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Actors and writers protest at Welsh soap cuts

The set of Pobol y Cwm.
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Actors and writers are demanding urgent talks with BBC Wales and Welsh broadcaster S4C over plans to cut episodes of the long-running TV soap Pobol y Cwm.

Both Equity and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain claim a decision to reduce the Welsh- language soap’s episodes from five to four a week, and remove a Sunday afternoon omnibus, will result in less work and pay for their members.

In addition, they argue that the reduction will have a negative impact on Welsh-language programming.

The unions said they were not consulted about the changes to the drama, which is broadcast by S4C and produced by BBC Wales. The broadcasters had said the changes were needed to “cut costs in a difficult financial climate”.

Responding, the series’ actors said they “very much regret the decision of S4C to remove the omnibus edition from its schedules”.

In a statement drawn up in conjunction with Equity, the actors said: “The omnibus [with English subtitles] has been extremely popular among non-Welsh speakers and has been a unique uniting factor for the two languages. It has also brought new viewers to the channel. There had been no
discussions whatsoever between Equity and the BBC and S4C about the costs of transmitting the omnibus before the S4C statement was made. We would welcome such talks and call for them to commence immediately.”

While the BBC funds most of Pobol y Cwm, the omnibus edition is funded by S4C. As well
as the episode cuts, the drama will also have a two-week break each year.

Bernie Corbett, general secretary of the Writers’ Guild, said the combined cuts would result in 60 fewer episodes a year.

“This has impacts on all areas – on writers, performers and crew, as well as the whole status of the Welsh language,” he said, adding: “We will meet with the BBC and S4C later this month and we will express our concerns and ask them to reconsider their decisions.”

Corbett also said the cuts were the result of the BBC licence-fee settlement agreed between the BBC and the government in 2010, which saw the BBC take responsibilty for funding S4C.

“Pobol y Cwm is the victim of the ridiculous decision to make the BBC fund S4C, which we were very much against at the time.This has proved us right, as we said at the time it would be the start of a slippery slope for Welsh-language broadcasting,” he said.

Sian Gwynedd, head of Welsh language programmes and services at BBC Wales, said she was “confident a four night a week Pobol y Cwm will continue to appeal to audiences the length and breadth of Wales”.

“It’s too early at this stage to say what the precise impact will be on the production team. But our immediate focus is to discuss the implications of the change with production staff, artists, trade unions, the Writers’ Guild and Equity,” she said.

Dafydd Rhys, director of content at S4C, added it was not possible to “maintain the current level of financial support” for the soap but said he was confident some savings could be “reinvested in order to develop drama in the independent production sector”.

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