Some sort of Gold Standard? Far from it!

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.

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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.

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7 comments:

Steven Tierney said...

Exactly: You hit the nail on the head in your last paragraph.

Here in Scotland the BBC has presided over the demise of Gaelic in the north of the country: See the census data for Gaelic speakers in Perth in 1951 compared to 2011 for evidence. In the south there has been the utter annihilation of the Scots tongue as spoken by Burns, which IIRC was the main language of law here leading up to 1707.

How can a monolithic broadcaster, which primarily has a London-centric-looking-out point of view, know what is best for the rest of the country never mind the culturally distinct areas of the Home Nations?

The BBC has provided Gaelic programming at least since the '80s, when I was a bairn. It now has a Gaelic channel called BBC Alba - which is an improvement on the odd show here and there in an unpopular slot on BBC2, while Eastenders is on the other side - but cannot by any means be the pinnacle of achievement.

The conflict of interest you allude to really shows itself in the finances - if in doubt, follow the money! Scotland provides 8.9% (population share) of TV Licence revenue but gets 5% spent here (http://bit.ly/18d5SKk).

The solution IMO is to give the missing licence fee money to the communities who have the greatest stake in the survival of the languages, those for whom using the tongue is a part of everyday life, those for whom its survival and furtherance is closest to their hearts. Let them make their own programmes, which will always be more suited to their communities, ideals and visions than the BBC could ever possibly provide.

Steven Tierney said...

BTW I came across this a moment ago, Carwyn Jones sticking his neb in...

First Minister Carwyn Jones has called on the chancellor to give Wales tax-raising powers to help defeat the pro-independence lobby in Scotland.

Not independence movement, but lobby. How belittled are we?!

http://wingsoverscotland.com/minding-your-own-business-dept/
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-22345610

MH said...

Thanks for your comments, Stephen. To be fair to the BBC, they are spending more money on making programmes in different parts of the UK. That's a welcome change, and Wales has benefited from a number of high profile programmes being made in Cardiff. But these are, in the main, programmes which are for UK-wide consumption and don't particularly reflect Wales.

I think the best thing to do would be to change the nature of the BBC, so that the TV licence fee was put directly into the hands of separate broadcasting corporations in Wales, Scotland and England (or the regions of England) who would then use that money to buy or make the programmes they want. The BBC could still exist as an entity which made programmes in various parts of the UK for broadcast across the UK; but there would be fewer of them on fewer channels, and the freed channels would be used for the national (or regional) broadcasting corporations to broadcast content geared more specifically to their own audiences.

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Carwyn Jones' intervention isn't surprising. To his credit, he is one of the few Labour politicians who understands what Scottish independence will mean for the rest of the UK outside England. He knows that the situation will become intolerable for Wales and Northern Ireland in a "United Kingdom of Southern Britain and Northern Ireland" because we will be even more dominated by England than we are now.

And there is some truth in what he says. The Unionist promise is that the Scots will get more devolution if they don't vote for independence. But the chances of them agreeing a package of further devolution for Scotland before the independence referendum are nil; so the Scots will be asked to take a great deal on trust and I, for one, wouldn't trust them to deliver anything. I believe that if the devolution package is altered after the referendum it will be altered to suit English interests, because the English are the ones who feel most aggrieved by the current asymmetry. And as it is not politically expedient to change the Scottish devolution settlement before the referendum, the only way left of making devolution as it currently exists more symmetrical is to bring the powers that Wales has up to the same sort of level as Scotland and NI enjoy. That's where Carwyn is coming from.

The problem is that he doesn't have the clout. After saying it he was immediately jumped on, and he has now had to retract what he said, as we can read here.

Steven Tierney said...

Scotland too is benefitting from programmes made for UK consumption being produced here (Waterloo Road, for example), but this is the result of a solution to two very different problems:
1. Due to its age the BBC needed to move away from the Television Centre building and regionalising their programme making was seen as a way to do that. Studios in Manchester and Birmingham have also benefitted accordingly.
2. There was a review at the BBC for which the outcome was to make more programmes in 'the regions' and that too was solved by this re-location of existing sets.

Two birds killed with the one stone can never be a bad thing, right?

But it's not too good at all for local programming because our local script writers, actors, producers, storyboard artists, etc, ultimately take second place to the established ones in the regionalised programmes, because the decision to regionalise in this way, was not as a result of a decision to make programmes by, and for, the communities in which the studios are located. OK, so some local children and adults get paid a small bung to walk past a camera in the Waterloo Road school playground set, but is that really all we're entitled to?

Additionally the BBC are currently reducing staffing levels and worse, it is in Scotland that nine of thirty compulsory redundancies are to happen (http://bbc.in/12Yf4gh). This will give us an ever diminishing return in terms of quality of coverage of news & current affairs, which is more essential than ever at a time when the people of Scotland are about to make their biggest democratic decision ever. This is on top of the Scottish underspend I mentioned before.

The First Minister has asked for broadcasting to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament and that was refused (http://bit.ly/134Xquu). For me this shows the lack of political will of the establishment to respond to the wants and needs of the home nations. I think that the clue is in their name, the BRITISH Broadcasting Corporation, of which the former Director-General, Greg Dyke, said, "The BBC is part of the glue which binds the United Kingdom together," (http://bbc.in/18zeCrA) and the current head honcho, Baron Hall of Birkinhead, said: "This organisation is an incredibly important part of what makes the United Kingdom what it is." The British state are not about to cede that kind of control to the home nations!

We can very graphically see that standpoint here almost every day, with its constantly negative coverage (warnings, dangers of, etc) of independence stories. To the best of my recollection, there has not yet been a single positive headline or story of any independence issue, and I am by far not the only one to notice (http://bit.ly/ZX0HYc).

From these points and examples one would therefore reasonably conclude that the BBC is hamstrung, tied politically and ideologically to a primarily Metropolitan viewpoint (just look at who's Chairman of BBC trust!), and because of that it is unable to change at more than a glacial pace in terms of programming for the home nations.

Steven Tierney said...

Poor Carwyn. He was probably told to intervene and then told not to intervene! Good luck to him in getting something better for Wales though, he'll need it to get anything at all from the Tories! However Wales should expect nothing more than we have now: Control over a proportion of income tax and an ever declining handout of pocket money each year. Never mind, maybe next year we'll move out and get a job of our own. And watch a brand new channel on the television!

There will not IMO be a better devo settlement here. The unionists (Labour mainly) must agree it in their Scotland branch, then in the UK, then get elected, then get it on a green paper, a white paper, through the Commons and the Lords and on to the statute books. All this only a year after the Calman proposals were accepted into law, giving control over speeding, air guns and up to 10p/£ of income tax (from from to 3p/£). However if the tax is raised, we lose that amount in the following year's block grant. Well that's just swell, eh?

Efrogwr said...

No doubt what we're up against here. Craig Murray has a very good post on his blog about BBC bias in the Scottish debate. He wants the OSCE in as observers:

http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2013/04/bbc-the-new-hammer-of-the-scots/

MH said...

I couldn't agree more that the BBC is an instrument of the UK state. But things are done in the typical muddled and fudged way in which the UK establishment prefers to operate: where "doing the done thing" is unspoken and unspecified, rather than clear, transparent and open to scrutiny by those who aren't part of that establishment.

However one thing is clear to me: it will do whatever it can to maintain the union on which its existence depends.

But what to do about it? I'm intrigued by the idea of the OSCE being asked to monitor the situation, but not at all sure that anything concrete would come of it. Fettered Together are bound to call it whinging. I think we just have to treat the BBC in the same way as we treat the rest of the media, especially the press. We must keep pointing out that they are biased and are persuing their own agenda to obtain the political outcome they want, in exactly the same way as the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph or the Daily Mirror does ... and keep presenting the truth as we see it through the outlets we have at our disposal, especially the web and social media.

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