Wales politics

S4C must stay independent after 'hasty' deal, say MPs

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

A deal to fund S4C from the BBC licence fee was made in haste, a committee of MPs has said.

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

From 2013, most of S4C's funding will come from the licence fee. The Welsh Affairs Select Committee said the government must ensure the channel's independence.

The BBC Trust said it is "committed to a creatively independent S4C".

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

Despite concerns about how the deal over S4C's funding was struck, the committee said it should result in savings for both broadcasters.

It also raised the prospect of AMs having a scrutiny role over the S4C Authority, the body accountable for the Welsh-language channel's output and management.

Committee chairman David Davies said it had "serious concerns about the way that the S4C Authority and management have performed over the last year or so", but it was time for the channel to put these difficulties behind it.

Mr Davies said: "We are satisfied that, for the most part, S4C is providing quality programming, especially its drama and children's programmes.

"However, looking forward we argue that, as S4C itself accepts, there is room for improvement in S4C's performance as it competes in the multi-platform digital age.

"In this new phase for S4C we want to see an increased focus on efficiency and improved audience figures for S4C's output. We note that S4C itself recognises that it must raise its game in these areas.

Image caption Huw Jones is the preferred candidate to be S4C's next chairman

"As the partnership with the BBC is developed, is it essential that S4C maintains its operational and editorial independence. The BBC must not interfere in the day-to-day running of the channel."

Mr Davies told BBC Radio Wales that the committee had "also opened the door, or at least pulled down the handle, to S4C having some sort of scrutiny from the Welsh assembly".

He said there were "very strong differences of opinion" among the MPs on the committee about what that would mean.

"I'll give nothing away if I say that some wanted full devolution for S4C and others were much less keen on that idea.

"I'm actually open, personally, to the idea of S4C being scrutinised in some way by the Welsh assembly - not the Welsh Assembly Government but a relevant committee of the Welsh assembly - I think that would be a step forward.

"I wouldn't go, personally, as far as devolving broadcasting to the Welsh assembly."

Former S4C chief executive Huw Jones was confirmed as the preferred candidate to be its next chairman on Monday, replacing John Walter Jones, who stood down last December.

A BBC Trust spokesperson said: "As we have said before, the BBC has a long-standing commitment to Welsh language broadcasting and we remain committed to a creatively independent S4C.

"We are continuing to work through the detail of the new arrangements for S4C as the BBC takes on greater financial responsibility for it from 2013.

"The Trust is the guardian of the licence fee and will have oversight of how this money is spent."

A spokesperson for the Department for Media Culture and Sport said: "We are considering the report and will respond to the committee in due course."

An umbrella group representing BECTU, the NUJ, Writers Guild, Equity, the Musicians Union and Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg welcomed opposition by Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats.

Menna Machreth, of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, the Welsh Language Society, said: "Although the government has ignored the views of Wales so far, it will have to reconsider its ill-thought out plans following this critical report".

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