BBC fails to reach deal with new Welsh-language collecting society

By | Published on Thursday 3 January 2013

BBC Radio Cymru

The BBC’s welsh language radio station Radio Cymru has had to alter its schedules, and will broadcast more English-language songs, after failing to reach an agreement with a new collecting society launched in Wales to represent over 300 Welsh-speaking artists.

As previously reported, the Welsh-language music community campaigned for a number of years to reverse a change that occurred in 2007 in the way that collecting society PRS For Music distributed money collected from the BBC in Wales to its songwriter and music publisher members. The change meant that the owners of copyrights in songs played on Radio Cymru, as opposed to English language service Radio Wales (which has about three times as many listeners), started to receive lower royalty payments.

Affected publishers and songwriters, via the Welsh Music Publishers And Composers Alliance, lobbied both PRS and the BBC to return to the old royalties distribution system, at one point in December 2011 staging a strike during which it asked Radio Cymru to stop broadcasting its members’ music. As its PRS licence was then still covering this music, the Beeb wasn’t actually legally obliged to recognise the strike, but it said it would do to the best of its abilities. Though the Alliance called off the strike after one day anyway, saying it was hopeful a deal could be struck between itself, PRS and the BBC in early 2012.

However, no such deal was struck, resulting in the creation of a new collecting society in Wales called Eos, to which over 300 PRS members have now switched allegiances. It means that songs owned by Eos members can no longer be played under a PRS licence, and the BBC must negotiate a separate licence with the new society.

But as that change came into effect on 1 Jan, no new deal had been agreed. Sian Gwynedd, Head Of Welsh Language Programmes at the BBC told reporters: “While Welsh language music will continue to be the bedrock of our output [on Radio Cymru], the current dispute will prevent us from playing most of our usual repertoire. This will clearly have a noticeable impact on the service we can deliver, but I would like to emphasise to our listeners that we are doing everything possible to protect the quality of our programming despite the difficult circumstances”.

Talks between the BBC and Eos continue, with the BBC Trust’s Trustee For Wales, Elan Closs Stephen, encouraging both sides to work hard on reaching a settlement, saying in a statement: “I understand the financial pressure on Welsh musicians but there are also huge financial pressures on the BBC, too, like all public bodies. Nobody wins from this action, least of all the Radio Cymru audience. I would urge you to continue in your efforts to ensure that this matter can be brought to a satisfactory conclusion”.

Meanwhile, Welsh language TV station S4C has reached an agreement with Eos, though obviously its use of the new collecting society’s repertoire is much less substantial. While technically a commercial TV station, S4C also receives a government subsidy, previously directly from the UK’s Department Of Culture, Media & Sport, though as of this year that money will start to come from the BBC. Though it will still be a standalone entity, so its deal with Eos is separate to any dealings between the music body and the Beeb’s Welsh language unit.

Nevertheless, a BBC spokesman welcomed the news Eos had done a deal with S4C, telling reporters: “We welcome the fact that Eos have reached an agreement with S4C – it’s good news and shows that an agreement is possible. We are in discussions with Eos and hope that a successful outcome can be achieved as soon as possible”.