Media: Welsh language protesters refuse to pay licence fee

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The Independent Online
A repeat of the campaign of civil disobedience which led to the setting up of the Welsh Fourth TV Channel (S4C) 14 years ago is in rehearsal, with the father of the BBC's Huw Edwards, presenter of Newsnight and The Nine O'Clock News, in a leading role.

Hywel Teifi Edwards, a retired professor of Welsh at Swansea university, is one of a clutch of cultural conservatives pledged to withhold paying their television licence in protest at what they allege to be an unacceptable amount of English spoken on Welsh language television and radio.

Supporters include Alun Evans, former head of the BBC in North Wales, Meredydd Evans, retired head of light entertainment for BBC Wales, Eleri Carrog who chairs the Welsh language rights movement Cefn, and bards Nesta Wyn Jones and Myrddin ap Dafydd.

The group claims that by 1 March - St David's Day - hundreds will have joined the protest, unafraid of facing fines of up to pounds 1,000 if they withhold the annual pounds 91.50 fee.

Professor Edwards, who unsuccessfully fought Carmarthen for Plaid Cymru at the 1987 election says: "This is an issue I feel very strongly about. I haven't told Huw and I'm sure he's got better things to think about."

His son, a fluent Welsh speaker, said his father's decision was news to him.

Mr ap Dafydd, a publisher of Welsh language literature and holder of a Bardic Chair, said: "Promises are made and everybody goes quiet to give broadcasters a chance to fulfil those promises. Then the promises are broken and the protests begin again."

The campaigners are calling for both S4C and Radio Cymru, the BBC's Welsh language channel, to produce a policy statement which protects Welsh's status. Too much "Wenglish", a hybrid of English and Welsh, was threatening the language's purity they maintain.

S4C, which receives more than pounds 1m a week by the Department of National Heritage, also receives free BBC output costing pounds 17.6m a year paid for from licence revenue.

The BBC said: "There is no truth in the suggestion that Radio Cymru is undermining the Welsh language." The service claims an audience of 185,000 a week, an increase of 10,000 on 12 months ago. S4C said it was satisfied that guidelines were monitoring output successfully.

In the early 1980s, courts were kept busy dealing with hundreds of licence refuseniks campaigning for a Welsh TV service, including Plaid Cymru MPs Dafydd Wigley and Dafydd Ellis Thomas, now Lord Elis-Thomas and chairman of the Welsh Language Board.

The former MP Gwynfor Evans, who threatened to fast to death in the 1980s protest, is sympathetic but says: "I won't be going as far as to withhold my licence fee."