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Out of the blue

Betsan Powys | 17:35 UK time, Tuesday, 19 October 2010


An announcement's expected tomorrow that the BBC will take over funding for the Welsh-language channel S4C. It's unclear at this stage whether it will be asked to meet the whole of the current budget, around £100m, but the channel would remain operationally separate from the BBC.

UK Government sources have told us that it would would retain its "operational independence" and there is no question of the BBC "taking over" S4C.

Meetings in Whitehall to decide the new structure were taking place as late as lunchtime today and several details remain to be worked out.

Last week, a well-placed source told me that the option of folding S4C into the BBC had been a real option for its future, but by then was definitively OFF the table. Back on with a vengeance, it seems.

**UPDATE**

Further evidence is emerging about just how late in the day this decision was taken. The chair of the S4C Authority, John Walter Jones was only told this evening about the deal.

Here's a statement just in from a spokesperson for the Assembly Government's Heritage Minister Alun Ffred Jones, who at the time of writing, hasn't been formally told about the deal at all.

"We haven't been informed about any decision regarding the future of S4C and there has been no discussion to date about any proposal to ask the BBC to fund S4C.

"However, while we await further information, we want to reiterate once again the importance of maintaining S4C as an independent broadcaster with its own entity, its own budget and able to make its own editorial decisions.

"There is a danger that should the BBC fund S4C that broadcasting in Wales will be even further dominated by one institution. The future of S4C and its budget should be a matter of open and transparent debate among the people of Wales and not rest solely with a single UK government department."

UPDATE
WEDNESDAY 12 15

The S4C Authority has agreed unanimously to launch a Judicial Review of the UK government's plan to "effectively merge S4C with the BBC".

They had "no prior knowledge of discussions between the BBC and the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt." Indeed the Chairman, John Walter Jones, heard the news on Radio Cymru.

He is "astounded at the contempt that the London government has shown not just towards S4C, but also towards the Welsh people and indeed the language itself. I was informed of these ill-conceived plans by Mr Hunt, and was told that it was a non-negotiable agreement, only after they were leaked on the BBC last night. This is no way to conduct public affairs and surely is an affront to the good conduct of public policy and the democratic process".

It's over to the lawyers.


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