Removing license fees is an ‘existential threat’ to the future of the Welsh language, says leading academic

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Richard Wyn Jones. Photo by Plaid Cymru

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

Professor Richard Wyn Jones, director of governance for Wales at Cardiff University, warned the announcement posed a threat to the future of S4C and Radio Cymru, which depended on the survival of radio broadcasting. public service.

His assessment comes after Britain’s Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said the next BBC licensing fee announcement “will be the last”.

“The days when old people were threatened with prison sentences and bailiffs knocked on doors are over,” the culture secretary said. “Now is the time to discuss and debate new ways to fund, support and sell great UK content.”

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

But Richard Wyn Jones noted that his 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”.

“MMore 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 fundamentally ‘it’ They are fundamental to the use and transmission of language.

“It is important to note that while S4C tends to get all the attention, around 70% of all Welsh-language media consumed is broadcast by BBC Radio Cymru. It is really difficult to overstate the importance of Radio Cymru for the language and its speakers.

“Even in the short term, it is impossible to imagine maintaining the current service of Radio Cymru. Inflation in the broadcasting sector is currently hovering around 10% a year, so freezing the BBC’s budget for two years will inevitably lead to budget cuts across the board.

“Not only that, but S4C itself is very dependent on the BBC. The BBC provides S4C with around £20 million worth of programming a year. So, even if we see a short-term increase in S4C’s budget, the severe budget cuts at 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 and not S4C is the subject of the culture war. I expect an increase to be announced very soon.

“But even if it were to happen, we have to be tough-headed about it. 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 there is no long-term future for S4C.

“After all, can you really imagine a situation where S4C is the only surviving public broadcaster in the UK that is directly funded by the Treasury in London? If so, my God, I have a bridge to sell you…

“To conclude, the future of Radio Cymru is as important as that of S4C. S4C depends 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.”

‘On’

The license fee freeze has not yet been announced to parliament, but informed to the Mail on Sunday who suggested the government would soon announce it would freeze the £159 annual charge until April 2024.

Later Sunday morning, Nadine Dorries tweeted, “This licensing fee announcement will be our last.”

Public funding for S4C will be provided entirely by license fees from the financial year 2022-23, with all future funding decisions being made under the BBC License Fee Funding Regulations.

If there is no license fee increase, S4C’s share of that money is unlikely to increase as well, exposing it to possible reductions if inflation increases by 5% like provided by the Bank of England. If the license fee increased with inflation, it would be £175 two years from now.

The licensing fee deal was due to be announced this summer before Nadine Dorris took the cultural dossier through a shakeup and decided to review it. The decision, which is to be announced by the end of the month, will come into effect on April 1.

Nadine Dorris’ allies have told the Daily Mail that ‘the days of state television are over’ due to the companies’ ‘left-wing mindset’, suggesting the license fee freeze could n be just the start of the reductions.

A source within the BBC told the Sunday time that “anything less than inflation would put an unacceptable strain on the BBC’s finances after years of cuts”.

‘Intervention’

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

Last month, a report by Senedd called on the Welsh government to have a say when the future of the BBC and S4C in Wales is discussed by the UK government.

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

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

Particular attention must be given to the need for intervention to ensure that Welsh-language programming and content reflecting Wales in both languages ​​is safeguarded, they said.

“The funding settlement negotiations for Wales are an essential step in ensuring that PSBs can continue to serve the Welsh public by covering our shared cultural events and providing reliable information,” the report said.

“The Committee is requesting a seat at the table for a Welsh representative in negotiations over the next 2022-2027 license fee settlement. The role of this representative should also be included as a standard for the next round of negotiations.

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

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

Responding in 2018 to news that S4C would be funded entirely by licensing fees, the BBC said it was opposed to the move.

A spokesperson said “the channel and its audience 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 license fee and £21.85m from the UK government.

Milton S. Rodgers