Wales politics

BBC's S4C funding deal 'a shotgun marriage' say MPs

S4C headquarters in Cardiff
Image caption Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced in October that the BBC would fund S4C

MPs have branded the new funding relationship between BBC and S4C "a shotgun marriage".

The culture, media and sport select committee said it was "extraordinary" that S4C found itself governed by the BBC without having had any say.

In a wide-ranging report into the BBC MPs said it was "unclear" how S4C could retain its independence under the new funding arrangements from 2013.

A BBC Trust spokeswoman said the BBC was committed to an independent S4C.

S4C currently receives most of its funding from a government grant, worth about £100m in 2009/10.

However, after a decision confirmed by Chancellor George Osborne as part of last autumn's Spending Review, from 2013 most of its funding will come from the licence fee.

In their report the committee commented: "The shotgun marriage of S4C and the BBC is an awkward match.

"We... find it extraordinary that the government and the BBC, which is fiercely protective of its own independence, should find it acceptable to agree a change in the funding and governance arrangements for another statutorily independent broadcaster, S4C, without the latter having any involvement, say or even knowledge of the deal until it has been done."

The BBC Trust spokeswoman added: "The BBC has no ambitions to take over S4C.

"We are committed to a creatively independent S4C, which attracts revenue from a range of sources, including the licence fee.

"We share S4C's determination that the channel should retain its strong relationship with the independent production sector in Wales."

However, John Whittingdale, chair of the culture, media and sport committee, likened the deal to a "takeover".

He also called for "greater clarity" on how the BBC Wales-S4C relationship was going to work.

"The BBC does talk about overseeing the spending of the (S4C) money and that does sound to us rather like a takeover," he told BBC Radio Wales.

"So I think there does need to be safeguards built in and there needs to be much greater detailed knowledge about precisely how this relationship is going to work."

He offered hope to opponents of the planned changes, saying the UK government had indicated that if it was not working then they would take the money back and possibly directly fund S4C.

They might also examine whether or not the money "could be spread more widely in order to support public service programming in Welsh".

Last week a report by the Welsh affairs select committee said the deal for S4C to be funded by the licence fee was made in haste.

They said it was "regrettable" that UK government ministers and the BBC agreed the deal in hours.

An umbrella group of unions and language campaigners, reiterated its call for the UK government, BBC and S4C to end talks and for the proposed arrangements to be scrapped.

"No-one wants this, it's not good for the Welsh language, Welsh language broadcasting or public service broadcasting in general," said the group, in an open letter.

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