Euros Lewis explains why S4C viewers don’t want to watch English programmes in Welsh
It’s a paradox of contemporary post-devolution Wales. As Cardiff gathers strength so the Welsh-speaking heartlands lose faith in their own sustainability. ‘Cardiff’ and ‘Welsh heartlands’ is a gross simplification of course. The tension is not one of geography but of power. Communities within close proximity of the centres of wealth and influence can be as demographically remote as Ceredigion or the Llŷn peninsula.
Dychmygu S4c Newydd / Imagining a New S4c
Conference at Theatr Felin-fach , Ceredigion, tomorrow, 11.00 am – 4.00 pm. Registration: 01570 470697 – [email protected]
Jon Gower, cultural commentator.
Elain Price, Swansea University – an expert on S4C’s early innovation.
Rhodri ap Dyfrig, Aberystwyth University – new-media guru
Ned Thomas, minority culture expert – filmed interview.
Underlying the day’s discussions will be a quotation from the American socio-linguist Joshua A. Fishman:
Further information from Euros Lewis – 07813 173155
Until comparatively recently language had an interesting counter-effect on this geometry. More often than not Welsh speakers who had graduated to the heart of the Cardiff media hegemony of BBC, ITV and S4C maintained a working proximity with the heartlands of their birth. Indeed, in keeping with the leaders of the Welsh cultural renaissance of the early 20th Century they were outward looking Europeans who had an intrinsic, if underdeveloped, understanding of a meaningful multiculturalism. Their un-Cameroonian tendency kept the culture of power and hierarchy in check. The colonial distancing of Us from Them – the Other(s) – was not part of their strategy.
It was Margaret Thatcher that famously gave in to Gwynfor Evans’ Ghandian threat and allowed for the establishment of S4C. Following the crushing defeats of Epynt and Tryweryn, here at last Welsh nonconformist, non-violent action finally had its victory. The sudden re-seizing of the Welsh-medium broadcasting initiative by the current Tory Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has been a stunning shock. Seeing it as old-style colonial bravado is only half of the truth. The other half requires us to recognise the full implication of S4C’s own decision to abandon its endemic relationship with its hinterland of creativity (its own culture), embracing in its stead, the culture of the sector and the free market. Result? Ultimate victory to Thatcher.
For Welsh speakers, S4C’s ensuing crisis has been particularly confusing. As in most minority situations, language has traditionally been a unifying force. We may not have liked some if not many S4C programmes, but we always gave it the benefit of the doubt. We always looked forward, with glass-half-full-optimism, to tomorrow’s offering. But, S4C’s enthusiasm for the gospel according to Murdoch turned the precious glass on its head. In a state of perplexity audiences sought to make sense of a Welsh-speaking channel – ostensibly, their Welsh-speaking channel – that was not actually speaking their language. Soon, they became more than perplexed. They turned off, preferring to watch English programmes in English rather than English programmes in Welsh.
Tomorrow an open conference is being held at Theatr Felin-fach – at the umbilical centre of the cultural heartland of Ceredigion. Its purpose will be to give full support to the S4C leadership’s new aspiration to close the gulf that has developed between its Cardiff base and its constituencies of potential creativity, wherever they geographically exist.
The conference will be open in many senses. Admission is free and anybody who has any interest in S4C’s future and its future shape is welcome. Most importantly of all, the event has been designed on a communitarian, non-hierarchal, basis ensuring that all those present will have a say in the shaping of the ideas created.
The collaborative act of creating ideas is our self-hidden national asset. It is the defining element of Welsh culture. In its Aristotelian insistence on the common, rather than the greater, good it is dynamically non-hierarchal and co-productively communitarian. Such a specifically Welsh model of co-creativity will provide us with the base for a specifically Welsh outlook both of our continually evolving selves and of the world. Its re-adoption will also have the added bonus of freeing Wales’ sole mass media of identity from the stranglehold of Hunt and Cameron’s neo-Thatcherism.
In day-to-day terms that will mean the re-marriage of Wales’s language with its culture. It will mean the breakthrough of young talent from the underground of experimentation to the potential of open co-creative ambition. It will also signal that devolution is a creative process that involves all the communities of Wales. For in a truly devolved Wales, the geography of power will be irrelevant.