Joint Committee on Draft Communications Bill Report


356. Since its creation, S4C has established a distinctive and valuable role as a primarily Welsh language broadcaster. Part 2 of Schedule 8 to the draft Bill sets out arrangements for the regulation of S4C by OFCOM in respect of tiers one and two and the continuation of S4C's self-regulatory position on matters such as impartiality and the fulfilment of its public service remit under tier three.[683] S4C welcomed this policy, viewing it as right that the regulation of S4C's public service remit "should remain the responsibility of the S4C Authority because that ensures that the cultural and creative challenge that S4C faces will continue to be the clear responsibility of a broadly-based organisation fully conversant with the audience's expectations".[684] Although ITV considered S4C's regulatory position anomalous, we have heard no good reason why unique regulatory arrangements should not apply to a public service broadcaster with unique responsibilities to deliver a substantial proportion of its service in a language other than English.[685]

357. Clause 145 and paragraph 3 of Schedule 8 set out S4C's public service remit. In the view of S4C, this reflected the existing terms of section 57 of the Broadcasting Act 1990, which it felt had "stood the test of time". Paragraph 4 of Schedule 8 creates provisions for statements of programme policy akin to those for commercial public service broadcasters, but without the capacity for OFCOM to undertake detailed regulation.[686] Instead, it is proposed that the Secretary of State will undertake a review of the fulfilment of S4C's remit every five years, as a result of which she may require remedial action.[687] S4C argued that these reviews ought to take place every ten years by analogy with the BBC's Royal Charter.[688] We are not convinced that the situations are analogous: the ten-year length of the Royal Charter is not set in stone; in future, a different timetable or different arrangements for external review of the BBC may be established. We have only one recommendation to make on this subject, with the aim of broadly aligning arrangements for S4C with those we have proposed for other channels. We recommend that paragraph 3 of Schedule 8 be amended to provide that an order to amend S4C's public service remit may only be made as a result of a review conducted under Clause 226.

358. The draft Bill does not propose to change S4C's funding arrangements, under which S4C's grant from the Government is uprated in line with inflation, plus any additional amount considered appropriate by the Secretary of State to reflect transmission costs.[689] S4C argued that the development of digital services had a particular importance in Wales, since that development provided an opportunity for the showing of both a full Channel 4 service and S4C services across Wales. S4C suggested that the opportunity of the Communications Bill ought to be taken to enable the Secretary of State to increase grants to S4C above inflation for the purpose of supporting the provision of digital services as a whole, in the same way as the recent increase in the BBC licence fee had been above inflation.[690] The Plaid Cymru Parliamentary Group also considered that "the funding for S4C should be reconsidered in the light of the additional challenges facing the channel in the digital age".[691] It appears at odds with the concept of future-proofing for legislation to contain a barrier to increased funding for S4C, should the Secretary of State decide that such an increase is appropriate. We recommend that the final Bill seek to amend section 61(4) of the Broadcasting Act 1990 to enable additional payments to be made to S4C to support the development of digital services.

683   Policy, para Back

684   Ev 212, para 2.1. Back

685   Ev 439, para 22; Q 600. Back

686   Ev 212, para 4.5. Back

687   Clauses 225 and 226. Back

688   Ev 212, para 2.2; QQ 597-599. Back

689   Broadcasting Act 1990, sections 61 and 61A, as inserted by Broadcasting Act 1996, sections 80 and 81. Back

690   Ev 212, paras 3.1-3.2; QQ 604-607. Back

691   Ev 607, para 4.4. Back

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