It’s not just S4C that is threatened by potential changes. It is television for Wales as a whole, if the latest BBC Wales Annual Review 2014-15 by Audience Council Wales is anything to go by.
This Review, for 2014 – 15, makes alarming reading, particularly as it comes hot on the heels of Ofcom’s recent special additional report on PSB in the internet age: The Nations of the UK and their regions and the bombshell about funding burdens for the BBC lobbed by the Chancellor while no one was looking. It appears the day before the Green Paper on BBC Charter Renewal is expected but it shouldn’t get lost in the sturm und drang that that is likely to produce because it has significant things to say about television in Wales.
Audience Councils advise the BBC Trust on how well the BBC is fulfilling its Public Purposes. There is no mistaking the warning running throughout this Review. It is at its starkest when it deals with the first of two Priorities it set last year: The Importance of English language TV from Wales for Wales.
Last year the Council flagged up concerns about:
‘the diminishing budget … and the corresponding shrinkage in the range of genres offered (in particular drama and comedy) and the consequential possible impact on the distinctiveness, quality of the output and the portrayal of places and diverse communities across Wales.’
This year the Council offers us an image from nightmare – we’re teetering on the edge of an abyss and that’s a pretty tough trough to climb out of.
‘The Council considers there has been no improvement in relation to the audience priority on the importance of English language TV from Wales for Wales, and that the DQF cuts have brought BBC Wales’ non-news TV provision closer to the cliff-edge.’
Credit is rightly given regarding high-end productions for the network:
The Council recognises this and particularly welcomes the success of BBC Wales in supplying BBC Television with UK-wide programming with a further increase in its provision yet again during the year under review, and the programmes produced being amongst the most successful on the BBC.’
However, there’s a sting in the tail:
The Council remains concerned however at the lack of the portrayal of Wales on UK-wide BBC TV with 7 years having now passed since the last major portrayal of Wales in UK drama through Gavin and Stacey and Torchwood.
This is a crucial point – the proportion in which Wales makes tv for itself and for the network. It always has been. But in some people’s minds the welcome success of the network dramas obscures the paucity of drama portraying Wales itself. Wales should be doing both.
‘Council recognises that serving the nation in a meaningful way through on-screen portrayal, and reflecting it to itself by exploring contemporary issues in news, factual, comedy and drama programmes, remains one of the biggest challenges facing BBC Wales.’
Read the Report. And if you’re passionate about a healthy future for S4C be passionate about a healthy future for television in English for Wales. These are not two separate issues.
Remember the iconic Welsh history series ‘The Dragon Has Two Tongues’? That was made by HTV Wales and Channel 4. ITV Wales had its first network commission in 25 years last autumn. Let’s have more.
Well, the dragon is on the cliff-edge. We should commit to speaking with both languages in mind whenever we discuss television in Wales. Never one without the other. Campaigning for Welsh-language tv has to mean campaigning for English-language tv.
It’s television for Wales.