WAG, LCOs and S4C

Last week, the United Nations declared that Welsh remained one of the world’s most endangered languages, despite the fact that there are over half a million fluent speakers according to the last Census in 2001.

This finding comes at a time when the Welsh Assembly Government has announced its intentions to apply for the transfer of further powers for the Welsh language from Westminster.
Of course, there have already been massive debates on what should be contained within any new Welsh Language Act, especially with regard to its forced adoption by the private sector.

However, the whole point of the requests for powers is not the creation of the act itself but the principle that future Welsh language powers should be decided by Cardiff Bay and not Westminster.

As you would expect, I am against any move for all Welsh businesses to be compelled to be bilingual as that would be a retrograde step which would create unnecessary divisions, especially at a time when devolution needs to be seen to be for all the people of Wales. I also believe that any legislation in this direction would be defeated by the majority of AMs.

Nevertheless, I personally believe that the time has come for the Assembly, and not the UK Parliament, to be given the powers to make decisions on the future of the Welsh language.
However, if the Assembly is to have powers over the Welsh language, then it must also have responsibility for the one organisation that has possibly done more than any other to preserve the language over the last twenty five years, namely S4C.

In my opinion, it is completely inappropriate that a television channel whose primary purpose is to provide Welsh language programmes for the population of this nation remains under the control of Whitehall mandarins within the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Worse still, there seems to be little political will, even amongst nationalists, to request that the funding for S4C is transferred directly to the Assembly. Why is this the case? Well, according to some in the industry, the worry is that if S4C’s funding was devolved from Westminster, then its annual £95 million budget would no longer be ringfenced and that it would have to compete with other demands on the culture budget.

Frankly, that is a weak argument as the importance of S4C to the nation and the language cannot be overemphasised enough. Indeed, I would suggest that it would be a brave politician who would make the case for cutting S4C’s budget at a time when the Welsh language clearly needs continued support. On the other hand, given the Assembly’s broken promises over the development of a Welsh language daily newspaper, those who want to protect the language may, ironically, believe that S4C’s future is safer within Westminster than it is within Cardiff Bay.

Who would have thought that we would find ourselves in a situation where politicians are arguing for a range of further powers over the Welsh language and yet seem afraid to have responsibility for their own Welsh language television channel despite ten years of devolution?

If the Welsh language is important to our country, then the time has come to bring responsibility for its future under the auspices of our democratically elected National Assembly for Wales. If this does not happen, then those in power do a disservice to the language and our nation.

Later this year, the Government will switch off the analogue signal in Wales and, at that time, S4C will become a wholly Welsh-language service with no provision from Channel 4. There could be no better time for Wales to assume full responsibility for its own Welsh language television service if only our politicians in Cardiff Bay had the courage to make such a decision.

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