Wales

Mark Thompson says BBC 'committed to success of S4C'

The director general of the BBC says the corporation is committed to the future success of an "independent" S4C.

Mark Thompson, speaking to BBC Wales, added the BBC was "passionately committed" to Welsh language broadcasting.

His comments follow changes announced last month that will see S4C part-funded by the BBC, instead of the UK Government.

S4C chiefs fear the channel will lose its identity and independence.

Mr Thompson said: "The BBC agrees with it because we think it's workable and we think it has significant advantages, not least because the BBC is passionately committed to broadcasting in the Welsh language, not just in radio but in television.

"We've been part of Welsh language television for more than half a century so we are, ourselves, passionately committed to the future success of S4C.

"We believe we can help achieve that."

Mr Thompson said the idea for the new partnership with S4C had come from the UK Government.

"It was a government proposal but it's a proposal which we had some time, some days to consider," he said.

"I was able to talk to colleagues in BBC Wales and seek their advice and knowledge."

Mr Thompson said it was necessary to find the right "governance solution", which would involve an "independent S4C".

The solution must also feature "real certainty for independent producers in this country, that they will continue to have commissioners who are separate from the BBC and can commission entirely separately".

He said an independent S4C should offer a sense of a broadcaster with "a range of perspectives, which is commissioning from a different point of view from, say, BBC Wales, which continues to be open to all of the talents of the independent sector in Wales and which you can rely on".

'Weight of the BBC'

"It's worth saying, at the moment, S4C's programming includes some critical programming from the BBC. We are a big part of S4C already," he said.

"The BBC has never been just a supplier to S4C.

"When the Welsh public watch Newyddion, they don't think the BBC just happens to be a supplier of this programme, they regard it as a piece of news broadcasting from the BBC with all of the weight of the BBC behind it.

"S4C has been a partnership with the BBC since its inception, a deep partnership.

"Before this new funding idea came up, the BBC in Wales and S4C had been talking about deepening the partnership, looking at ways in which perhaps they could work more closely together."

S4C interim chief executive Arwel Ellis Owen has said the decision to transfer responsibility for its funding to the BBC was the "wrong model" for the channel.

"Some people feel in three years' time S4C will be called BBC Cymru," he said.

The Welsh Language Society pressure group (Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg) approached and spoke to Mr Thompson as he arrived for a meeting in Cardiff Bay.

Menna Machreth, broadcasting spokesperson for the society, said: "Mark Thompson was repeatedly asked by our members whether he could give a guarantee of funding for S4C after 2015 when the agreement between the London Government and the BBC in London to fund S4C runs out.

"He was unable to give any such guarantee.

"S4C faces real term cuts of over 40% to its funding, a BBC takeover and slash-and-burn powers in the hands of the ministers in Westminster.

"It's clearer than ever that the BBC-Tory pact is going to kill off the channel unless something changes."

The UK Government has said it remains committed to a strong and independent Welsh language television service.

The BBC will take over part-funding S4C from 2013.

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