I had to read Rhodri Talfan Davies' speech at the Celtic Media Festival last week several times to try and figure out what he had to say about Radio Cymru, and in the end have had to conclude that he wasn't saying much at all.
But one thing he said strikes me as being at the root of the problem. He said that:
"Welsh language broadcasting is sometimes seen as some sort of gold standard in minority language broadcasting".
Welsh-language broadcasting most definitely isn't any sort of gold standard. If we are looking for a standard to measure ourselves against, then I would suggest that the model of radio broadcasting in Euskadi is very much more appropriate than the model in Wales.
The language situation in Euskadi is very similar to that in Wales. Both countries are about the same size and have about the same proportion of people able to speak Welsh or Euskara. But in terms of radio broadcasting, Wales has only one national radio station broadcasting in Welsh, while Euskadi has three which broadcast in Euskara.
Euskadi Irratia is the original station, which used to carry all content, and now carries talk, news and general broadcasting. But two separate music stations have been added over the years, Gaztea in 1990 and EITB Musika in 2001.
To me it seems self-evident that Radio Cymru's biggest problem is that it cannot possibly cater for all Welsh-speaking audiences at the same time, and therefore I see Rhodri Talfan Davies' launch of a "nationwide conversation" about what it should broadcast as depressingly predicable and rather misdirected. Whatever might be gained in terms of new listeners by including new content will be lost in terms of alienating existing listeners. The emphasis must be on expanding Welsh-language provision rather than re-arranging deckchairs on a boat that cannot stay afloat in its current form.
The question is whether the BBC is the best organization to deliver it. Spain, like the UK, has a state broadcasting organization called RTVE. Like the BBC, it is good at broadcasting a variety of content across the state but isn't good at regional variations. There was some regional radio provision in the form of RNE Ràdio 4. But because of poor ratings the network was shut down in 1991, and it only now exists in Catalunya where it struggles on with an audience of about 8,500.
The model that has proved far more successful is for broadcasting in the nations and regions to be the responsibility of the governments of the autonomous communities rather than of the central state broadcaster. In Catalunya the public broadcasting corporation is CCMA, in Galicia it is CRTVG, in Andalucía it is RTVA, and in Euskadi it is EITB. Once again, the Basque model might be the best one for Wales to learn from, for as well as radio stations broadcasting in Euskara it also has radio stations which broadcast in Castilian.
A centrally-funded organization is bound to think of itself primarily as a centralized provider, but there is a fundamental conflict of interest if it tries to be both a centralized provider and a vehicle for regional variations at the same time. Spain doesn't have that conflict of interest, the UK does.