The Welsh language television channel S4C celebrates its 30th birthday today.
It is not easy to explain just how important S4C was to Welsh speakers at its inception to those not aware of the history. Before the channel’s birth in 1982, Welsh speakers were particularly worried that the decline in speakers would be accelerated by the omni-presence of English-language television in Welsh-speaking homes and the lack of a Welsh-language channel. In those pre-Internet times, the young in particular were heavily influenced by television, and campaigners believed that Welsh-medium programmes were necessary to keep the language alive. So strong was this belief that activists mounted several campaigns, including civil disobedience such as refusing to pay television licence fees and even climbing up television transmitters. This struggle reached its climax when politician Gwynfor Evans reacted to the then government’s u-turn on the matter by staging a hunger strike which he threatened to continue until death if the channel was not inaugurated.
The government relented and it was with great excitement that Welsh-speaking families sat down on 1 November 1982 to watch a cartoon called Superted, which would go on to become one of S4C’s biggest exports, joined by Sam Tân (Fireman Sam) in later years.
As we reported last year, the channel has gone through some turbulent times, with a cut to its funding and a transfer to the BBC umbrella. Despite the cuts and job losses, today’s anniversary is a time for quiet optimism.
On the Wales Online website, Ian Jones, head of the channel, explains that S4C will adapt to the new ways of watching television, particularly the fact that viewers now want to choose to watch programmes when they want rather than according to a pre-defined schedule, and on other devices such as mobiles and tablets. He also suggests expanding the current possibility for English-language voiceovers on the red button to more programmes, in the hope of attracting higher viewer numbers and more advertising.
In recent years, the Internet has become more important as a means of communication and Welsh speakers have grasped the opportunity to increase the language’s presence on the web, becoming the third most used minority language on Twitter and having volunteers help to create the Welsh interface for Facebook and the content of Wicipedia Cymraeg. However, as television remains an important part of family life and is likely to do so for years to come, S4C’s contribution is invaluable.
Penblwydd Hapus S4C!