2. Memorandum submitted by Equity
A. DIGITAL BROADCASTING
1. Equity would wish to make it clear that
we want digital broadcasting to be successful and recognise it
has the potential to increase the earning and employment opportunities
for our members. We have reached an understanding on a national
UK basis with the BBC and ITV companies as to how performers will
be remunerated for the exploitation of their work on any new channels.
At the time of making their submission we have been unable to
do so with S4C. Their initial position that performers should
receive no additional payments was regrettable and reaching an
amicable agreement in those circumstances has proved difficult.
However, Equity is committed in principle to doing so and will
continue to participate in discussions with S4C to that end.
2. Equity's reservations about digital broadcasting
in general is that the broadcasters' rush to embrace the new technology
is well ahead of the viewing public's desire to watch or pay for
it; and that as a consequence significant amount of money are
being diverted from programme making budgets and redirected to
pay for the establishment costs of digital transmission.
3. This has been particularly evident at
S4C. The Authority's digital plans were announced in October 1996.
Ever since then Equity has expressed public and private concerns
at the implications they have on the long term viability of public
service broadcasting in Wales.
4. The fundamental concern is very simple.
S4C currently broadcasts an average of 33 hours a week on a turnover
of £80-85m. From November 1 1998 they aspire to increase
the hours to well over a hundred as their draft schedule provides
for a full service between the hours of 7am and 12 midnight. They
will have no additional resources with which to do this.
5. It is likely that, initially at least,
they will have reduced resources. Digital technology has not inconsiderable
establishment and revenue costs, and the effect on the station's
advertising income is unknown. It would be reasonable to assume
that given that there will be a large overall expansion of channels,
the competition for advertisers will be extremely keen; and there
must be a question mark over how successful S4C will be in maintaining,
let alone increasing their current levels.
6. S4C will be producing three times the
programme output on the same or slightly reduced income. How can
this be achieved without cutting costs which will lead to a lowering
of wages, job opportunities and programme quality?
7. Over the next two years it is conservatively
estimated that there will be a tenfold increase in the number
of channels available to viewers. The most successful will have
to be the most distinctive. S4C's strength is that it provides
a unique service within Wales as a mouthpiece for national identity.
If however as a result of the pressures to deliver a service far
more expansive than it can afford, S4C has to compromise its distinctive
nature by replicating its English language counterparts in producing
lowbrow programming, where will that leave the station's individuality?
The fact that S4C will be producing populist programmes in the
Welsh language may not be enough. The question being asked is
why would viewers want to watch poor quality programmes in Welsh
when they will be available in English on many other channels?
We are not arguing that S4C should ignore new technology but it
is not necessary for a massive expansion of hours at this early
stage. Given their financial situation we would prefer to see
a more gradual development of the service as resources allow.
S4C's future lies in being a high quality broadcaster
in an unchallenged niche market. Their current policies put that
status in jeopardy.
8. Also cause for concern are S4C's commercial
digital plans. They have set up S4C Digital Network (SDN) which
has successfully bid for half of one multiplex and will run a
variety of services including a pre-school nursery channel, a
Gaelic channel, and a Wildlife Channel. We are unclear despite
having met with S4C Executives what current resources are being
committed to this commercial activity. It is understood that profits
from the success of SDN will be put back in to S4C's core service
but it is more likely for a number of years that there will be
losses rather than profits and will it be a case of S4C's core
service subsidising SDN until SDN becomes profitable?
9. The BBC and more particularly ITV appear
to be more cautious in their approach to digital services. BBC
Choice launches imminently and the implications for Wales are
good in that there will be capacity for BBC Wales to provide a
complementary service to their main analogue programming. The
implications for performers is negligible however as the programme
budgets are extremely low and therefore the likelihood of their
being any other than low cost production is remote.
B. THE WELSH
1. Equity would wish to see the work of
the Assembly made as transparent to the public as possible through
the joint mediums of radio and television. We recognise however,
that there could be cost implications in this. We would be concerned
if money had to be diverted from other strands of programming
in order to provide a comprehensive service. This would appear
to be an area where co-operation between the BBC, HTV and S4C
to provide a complementary and not competitive service could emerge.
This would be in the interests of all parties. Unfortunately such
collaboration has been rare in the past. There are two nightly
news programmes competing head to head both of which spend large
amounts on self promotion; and it is undoubtedly the case that
the competition over domestic rugby coverage pushed up the price
to an extent where S4C were forced to cut back on other strands
of programming to pay for it. We would also want to guard against
HTV being able to count extensive coverage of the Assembly against
their requirement to provide a certain number of hours of regional
2. Equity has already submitted a proposal
to the National Assembly Advisory Group that a Subject Committee
dealing exclusively with the cultural industries should be set
up. As we now know, the Groups final report has not gone into
this sort of detail and the remit of the six or so Subject Committees
will emerge from discussions when the Assembly is elected. We
will still continue to propose that the cultural industries (of
which broadcasting is a constituent part) is treated in this way.
We also propose that a sub-Committee on broadcasting be created
with the dual role of monitoring the coverage of the Assembly
and holding accountable the broadcasters in Wales for the way
in which the television and radio industry develops.
3. If it has done nothing else, the devolution
vote has brought into focus the fact that Wales can now take responsibility
for its own affairs in many of the most important sectors of public
life. Broadcasting is an area which affects the life of the people
in Wales on a day by day basis. There is a growing realisation
however that none of the decisions relating to the big issues
in broadcasting in Wales can be regulated here. The BBC is run
by a Board of Governors in London who are in turn accountable
to Parliament. There is one National Governor for Wales who will
invariably have limited influence. In Wales itself the Broadcasting
Council remains a remote group whose appointment is discretionary
and whose work is unpublicised. We would welcome discussions about
how either situation can be changed. HTV is accountable to its
shareholders and to the ITC while S4C is grant aided directly
by the Department of Culture Media and Sport. Both organisations
could be encouraged to take interim measures to hold open debates
on a regular basis round Wales discussing general operational
matters. There have been such meetings but held only on a sporadic
basic. Although in areas like the appointment of the recent S4C
Chair the Secretary of State for Wales undoubtedly has an interest,
the perception remains that S4C is a political minefield which
the politicians enter at their peril. Consequently it has been
the subject of the lightest of light touches.
4. The Secretary of State for Culture has
made it known that he would wish in the fullness of time for the
responsibility for S4C to pass to the Secretary of State for Wales
and presumably from there to the Assembly. The Welsh Secretary
does not agree arguing that S4C's funding would then come under
much tighter scrutiny and could be adversely affected as it would
come into direct competition with health and education. We would
concede this possible outcome, but we believe on balance that
perpetuation of the present situation where the DCMS holds the
money, and the Welsh Office holds the influence is unsatisfactory.
We would want the Assembly to discuss in detail taking over the
responsibility for S4C at the earliest opportunity.
5. At any event there does now appear to
be an opportunity for fresh thinking on the way in which broadcasting
can be regulated in Wales and we would urge that that opportunity
is seized over the next two to three years.
6. Current trends in broadcasting pose a
huge threat to the concept of regional or National regional identity.
Over the next few years the transmitter based system will be increasingly
irrelevant as a means of delivering television signals, to be
replaced by either cable or satellite systems. The latter the
more efficient and likely to predominate but it does not recognise
national boundaries. Programmes broadcast from satellites can
generally be received over a global area. Under the barrage of
images coming from international broadcasters, a small National
Region such as Wales will do well to retain its identity.
7. As stated above, many fear that S4C's
increase in hours hampered by their limited resources will lead
to a "dumbing-down" of programme content which will
be at odds with its Public Service Charter requiring a broadcaster
to provide a range of programmes reflecting all aspects of a nation's
life and culture. The types of programme which cement a channel's
reputation are drama and documentary both of which are expensive.
8. BBC Wales has in recent years invested
heavily in documentaries and feature series which show Wales to
Wales. It remains to be seen whether the financial infrastructure
of the Corporation will enable sufficient funds to continue to
be released for this type of programming.
9. At a Conference in March 1997 organised
by the Voice of the Viewer and Listener, the then Vice Chair of
HTV openly warned that new technology would put huge new financial
pressures on the broadcasting system and that regional programming
was likely to be the first casualty. He felt it was a "luxury"
ITV companies would not be able to afford. The fragmentation of
advertising revenue would lead to the need for ITV in particular
to maximise its audience at every conceivable opportunity. Regional
programming, other than news, cannot be guaranteed to deliver
the size of audience attractive to advertisers in the way film
and network drama can. Regional programmes will therefore become
marginalised if they are to continue at all.
1. The expansion of the broadcasting (and
film) industry in Wales since 1982 has brought a commensurate
increase in employment opportunities. Over the last three to four
years however this expansion has ceased and there is evidence
that employment in the sector is now in decline. Certainly the
ratio between short term and permanent contact work has radically
2. Equity members are by nature employed
on short rather than long term contracts and therefore it is difficult
to discern major changes in trends of employment but the statistics
that do exist support the above conclusion. Between 1995 and 1998
the total artists earnings for new programmes S4C make rose by
only 0.3 per cent from £2.568 million to £2.578 million.
Allowing for inflation this clearly represents a reduction in
real terms. The earnings from repeated material have also fallen.
Anecdotal information from individual actors is consistent. Fees
are being offered in 1998 that are generally the same as, or in
some case even lower than, those offered four years ago. More
and more actors regardless of their status or experience are being
offered fees at or only marginally above the minimum rates negotiated
by the union and the producers' organisation. In 1993 over 90%
of actors would be offered fees well above minimum rates. That
figure has now halved.
3. In our view there are three primary reasons
for this fall. Firstly S4C has changed its programming priorities.
Secondly the cost of digital has required the Authority to put
money aside which would otherwise be spent on programming; and
thirdly the cost of securing the highly publicised domestic rugby
deal in partnership with HTV was far more disruptive to other
budgets than S4C is prepared to admit.
4. It has been a commonly held view that
the workers in the theatre have been subsidising the industry
for years. The same is now applying to public service Welsh language
5. The same trend in Welsh language programming
is evident at the BBC and HTV. Core employment at BBC Wales is
via the soap opera Pobol y Cwm which moved to a five day a week
schedule exactly ten years ago. At that time well over 20 actors
were on full time contacts. The number has now fallen to single
figure. HTV invested in an employment intensive drama series for
10 years but when Dinas came to an end it was not replaced.
6. Employment in English language drama
at BBC and HTV has been extremely patchy. The BBC's failure to
develop and exploit a successful drama series based in Wales is
deeply regrettable. The last drama produced by BBC Wales which
even ran to a second series was District Nurse some 16 years ago.
Since then there have been a number of false dawns, the most recent
of which Tiger Bay, was clearly intended as a long running series
reflecting contemporary Wales. It did not capture the imagination
of the public or more importantly London drama executives. As
a result drama development in Wales has been piecemeal and very
often when a project has been developed using (invariably) London
based independent production companies, there is little if any
involvement of indigenous actors. This has been a running sore
for years. When employment opportunities do occur in Wales, Welsh
based artists are the last to benefit. The only Executive to address
this in recent times was Karl Francis who organised seminars and
workshops to unearth and develop local talent but his term of
office as Head of Drama was short lived. The current fear is that
London is so disillusioned with the general quality of product
produced by BBC Wales that a substantial or long running commission
is unlikely to materialise in the foreseeable future. Eighteen
months ago, BBC Wales put forward a bi-media approach to radio
and television development. Equity and the Writers Guild urged
a re-think as we feared that radio would suffer as the junior
partner. We are pleased that this approach has not been pursued
and that good quality radio work which is often disregarded because
of its lower profile, has continued to be produced. We hope that
the recent changes in Radio 4 scheduling will not impact adversely
7. HTV's English language employment record
has been extremely poor. Obtaining network commissions prior to
the re-formation of ITV in 1990 was difficult, but it was expected
smaller franchise holders would benefit from easier access to
the Network Centre. This has not happened in practice. Virtually
all the network commissions made by HTV have been via HTV West
or HTV International. In its 30 years existence the only network
drama ever made by HTV Wales was "We are Seven". HTV
argue that they are the only ITV Company with a commitment to
regional drama; and while that is true it has still not resulted
in major employment. A pattern has developed whereby HTV fills
50 per cent of the required hours with new make and the remaining
50 per cent with repeats. This practice was criticised by the
ITC in their Annual Review three years ago.
8. The change of ownership at HTV has led
to interesting new developments which gives cause for optimism.
The new owners, United News and Media, have committed to a Head
of Drama Development who is in turn committed to a doubling of
drama output over the three stands; English regional, Welsh language
and Network. The success of this policy depends entirely on HTV
being given concessions by the ITC when their franchise is reviewed
in November. Equity was prepared to support HTV in its approach
to the ITC on the clear understanding that any saving in the annual
Levy would be re-invested in programming and not be used for the
benefit of shareholders. The issue of local employment is relevant
here also as we believe it is crucial that any increase in jobs
should go primarily to indigenous performers, and we will continue
to lobby on that basis.
9. Given the need of all broadcasters to
produce more cost effective programming, it is strange that more
use has not been made of back to back filming in Welsh and English.
At a time when it would be reasonable to expect companies to be
actively seeking co-production partners, the number of such productions
in Wales has reduced. The success of A Mind to Kill/Heliwr is
evidence that such a project can be successful and because it
does not cost double to make a project in two languages, it provides
an effective way of investing resources. The BBC in particular
has been very unimaginative in this area. There were a number
of drama series in the 1980's which with a modicum of extra investment
could have provided a network profile as well as material for
S4C. About three years ago BBC Wales announced a full scale examination
of the possibilities of more dual language work but nothing has
come of it.
10. It is vital that Wales has an available
pool of gifted capable quality creative artists to enable the
broadcasters to produce first class programmes. The drain of such
artists away from Wales will continue if either employment opportunities
do not expand and/or when they arise they are not given to those
who are locally based.
Welsh National Organiser
28 September 1998