Wales

S4C faces challenging future after year of slow recovery

  • 31 December 2011
  • From the section Wales
S4C headquarters in Cardiff
Image caption S4C is exploring closer working links and cost sharing with the BBC to save money

If 2010 was S4C's "annus horribilis", 2011 was more a year of slow recovery and attempting to come to terms with a future which will be far tougher financially.

The channel started the year having lost its chairman, chief executive and head of programmes.

As well as those self-inflicted wounds, the station was facing funding cuts of around a quarter imposed by the UK government.

Even that reduced budget was dependent on reaching agreement with the BBC which will in future provide the bulk of S4C's income from the TV licence fee.

While language campaigners fought inside and outside Parliament against the changes enshrined in the Public Bodies Act, ultimately there was little doubt that the government would get its way.

'Rebuild trust'

Adding to the channel's woes was a report by the Welsh Affairs Select Committee which, while voicing "passionate support" for the station, criticised the S4C Authority and the channel's management saying that it needed to "rebuild trust in the governance, management and mission of S4C".

Image caption Ian Jones returns to S4C in the spring as chief executive

There was further criticism of the station in an independent report commissioned by S4C itself.

The report by Richie Turner of the University of Wales described staff morale as low and criticised "a culture of fear, secrecy, lack of trust and excessive control".

The appointment in May of Huw Jones, a former chief executive of the channel, to chair the S4C Authority was widely seen as steadying the ship.

Working closely with the BBC's Welsh trustee Elan Closs Stevens, herself a former S4C chair, the Authority and the BBC Trust were able to reach an agreement over the future financing of the channel.

Peak priorities

The agreement was welcomed by both broadcasters and was described at the time as allowing S4C to "maintain its editorial and managerial independence, while providing accountability to the BBC Trust for income received from the licence fee".

S4C also announced the name of its new chief executive. Ian Jones, who helped launch the channel in 1981, currently works for a New York-based broadcaster and will take over the job in the spring.

Even before Mr Jones's arrival S4C had produced plans outlining its programme and digital strategy and has begun talks with BBC Wales about how the broadcasters could work together to reduce costs.

In 2014 the channel faces an independent review but viewers will begin to see changes far before that with larger numbers of repeats and a concentration on peak-time programming and the channel's acclaimed children's schedule.

While there's unlikely to be a repeat of last year's crisis the future of the channel is still uncertain with the question of whether responsibility for it will ultimately be devolved to Wales still unresolved.

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