Imagining a new Welsh channel

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]

Speakers include:

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:

“Most importantly of all, I have cautioned that minorities cannot merely be miniaturised versions of the majorities that surround them, but must also be multilingual and multicultural carriers of a life style that is distinctively and historically their own.”

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.

Euros Lewis is Artistic Director of Theatr Troedyrhiw and a Fellow at University of Wales Trinity St David’s Centre for Bilingual Higher Education.

4 thoughts on “Imagining a new Welsh channel

  1. I’m not sure what the columnist is talking about. How and when did S4C ’embrace the culture of the sector and the free market’? How did that show itself? And what is an English programme in Welsh? A lot of S4C output is fairly boring or trivial but I haven’t noticed a lot of free market propaganda

  2. ‘In its Aristotelian insistence on the common, rather than the greater, good it is dynamically non-hierarchal and co-productively communitarian.’

    Kurt Vonnegut said ‘Simplicity of language is not only reputable, but perhaps even sacred. The Bible opens with a sentence well within the writing skills of a lively fourteen year old: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” ‘

    The mark of a good writer is to be understood and, as such, language should be used as a tool of communication and should not be used to confuse and humiliate others. How ironic it is that an article on a plea for community participation should be so elitist and so unclear in its message.

    George Orwell said ‘… the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.’

    Instead of trying to look clever, the writer of this article should try and tell us, as readers, what they want to say.

  3. I keep forgetting that the totemic position of S4/C leads to a lack of rationality in any debate about how to get Welsh media to those who want Welsh language media. 1982 was a long time ago.

    Fighting for a “channel” is increasingly irrelevant in the digital age. Surely fighting for support for Welsh language media production and its distribution is where people’s energy should be expended.

    Further – my Greek, Finn, Estonian, Polish, Catalan…. friends seem to accept that programmes originated in English have a part to play in their daily lives – much the same way I have been glued to a Danish tv programme over the past 10 weeks on BBC4.

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