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Friday, 1 November, 2002, 07:22 GMT
Plaid protester's S4C lament
Gwynfor Evans in his campaigning days
Gwynfor Evans would have died for the Welsh language
The veteran campaigner who threatened to starve himself to death in his quest for a Welsh language TV channel has expressed "deep concern" at S4C's falling viewing figures.

Gwynfor Evans, the former Plaid Cymru president who made his threat to fast in April 1980, has admitted his disappointment at the decline in popularity of the Welsh fourth channel.

Gwynfor Evans
Mr Evans turned 90 in September

As S4C prepared to celebrate its 20th birthday on Friday, the 90-year-old blamed a wider decline in Welsh speakers for the slump - and the fact that new viewers were not replacing those dying off.

"It's a deep concern, but it is to be expected - Welsh-speaking people are dying, and they were the chief viewers," he said.

But Plaid Cymru's first MP still insisted he was intensely proud to see the channel reach such a milestone.

In a rare television interview, he told BBC Wales' Dragon's Eye programme that political opponents of S4C had accepted its existence.

It is difficult to get a perfect balance

S4C chief executive Huw Jones in July

And he said the channel was now more politically secure than ever.

But, he argued, the broadcaster should now come under Welsh jurisdiction.

With the establishment of the Welsh Assembly, he said, S4C should come under the jurisdiction of the Welsh Assembly Government rather than continuing to be run by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in Westminster.

Asked whether S4C should relocate to a north or west Wales base - a key demand of many Welsh language activists - Mr Evans said he believed it should remain in Cardiff because the capital needed its institutions.

Reflecting on what might have happened if he had starved himself to death, the father of seven said Wales would have experienced a "revolution" with a huge upsurge in favour of Welsh nationalism.

Superted was an early hit for S4C

Mr Evans - who only learned Welsh at the age of 18 - pledged to start his life-threatening protest when Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government went back on its word and refused to establish a Welsh TV channel.

As a result of his stand, the then Home Secretary, William Whitelaw announced in September 1980 that S4C would be created.

In the years since its first broadcast on 1 November, 1982, S4C has attracted regular criticism for poor viewing figures, and for the fact that it is heavily subsidised by the UK government.

The channel currently costs 94m a year to run, but critics say the dwindling number of viewers does not justify the expense.

Audience reach

In 1995, its share of all the TV hours watched by Welsh speakers was 18.8%, but the latest figures show it has slumped to just 13.8%.

Similarly, S4C's audience reach - the number of viewers who watch it at some point during the week - had dropped in the past six years.

In 1995 it was 85%, but the figures for 2001 show it has fallen to just 69%.

Earlier this year, chief executive Huw Jones acknowledged more had to be done to appeal to a wide audience, but claimed he was pleased at the 700,000 weekly viewing figures.

Losing hold

"I think what we need is a schedule that appeals equally to all parts of Wales, but it is difficult to get a perfect balance," he said in July.

Figures released at the time showed that S4C's hold on the Welsh-speaking audience in the heartland of north Wales had dropped from 12.5% to 11% in the past year, following a fall in the previous 12 months.

The same calculations in south Wales showed a more alarming 4% fall in viewing figures.

The broadcaster has been fighting back with more programmes tailored towards a younger audience.

Commissioning editors at S4C have said they are looking at this target group specifically to try to gain a loyal audience that will stay with the channel.

BBC Wales' Rhun ap Iorwerth
"Gwynfor Evans says the drop in viewing figures is inevitable"
See also:

15 May 02 | Wales
01 Sep 02 | Wales
02 Jul 02 | Wales
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