Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 162)

Question Number

TUESDAY 16 JANUARY 2001

PROFESSOR ELAN CLOSS STEPHENS, MR HUW JONES AND MR WYN INNES

Mr Edwards

  160. You say that you would be interested in any wider initiatives aimed at promoting United Kingdom derived programmes at international programme fairs, such as—and I have not come across these phrases—MIP Com in Cannes and NATPE in the USA. What kind of support do you think could be provided at the United Kingdom level?
  (Prof Stephens) We do sell at these events already, so I would ask Wyn whether he thinks we need greater support. The initiatives have been coming from us, so we would be happy to be able to participate in any new development, although I have to say that possibly a general trade development is sometimes simply a general shop window, from which you have to develop your own focused, more specific market, because addressing a sophisticated specialist market and just a general thrust is not always the most useful way of doing things.
  (Mr Innes) I think the most difficult thing for us is to compete at a level playing field with enormous organisations such as the ones described earlier, Disney and HBO and so on and so forth. Where we have interacted with the Welsh Development Agency in the past is to receive marketing support, which gives us an additional sum of money so that we can promote new product at the fair or, as happened some 12 months ago, where we received some money to revamp our stand, which was quite tired, to create a new stand, something which was a little more pleasing to the eye to attract more buyers in. We have worked in those sort of ways with the WDA on rather sort of bespoke methodology rather than looking for them to fund something in a general way. If this was something that was possible in a wider sense from central government, then that would be welcome. Going back to the British Pavilion and NATPE, I believe that there is some subsidy given already to British companies to go out to the main fair in the United States, and clearly more of that would be welcome.
  (Prof Stephens) The Embassy in Moscow was helpful when we were working, over a number of years, with the animators in Moscow to develop the Miracle Maker. It certainly hosted a reception for those people working on the animation, bringing together people from Britain, from publishing, from distribution, from ICON (Mel Gibson's distributary offshoot) who eventually took the Miracle Maker. We took them to Moscow, the ambassador was most helpful, making everybody welcome, and the net result was that they then took the film and distributed it very successfully. Obviously, therefore, I think the embassies have a role to play and I am sure that they are being contacted by the First Minister and the WDA.

Mr Ruane

  161. S4C is one of the funding partners for Sgrin, the Media Agency for Wales). How effective is the agency at promoting Wales in the world?
  (Mr Jones) Let me declare an interest: I am a director of Sgrin, in consequence of my position here, and S4C is one of the funders of Sgrin. I think it is interesting to consider why Sgrin came about. It was because a number of publicly-funded bodies, broadcasters, WDA, the Arts Council, the British Film Institute, were of the opinion that working together to address the large challenges facing film and the media industry in general in Wales was something which was worthwhile. Sgrin tries to cover a vast range of activities with a budget which is less than £1 million (considerably less than is enjoyed by Scottish Screen, for example). I would commend its annual report to you, to show exactly what it does, but it addresses the question of how to educate people in Wales in film, and, on the other hand, how to promote the ability of small Welsh production companies into the international market. It looks at how to promote Welsh film outside Wales. The range of activities is enormous and I think it does an extremely good job in tackling those. The one thing it is unable to do as yet is to put substantial sums of money into the production of films from Wales. I know it is hopeful of attracting support, both the Objective 1 and related Assembly funding, to create a Welsh film fund which will, I hope, be a substantial contribution to the making of Welsh films for the international market. I think those challenges are all very, very important because what we have been talking about this morning is the ability of film and media to give Wales a profile in a way that maybe nothing else can do. It can reach into homes across the world, millions and millions of homes, if we have successful Welsh films and television products for export. How do you do that? You do that by addressing all sorts of questions. You need to have a successful indigenous industry—so that is one of the challenges—and you need then to attract inward investment, get people from outside, from the international commercial film market, bringing their films into Wales—and that is partly what the film commissioners do, which is, again, something that Sgrin have related to. You have to have talent in Wales which works at an international level. Having somebody like Bryn Terfel working internationally, coming back to Wales, and then setting up on his doorstep the Faenol Festival is a massive contribution and is a virtuous circle which derives from, if you like, the small cultural investment in the year of the nationalist efforts which he participated in early on. So we have to have this wheel working across all the fronts of this industry, because the potential for delivering cultural and economic benefits is enormous.

Chairman

  162. When we have United Kingdom representations at the United Kingdom level, when UK plc has been represented, we have had a lot of representations from other bodies to suggest that Wales in that kind of context is unrepresented or under-represented—one or the other. As you have the experience of working abroad—you have mentioned Moscow, for example, and the diplomatic help you had there—what is your experience and how do you think Wales can get over that problem of under-representation in the United Kingdom context?
  (Mr Jones) I think it is difficult for us to speak, because, being an independent organisation, we do have a great deal of access to bodies at the United Kingdom level. Through our contacts with DCMS we are invited to participate in a wider range of conferences and initiatives and I cannot say that we feel, as S4C, excluded from that. I think that does derive from our independent status, for which we are very grateful. I think also we have access to European events which come about through the commercial side or from the public service side—whether these are conferences about cultural diversity or about marketing programmes, whatever. So probably our experience is more positive than some others.
  (Mr Innes) I think that is fair. Again, from going back to the business perspective, I think S4C is seen to be a player in the media business and therefore is included in most of the activities that the business itself provides. As Huw mentioned, we get asked to speak at conference and so on and our voice is listened to and, I believe, respected. So in that sense I do not feel excluded from the industry—from the television industry, and, indeed, the advertising and sponsorship one, which is another significant area of work for us. In the explosion of channels that we see now, with satellite and digital, terrestrial and cable operators, S4C is now, if you take the ITV network as being one company, amongst the top ten broadcasters in the United Kingdom with respect to advertising revenue. If you are tenth of 250, then you have a voice and you have things to say, which is slightly different from the perspective of being the smallest broadcaster when there were four or five. To answer your question, I do not feel excluded from anything as managing director of S4C International.
  (Prof Stephens) I think it is fair to reiterate what Huw said about the importance of this independent voice. It is a major factor in all of our feeling of our ability to do things that we are not filtered in any way, that there is not some umbrella speaking for us, that we have immediate access. That is very important, but I would say even more important, perhaps—and in some ways we are a sort of parable of the nation—is that we are very small and we could sit back and say, "We are a very, very small broadcaster, what hope is there for us in this global world?" I suppose the answer is that you have to be always pro-active, always focused and as courageous as possible, and to some extent you can be successful.

  Chairman: On that note we will finish. Thank you very much indeed for coming.





 
previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 27 March 2001