Welsh broadcaster S4C reaches an agreement with the BBC

The future of S4C, which transmits Welsh programming, has been secured thanks to a partnership with the BBC.

The agreement reached between the S4C Authority, the BBC Trust and the DCMS will see the future funding, governance and accountability of S4C is in place until 2017. The arrangements will protect the editorial and managerial independence of S4C, whilst safeguarding appropriate accountability to the BBC Trust for licence fee funding spent by the service.

This agreement concludes the negotiations between S4C, the BBC Trust and the UK Government after last year’s BBC licence fee settlement, in which it was agreed to establish a new partnership and funding arrangements for S4C.

BBC Trust Chairman, Lord Patten, said: “This is good news for the Welsh-speaking audience. Our agreement safeguards S4C’s editorial independence while ensuring effective oversight of licence fee funds. It will also forge a closer working relationship between BBC Wales and S4C, which will see savings reinvested in quality programming that viewers expect.

“I’d like to pay particular tribute to our Trustee for Wales, Elan Closs Stephens, for her significant contribution to the successful conclusion of these negotiations.”

S4C was the first television channel to be aimed specifically at a Welsh speaking audience. The ITV service, HTV Wales, only partly transmitted  a handful of local programmes in Welsh. When S4C launched on November 1st 1982 it was tied to Channel 4 with many original productions for the English speaking broadcaster, such as soap opera Brookside, also airing on S4C.

Following the switch from analogue terrestrial signals over to digital services S4C and Channel 4 are now both broadcast to Wales, and their sharing of English-language programmes no longer relevant.

Chairman of the S4C Authority, Huw Jones says of S4C’s future: “The outcome is a significant step forward for the Channel at the end of detailed and protracted talks between the three parties… This agreement will safeguard the Welsh language services provided by S4C for the foreseeable future. It will allow S4C to maintain its editorial and managerial independence, while providing accountability to the BBC Trust for income received from the licence fee, and to DCMS for its part of S4C’s funding.

“The funding formula which the BBC Trust has offered for the 2015-2017, and which the S4C Authority has accepted, while challenging, will provide stability for S4C and the production sector in a difficult financial climate, as we identify and deliver efficiencies, and build a new partnership with the BBC.”

The key elements of the governance arrangement are that S4C will continue to be overseen by the S4C Authority, chaired by Huw Jones and the Welsh broadcaster’s current statutory remit to provide high quality Welsh language programming will remain as now, overseen by the S4C Authority.

The BBC Trustee for Wales will become a member of the Authority and the BBC will have a role, alongside S4C and the UK and Wales Government, in the selection of Authority members. The BBC Trust and S4C will establish an operating agreement for the S4C service, setting out the scope of the service to be provided by the licence fee.

The operating agreement will be the key accountability document between the S4C Authority and the BBC Trust, and the Trust will report publicly each year on S4C’s achievement against it. The Welsh broadcaster will have an independent management board consisting solely of S4C executives.

S4C and BBC Wales will work together to deliver efficiencies in administrative and back office functions so that both S4C and BBC Wales can spend more money on programmes. S4C will continue to commission programming from the independent sector, as now.

The agreement on future governance and accountability has been reached ahead of a debate in the House of Commons this afternoon on S4C’s future. The position is subject to successful passage of the Public Bodies Bill.