cymraeg ac yn symud y cyfryngau ymhellach fyth o afael pobol, ac ymhellach o Gymru petai hynny i ddigwydd dan y BBC.

    Mae na lawer iawn o bartneriaethau posib, ond nid yn unig ymysg y cyfryngau. Mae model 4ip (Channel4) sydd yn cyfuno arloesi digidol gyda ethos gwasanaeth cyhoeddus yn fodel gwych allai gael ei ehangu i’r byd Cymraeg. A hyn dan faner darparwr cyfryngau Cymraeg – h.y. S4C. Mae strategaeth Digital Wales y llywodraeth yn gyfle i roi y Gymraeg a’r cyfryngau digidol fel llinyn trwy bolisi diwylliant, addysg a iechyd Cymru. Gallai fod cyfleoedd gwych i gwmniau cynhyrchu gan ehangu posibliadau incwm.

    Ar yr un pryd mae rhaglenni teledu safon uchel fel drama yn ogystal a rhaglenni plant, digwyddiadau a chwaraeon yn hynod bwysig i wylwyr ac i statws y cyfryngau a dylid sichrau bod buddsoddiad digonol a pharhaol yn cael ei roi yn y rhain, er efallai y bydd angen edrych ar gwtogi oriau darlledu er mwyn canolbwyntio arian yn well. Gall yr ecosystem ddigidol ddatblygu ochr yn ochr a gwaith cwmniau cynhyrchu sefydledig Cymru, ond wrth gwrs rhaid i ni sicrhau y gyllideb addas i wneud hyn oll. Fel arall rydym ni mewn peryg o daenu’r menyn yn rhy denau o lawer, fydd yn plesio neb.

    Er mwyn rhoi achos cryfach dros arbed y gyllideb (er bod achos digon cryf bod cyllideb S4C yn PSB o’r math pwysicaf ac na fyddai unrhywun yn llenwi’r bwlch yn y cyfryngau na’n economi pe cai ei dorri o 25%), rhaid i ni hefyd gynnig syniadau, fel dy rai uchod, a dangos awch am ddatblygu’r cyfryngau Cymraeg.

    Mi wn bod dadleuon nad yw Deddf Gyfathrebu 2003 yn galluogi S4C i wneud hyn, ond mae hefyd yn nodi yn y Ddeddf bod posib i Jeremy Hunt wneud newidiadau i sgôp y sianel heb orfod mynd at y Senedd. Dylid mynd ati ar unwaith i geisio sicrhau bod S4C yn rhydd i gomisiynu yn y maes digidol a gweithredu strategaeth sydd yn gallu cynnwys newyddion lleol a chyhoeddi digidol.

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  2. Geraint Talfan Davies says:

    The read across from the sadly discarded IFNC proposal to a new strategy for S4C is definitely one worth pursuing – first, in its own right as an innovative Welsh language provision, and second, as an example of what might be achieved on an even wider front. But there would be a need to ensure that this is not read as a sign of S4C giving up on conventional broadcasting. It’s the synergy between online and successful programming that has eluded the channel so far. Bethan is right in pinpointing the two-way benefits.

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  3. Jake Llwyd says:

    Finally we are being given sensible ideas for discussion regarding the debate for how S4C should evolve in a post Iona Jones environment.

    The responses seen in the Guardian comment boxes have caused me great concern; as they have resulted in mainly allowing an anti Welsh speaking element of the public to just vent their anger.

    Bethan has also identified an important issue within S4C “with personalities taking precedence over issues.”

    If you look on-line today at S4C’s producers web site has a title “31-May-2005 IONA JONES IS S4C”

    Iona Jones was NOT S4C and the authority should never have allowed the cult of the personality develop to such an extreme within S4C and I hope that lessons are learned very quickly about what went wrong over the last 5 if not 10 years of miss-management of this important organisation.

    Thank you Bethan

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  4. Aled G J says:

    Bethan- Syniadau diddorol, ac fe fyddai platfform aml-ddigidol o’r math ti’n ei awgrymu yn bendant yn apelio at gynulleidfa gyfoes sydd yn gyffyrddus iawn hefo’r math yma o arlwy aml-gyfryngol. Ond mae angen i S4C hefyd greu strategaeth newydd i apelio at gynulleidfa dwf arall yng Nghymru- sef Dysgwyr Cymraeg. Yn fy marn i, dylai bloc dysgwyr fod yn rhan o oriau brig y sianel pob nos: does dim rheswm pam na ellid gwneud hyn mewn modd fyddai hefyd yn apelio at siaradwyr Cymraeg. A pham na allai S4C gymryd rol “enabling” wrth e.e sefydlu papur dyddiol ar gyfer dysgwyr Cymraeg yng Nghymru? Wrth drafod cyllideb y sianel i’r dyfodol, efallai y gellid neilltuo cyfran o’r incwm ar gyfer dibenion enabling fel hyn. Yn sicr, mae dyddiau yr hen S4C cyffyrddus, un-dimensiwn ar ben ac mae angen meddwl mewn ffyrdd cwbl newydd erbyn hyn.

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  5. Ci Du says:

    Good ideas Bethan …. never understoon why S4C (especially with the advent of digital and their capacity) couldn’t produce a national Welsh language radio station. Radio Cymru to be more Radio 4 and Radio S4C to be more Radio 2. It could be done at a fraction of the tv budget too. How about £2m from the current budget going towards a radio station as part of a deal to ‘save’ S4C’s current formula?

    Aled G.J. raises the point of peak-time programmes for learners. This would be a killer blow for the channel. Fluent speakers won’t watch it … nor, do I guess, learners. People learn a language ‘cos they wish to speak a language and take part in the culture. The way to get more Welsh speakers is to create a vibrant, multifaceted and accessible (both technically and socially) Welsh language culture. You’re ideas Bethan contribute to this. Creating programmes ‘for learners’ would not. More content, more variation in content, more access to content is what is needed not stuff for learners.

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  6. H. D. Jones says:

    Bethan is right: viewer engagement is key to S4/C’s future. But to have a national broadcaster only willing to engage with one fifth of the Welsh population no longer makes sense. S4/C needs to reach out to the whole nation. And that means showing English-language programmes about Wales.

    If S4/C had an English-language service for Wales, more Welsh people would tune into the channel, and more English-speakers would stay to watch the Welsh language programmes too. S4/C should move into the gap left by ITV Wales (which has abandoned its commitment to Welsh broadcasting).

    If we’re serious about becoming a bi-lingual nation, then we can’t continue to separate Welsh and English-language broadcasting. It will only create divisions.

    One final point: if Welsh politicians truly care about the future of S4/C then they should demand responsibility for broadcasting is devolved to the Assembly, rather than leave it in the hands of the DCMS at Westminster.

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