Language campaigners have demanded responsibility for broadcasting is devolved to Wales in the wake of comments by a minister in a Westminster committee today (Wednesday 18th January) that signal an intention to cut over £700,000 from S4C's grant this year.
In the debate, Matthew Hancock, MP for West Suffolk and Minister for Communications and Creative Industries, siad that the Government's direct grant to the channel, worth £6.8 million this year, "is set to be £6.058 million" for the next financial year. When questioned by MPs about the proposed cut, he also said that "the Secretary of State is looking at that issue".
A month ago, the chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith announced she was refusing to pay her licence fee as part of efforts to ensure control over broadcasting in Wales is devolved to politicians in the Assembly.
The campaign group will launch a paper in Bangor this Saturday which will outline the potential benefits of Wales' elected politicians taking control of the country's broadcasting spectrum.
Heledd Gwyndaf, chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith, said:
"If it's true that there will be yet further cuts, it would be of great concern, not only for S4C and the many people who work in the industry, but also for the general well-being of the Welsh language. I can't believe the Conservatives intend breaking a manifesto promise to safeguard S4C's budget, especially after trying to do the same thing last year. This is on top of the severe cuts made since 2010: it's as if the Government in London is intent on stifling to death the only channel that broadcasts in Welsh. We've been talking about it for years, and in the wake of this recent news it's now a matter of urgency that responsibility for broadcasting is devolved to Wales.
"The lack of Welsh on commercial radio, local TV and the deep cuts already made to S4C as well as the recognised under-representation of Wales in the media are clear signs that London's control of the media is not in the best interests of the people of Wales. Decisions regarding the media in Wales need to be taken by the people of Wales, not Ministers in London who have no interest in our country let alone our language."
Between 2010 and 2015, S4C's budget was cut by 40%, and the UK government reduced their grant to the channel by 93%.
In a letter sent to Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg last week about the channel, the Secretary of State for Wales said that, "No changes were made to the proposed funding [for S4C] for the years to come in the Autumn Statement". The proposed budget to which Alun Cairns refers is the announcement by the UK Government in November 2015 that there will be a 25% cut to the £6.7m grant given to the channel. That came despite a clear promise in the Conservatives' 2015 manifesto to "safeguard the funding and editorial independence of S4C". Realising this, the Government reversed their decision and froze their contribution for the current financial year, but without mentioning following years.
Heledd Gwyndaf added:
"So, S4C's financial situation is now very fragile; the BBC has decided to end their trial of Radio Cymru Mwy; and there's a profound lack of Welsh on commercial radio and local TV in parts of Wales. It's also clear there are serious implications for democracy in Wales as a result of the British media constantly reporting to people in Wales stories and decisions that affect England only. It's little wonder even the BBC's trustee in Wales made positive noises about devolution."
In the 2016 autumn statement, the Chancellor announced a £65m increase over the next four years to the Department of Culture Media and Sport – the Government department from which S4C's grant comes. It includes £7.6m extra for the renovations of a privately owned mansion in Yorkshire.