Putting Wales on the small screen

Tim Hartley says we should be making more indigenous television drama and comedy to boost our cultural identity

It was good to hear BBC Wales Director, Rhodri Talfan Davies, open a discussion about the nature of television in Wales at this year’s Celtic Media Festival – see here. He asked whether we need to see and hear more Welsh on English programmes and even, perhaps, some more English on Welsh programmes.

This was good to hear because for too long the debate over Welsh television has been bogged down in issues of corporate governance and cuts to funding. We seem to have forgotten the purpose of television programming – to entertain and inform, yes, but also to hold a mirror up to us as a society and asking us what we might want to be.

Despite the doom and gloom of the last few years and the shadow of cuts and reorganisation, Welsh television is still in pretty good shape. The BBC’s Story of Wales was a landmark history series which also succeeded in being very popular with the audience. The Beeb is still the leader, for news and sports coverage, and because it continues to invest in big drama productions like Sherlock, Doctor Who, and Casualty, all made at Cardiff Bay’s purpose built Roath Lock studios. But there is concern that it seems to have given up on making indigenous drama or comedy about Wales, for Wales.

ITV, too, is in good health. Its financial results are positive and across the UK it is looking to increase in-house production and diversify revenue streams. Its regional licences are likely to be extended until 2024. This should guarantee Welsh audiences four hours of news and 90 minutes of non-news programming every week under a new Wales-specific licence. That’s good news for viewers because ITV News Cymru Wales, its online service and programmes like Wales This Week, Fishlock’s Wales and The Ferret offer an alternative take on life in Wales.

S4C, now almost fully funded from the licence fee, at last seems to have entered a period of stability. It too has had some notable successes, the children’s service Cyw, award winning drama and the continued appeal of Pobol y Cwm. S4C’s Digital Fund for multi media ventures shows it can evolve to meet the challenges of changing technologies and consumer demands. Impact and audience reach are important in a converging technological world, However, rightly or wrongly Welsh language television will still be judged by audience figures. And that is the station’s Achilles heel.

Local television is set to hit our screens in Cardiff later this year. Made In will offer two hours of original programmes every weekday in and around the capital and the government hopes to set up similar ventures with stations in Mold, Bangor and in Swansea. Whether the dream of a vibrant local TV network is economically sustainable is, of course, a big question. But add to this the micro news and information websites and the explosion of user-made content online and we surely must have more audio visual content from Wales available than ever before.

In the independent production sector there have been notable successes, the expansion and diversification of Tinopolis and Boom Pictures being the most obvious examples. But despite making some great programmes most companies in Wales seem happy to move from one commission to another and fight over the ever decreasing cake of public service funding. Maybe it’s a good thing – programmes first, business second.

Some commentators and politicians have argued that we could make even more progress if only we had control over broadcasting here in Wales. But what does devolving broadcasting actually mean? Awarding local radio licences and elements of content regulation through a Welsh Ofcom sound attractive and both are attainable. But I can’t see the balkanisation of the BBC and the carving up of its budget between the nations of the UK happening anytime soon because that is where the real money and power lie. Ofcom has consulted on a specific independent television licence for Wales. Any new company could protect Welsh interests if there were a takeover of ITV. But it would surely be an ITV affiliate, still show Corrie and Emmerdale and be subject to the same financial pressures as exist at the moment. So no real change there.

The Welsh Government is keeping an open mind on devolving control of the media to Wales. But the UK Government told the Silk Commission on Devolution in no uncertain terms:

“… there is no evidence to suggest that devolution of broadcasting policy or a different approach to funding the BBC would benefit licence fee payers… There is a greater net benefit to the nation and all its constituent parts in having broadcasting reserved.”

Control over public appointments and some formal accountability in Wales could be a good thing but that doesn’t seem likely, so now can we please park this issue and get on with the real business of deciding what kind of television service we want in Wales?

We know that the creative industries are important to Wales and to Britain. They provide good, often highly-paid employment and are a source of export revenue. Major series like Downton Abbey and Doctor Who sell across the world. But television is first and foremost a force for cultural, not economic, good. We must stop looking at television production simply as a means of creating wealth or ‘moving up the value chain’ or any of the other mantras so beloved of governments in London and Cardiff Bay. The reason there is so much public subsidy for television is because it fulfils that vital cultural role.

The commentator Jon Gower quotes an American academic who said that a nation that does not see itself on television starts to believe it does not exist. As Wales enters a new political, cultural and multi media era it is the purely cultural questions which we should be asking. Who are we and where do we think we are going? How do we write the next chapter in the story of Wales? And I would add, this one: please can we have fun while we are doing all this?

Wales has a vibrant and successful television industry, one of which we are rightly proud and which in many ways defines us as a nation. Tonight’s RTS discussion will offer something of a health check for Welsh television and will ask the bosses some difficult questions about what we really want to see on our screens in Wales. After all, they are the questions the audience would be asking.

Tim Hartley is Chair of the Royal Television Society, Wales. Last week the Society held an event with the heads of BBC Wales, ITV Wales and S4C to discuss the future of television.

43 thoughts on “Putting Wales on the small screen

  1. “However, rightly or wrongly Welsh language television will still be judged by audience figures. And that is the station’s Achilles heel.”

    Fortunately S4C, in the wake of its recent “Zero Viewers” smacking has moved swiftly to deal with the “Ratings problem”; they have removed a large number of the audience measuring devices that recorded that no one was watching. Radio Cymru are apparently doing something similar to hide the fact that their “Newyddion” online news service has more people engaged in producing it than there are people reading it (9.5 people per day on average).

    It’s always worth considering that if the news is bad the first option is to hide the news.

  2. Rather disappointing article, stating the obvious and lacking in any vision. Frankly, why bother writing it?

    I take offence to terms such as ‘balkanisation’ of the service – is Tim implying that wanting services in Welsh or of Wales is synonymous with ethnic hatred and killing? Why use such an offensive word if not then? He’s internalised the London attitude towards Welsh broadcasting since the 1920s.

    If he’s going to use ‘balkanisation’ lets get rid of the Welsh rugby and football teams as they’re Balkanising Britain; or likewise the Church in Wales; or FUW … I know, lets get rid of Wales. That’d be better, more liberal and cosmopolitan.

    Or rather why not get rid of ‘Britain’ – we don’t need to be part of the USA to enjoy excellent American comedy or be a part of Denmark to enjoy Borgen? How is it the Irish Republic show UK programmes and they balkanised their way out of the UK?

    Do we need ‘Britain’ or rather the BBC, to produce tv and radio – after all there’s no central nation building German ‘BBC’ (the Allies forbad it in case it was used to erm, stoke up jingosim … like we saw with the Jubilee and Olympics one assumes) but German television hasn’t suffered from that decision has it?

    Why use this term Tim? Why pander to those who will always find ways of standing in the way, waste time with warm words and set up subcommittees to avoid making decisions which could promote broadcasting in Wales or in Welsh?

    Welsh broadcasting has stood still at best or rather slipped back during the last decade. At a time when there are more tv and radio channels than ever there is less produced in Welsh, there is no development – zero – in Welsh language radio broadcasting and we’re made to celebrate producing shows like Dr Who (whilst very good and popular) which are totally generic in their location.

    The article smells of the kind of recent complacency within Welsh broadcasting, and Welsh-medium broadcasting in particular, which has seen audiences fall, with no new development despite the explosion in digital and now local TV (how much, if any in Welsh?).

    There is none of the vision which early pioneers of broadcasting in Wales initiated – against the ‘better judgment’ of London.

    As for, “The Welsh Government keeping an open mind on devolving control of the media to Wales. the UK Government told the Silk Commission on Devolution in no uncertain terms:

    “… there is no evidence to suggest that devolution of broadcasting policy or a different approach to funding the BBC would benefit licence fee payers… There is a greater net benefit to the nation and all its constituent parts in having broadcasting reserved.”

    … well, they would say that wouldn’t they! The UK Govt would never have and never will, prioritiese tv and radio in Welsh or of Wales. They only do it under pressure and duress and lobbying. And from Tim’s mindset they never will as he’s totally happy with the situation and won’t press for more.

    Tim then contradicts himself to say:

    “Control over public appointments and some formal accountability in Wales could be a good thing but that doesn’t seem likely, so now can we please park this issue and get on with the real business of deciding what kind of television service we want in Wales?”

    But isn’t the whole point discussing the issue – so that we can decide ‘what kind of television service we want in Wales’?

    Why does Tim quote British success (Downton Abbey etc)? What’s that got to do with Wales? Why is he taking the British perspective on this? How does it help the Welsh tv sector? Aiming for reflective glory for Wales as a displacement that we have nothing of ourselves to celebrate?

    The future of broadcasting in Welsh or of Wales does indeed look pretty grim. No vision, not even ‘back of the envelop’ thinking. No strategy for growth in the Welsh language to offer a variety of platforms in Welsh for the very diverse Welsh-speaking audience. No growth for programmes in English of or about Wales. A couple of hours from ITV. Grim.

    We don’t even have dreamers any more.

    JJ – give it a rest mate. If Welsh audiences are falling one central reason is the mitigating forces – political, cultural, linguistic, demographic, economic, lack of choice in programmes produced – against it and. All forces you support. Either come up with ways of reversing this or turn you guns at the big money wasters of the UK and Assembly govts – foreign wars; nuclear weapons; procurement; off-shore taxation; royalty; foreign aid; the lost billions of Objective One funding; HS2; PFI; heath ‘reorganisation’ etc etc. Wales is the only place in the world this language is spoken. English speakers have a choice of countries to live in, those who speak Welsh don’t. Give Welsh a break.

  3. “But television is first and foremost a force for cultural, not economic, good. We must stop looking at television production simply as a means of creating wealth”

    ITV is essentially a commercial operation – its prime goal is to make profits. How do you reconcile that with the need for it to produce programmes for the cultural good Tim?

  4. Graham: It should be 19 people per day on average. Its derived from a FOI request to the BBC which was at first refused on the grounds that viewer figures for its online content were subject to FOI exemption. The Information commissioner suggested to the BBC that this refusal was a misuse of their exemption and I received the following reply….belatedly:-

    “In our response of 10 July 2012, the BBC explained that there was no obligation to provide the information you had requested because it was held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature’ and was therefore excluded from the Freedom of Information Act… As part of a review that is being undertaken to ensure that the BBC remains as open and accountable as possible, we have decided that it would be appropriate for the BBC to volunteer such information, and therefore we write to you to volunteer the information outlined below:

    “Unique Browsers FY 2011/2012
    Wales-English-news – 1.67m
    Wales-Cymru-news – 7,000

    “The Director of BBC Wales, Rhodri Talfan Davies, addressed some of the issues facing the Welsh language in the digital world in a speech during the Vale of Glamorgan National Eisteddfod.”

  5. “JJ – give it a rest mate”

    Aneirin: I’ll give it a rest when Cymdeithas Yr Iaith, Dyfodol i’r Iaith, Plaid Cymru, Leighton Andrews, Meri Huws (and all her Meri Men), countless Mentrau Iaith, Subsidised publishers, hoards of Welsh Language academics and translators and every starry eyed Welsh speaker who thinks that they are hard done by…..give it a rest.

    I don’t care WHY Welsh language media and ubiquitous services are used by only a tiny minority, I don’t agree with countless other wastes of money that government indulges in and I’m not particularly bothered by the money wasted on Welsh Language measures.

    I am bothered by the smug, preening Welsh language activists and defenders who self-righteously demand more and more concessions to…..themselves while lying through their teeth about how “We all want to live our lives through Welsh”.

    In short Aneirin, Wales is being slowly emasculated by a selfish and increasingly objectionable minority. What sane Government would instate an organisation like the “Welsh Language Commissioner” with legal powers to inhibit business and demand more and more unreasonable restrictions on just about every aspect of life in Wales?

    As for “give it a rest” take a trip back through the pieces published by the IWA. How many are mainly about the Welsh Language or, at some point make reference directly or indirectly to the Welsh language?

    Wales’s biggest problem stares us all in the face every day of our lives….. a country split by a spoiled and pampered elite.

  6. @ Jon Jones (again), I could find figures for S4C’s viewer figures for April of this year. The lowest figure was 20,000 and the highest was 106,000. Here’s the link:
    http://www.s4c.co.uk/abouts4c/viewing/e_index.shtml

    May I have evidence of your accusation that they ”have removed” the ability to accurately measure audience figures? Quite silly that is Jon, I’ve got to be honest.
    Now, if you object to any sort of funding on Welsh, that’s OK. That is your opinion and I respect that. But I find your posts increasingly spiteful and hateful towards Welsh speakers in general, and also those who defend themselves against accusations you make about them. Of course people will challenge what you post, as people often take issue with my views. The golden rule is when attack a language,you attack its speakers. But then again you do both simultaneously it seems

  7. This is another example of the ‘inward’ looking attitudes that afflict Wales at this present time. We currently have the right to watch television as we wish,and quite frankly given the choice between a)World, b)Wales then its the former that gets the vote and I would imagine that’s the same for the majority of people. There is no mention of SKY and the impact that service (first class) has on the viewing figures of BBC Wales/S4C,and especially when considering that we only get a mention when something of major importance is, or has taken place. It is now understood that SKY has obtained the rights to broadcast the RABO 12 rugby tournament from 2014/15 so where does that leave BBC Wales/S4C who have elevated a pretty small world game to that of war and peace. The reality is that Welsh television is similar to the purchase of newspapers in that the vast majority of welsh people are more interested in the outside world,rather than the ‘parish pump’. Perhaps we are more like our neighbours in the exercise freedom of choice to the east than the opinion formers in Caerdydd would like and compulsory viewing of S4C to get the numbers up from ZERO is in order? In conclusion when you add the costs of S4C and BBC Wales together the ourput is appallingl and only in a publically funded world could it survive,but for how long??

  8. “May I have evidence of your accusation that they ”have removed” the ability to accurately measure audience figures? Quite silly that is Jon, I’ve got to be honest.”

    “Quite silly” it may be Ben but it isn’t my silliness:

    Alan Cairns, Hansard, discussing S4C 31st Jan 2013:

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm130131/halltext/130131h0001.htm

    “Viewing figures alone are not necessarily the best measure of the success of a channel. The limited number of BARB boxes in Wales leads to significant fluctuations in the audience numbers recorded, and a recent saving of £250,000 was made by removing the additional BARB boxes commissioned by the channel.”

    Now you may agree with the view above. I don’t. The view expressed seems to me to say that S4c can be viewed as successful even if few or no people watch certain programmes. To that end those set boxes that aim to measure consumption of S4C programmes have been removed so that what remains is vague and very volatile (therefore innacurate and meaningless) guestimations of the viewers actually accessing programmes.

    This is a wonderfully protectionist measure; “you can’t say that we are rubbish at our job because you don’t KNOW how many people watch our programmes”.

    Pressure off.
    No more embarrassing “Zero Ratings”.
    We can all go back to sleep secure in our £100,000 paypackets, free private health insurance and Friday afternoon bustrips to shop in Cardiff.

  9. Chris – You asked how do we reconcile ITV’s profit motive with the need to produce programes ‘for a cultural good?’ How about by making that kind of programing a prerequisite of the licence and not allowing Ofcom to ease those regional (and for that matter national) PSB obligations during the lifetime of those licences. Michael Grade decided he could save £90million by ditching regional output. Adam Crozier thinks they define the channel and are worth the cost. Isn’t the question really ‘how does ITV reconcile being a PSB with shilly shallying over its PSB obligations once it gets its licence?’

    Aneirin – I am certainly not ‘totally happy with the situation’ as you suggest. But I am a realist. You say, ‘Welsh broadcasting has stood still at best or rather slipped back during the last decade.’ I agree. But can we afford to waste another decade trying to define what ‘devolving broadcasting to Wales’ actually means (and then pursue it, probably against the odds) rather than try to influence decisions on budgets and content in the here and now?

  10. @Jon Evidence I asked for, not what a Tory MP for the Vale said in Parliament. I hardly think what a Conservative says can be taken as gospel anyway but that’s for another day. I hope you got a chance to look at the viewing figures for S4C for April 2013. They prove two salient points- that people do indeed what the station, and that in their thousands and hundreds of thousands.

    Another point to make on viewing figures is that their online S4/Clic service, the Iplayer service, is not counted in their viewing figures as far as I know. Their content therefore needs to take their online services in to account as well.

  11. Is Jon talking about the BBC Newyddion site? If it doesn’t have many views I’m not surprised; it’s very poor. On-line I look for information regarding football for example. The BBC have a service which is up-dated in real-time giving match stats etc. This is not available in Welsh. I also sometimes want to find out the weather forecast which also directs you from the Welsh BBC site to the English. The BBC Newyddion site is inferior. I tend to get my news from Golwg360 but that too isn’t as good as it should be with news stories appearing often when they are no longer news. I look forward to the day when those of us who would like to read our news in Welsh will be treated equally to those that choose English.

  12. Aneirin: I very much agree.

    Jon Jones: You’re always on an anti-Welsh diatribe. You obviously feel inferior and resent it. Compared to Welsh English is bland and boring. But they’ll quite happily spend billions to support, encourage and force their language on others. In comparison we spend virtually nothing to support ours.

    Unfortunately the English-language output of broadcasting is extremely English centric. Why shouldn’t English broadcasters have programmes to teach Welsh? Why should a Welsh speaker have to do an English version of an interview with a Welsh speaking reporter?

    The reason why the Central BBC and the UK Government would be against devolution of powers in these areas is purely down to propaganda. Anyone who has worked for the BBC and ITV knows the centre’s look down on anything non-English but up to anything American (i.e. USA).

    Broadcasting as a whole is almost devoid of imagination. Imagination is risky. So all “ideas” are sold in terms of programmes that have already succeeded. It’s like Hollywood – the remake capital of world entertainment. In fact as I travel I see the same programmes in different countries again and again and again. Either the production has been sold, the format has been sold or they’ve just “pinched” it and claim it as their own.

    As for the BBC Newyddion website I visit it more than 19 times a day so something’s wrong. I also have and do argue that Newyddion should not be just an English version of the BBC Wales news site but cover ALL news national and international. If not the BBC doing it then why not S4C?

    Repeated surveys, here and in England show that people are most interested in their local news but the BBC, ITV et al are London obsessed so that people like Jon Jones think this is right. It isn’t. It merely promotes the English-centric propaganda of English Unionist Nationalism against competing and more honest identities.

    Broadcasting is regarded as being part of “culture” in England; like theatre and novels. Strangely though, when it comes to Wales it’s not culture anymore but commerce. Then people gripe about us spending on our culture or having any control over it!!!

  13. Gwyn – the number of visits referred to is the number of UNIQUE visits. And apologies Jon if I misinterpreted your figures. I was under the impression that they referred to 2 years, hence 9.5 not 19. And if neither the BBC with all their resources nor Golwg360 with their obvious ‘interest’ can keep up-to-date what hope have other sites?

    It is all very well to want to live your life in a particular language, be it Welsh or any other minority language, but we live in a global community. If independence of any kind leads to isolation then the future looks bleak.

  14. “As for the BBC Newyddion website I visit it more than 19 times a day so something’s wrong”

    It’s done by IP address not number of hits.

    p.s. your ‘playing the man as opposed to the ball’ in relation to Jon Jones’ comments is a pretty low tactic.

  15. “@Jon Evidence I asked for, not what a Tory MP for the Vale said in Parliament. I hardly think what a Conservative says can be taken as gospel.”

    You are truly in denial aren’t you Ben? You think that S4C didn’t remove their BARB boxes and that Alan Cairns made it up? Desperate indeed!

    It’s not that NO figures will come out for S4C it’s just that they will be hopelessly innacurate but never mind, it appears that it is no longer important how many (If any) people are watching/listening/reading Welsh langauge media content since the mere existence of that content is enough to..er…to errr justify its existence.

    Or, to put it in terms we can all understand; as long as there is a Welsh language media there are well paid jobs for Welsh speakers and so Rownd a Rownd it goes.

    Gwyn:
    “English-centric propaganda of English Unionist Nationalism against competing and more honest identities.”

    More honest identity being you saying you are Welsh I suppose?

  16. @Jon- deary me. I’m desperate now am I ? I was trying to have a rational debate. It seems impossible with the likes of people like yourself who have an ideology that will never change and can only accommodate one world view. It is truly sad that you put all your time and effort into questioning a language’s existence and doing it down. For the third time, I have posted a link to the viewing figures, you ignored them. I posted a link to the Welsh Language Measure and its explanatory notes for you to kindly point it where your apparently being hard done by. You ignored that. Indeed, the fact is that whatever is done in Welsh, however much it costs, you will have a problem with it. And that problem will continue as you will not outlive the Welsh language. Sorry about that.

  17. Ben – the latest viewing figures for S4C are indeed interesting. Clwb Rygbi first at 100,000 – yes, I watched it, in English – followed by Pobol Cwm for the next 5 positions. All of these being the aggregate viewing figures for 3 showings – and subsequent programs like Cefn Gwlad (2 showings). All of this suggests that 40,000 is around the ‘normal’ max for a popular program whilst those outside the top twenty probably make do with 10,000 or less.

  18. David: Since I was 5….I make that 58 years. Is it relevant ?

    Ben: What do you want me to derive from the viewing figures? Is there some response that I can give you that will make you happy? I pointed out that S4C can no longer ACCURATELY record viewing figures because they have removed the BARB boxes that allowed them to do that. As I understand your response was (a) Prove it! And, when I posted a link to Hansard where the reference is recorded you just said that Alan Cairns was misleading the House of Commons and therfore implied that no such thing had happened.
    With regard to the 2011 Welsh Language act what more can I say?

    I can tell you how language equality can be stated:-

    “Neither English nor Welsh can be treated more favourably than the other within Wales”

    That isn’t the position though is it……..English CANNOT be treated more favourably than Welsh but
    Welsh CAN be treated more favourably than English.

    What’s the problem? It’s self evident that we have a Commissioner whose objective is the protection of the rights of Welsh speakers ONLY.
    The rights of monoglot English speakers have no legal protection nor have those discriminated against any means of redress. Job discrimination in favour of Welsh speakers is common but there is no way of protesting in law that that discrimination is un-justified.

    That’s just the way it is in Wales…we made the laws and no single political party or member would dare to question them.

    My world view is my world view. It has at least equal validity to your world view and probably this IWA web site is the last place that I can express it….whereas your opinion is currency throughout Wales. That’s life as they say.

  19. @Colin- yes you probably right to a certain extent. 40,000 seems about right, Gwaith Cartref , a popular program and now in its third series, get about 38,000-50,000. The salient point then is that people watch the channel and is a far cry from the 0 figure posited by Jon.

  20. Ben – it is only the more ‘popular’ programmes that are above the 10,000 mark and it would be interesting to know how many of these, like Gwaith Cartref, are watched with the English sub-titles on. Following the colloquialisms of Pobol y Cwm is also not easy – not that the sub-titles necessarily relate. And when 5 of the top 6 places are taken up by one programme it does slightly skew the stats. And the commercial viability?

  21. @Colin- it doesn’t matter in my view how many are watched with the subtitles on, if they are watched and enjoyed that way then so be it, they are still being watched. The Iplayer service is not included either, if I watch a program in Welsh it will be on iplayer usually. The less popular programs such as Ffermio are going to be around that mark, farming isn’t something that interests everyone,for example.

  22. Getting back to the heart of the original article, ‘there is concern that it seems to have given up on making indigenous drama or comedy about Wales, for Wales’ – how do we address that problem? Political structures are less important to broadcasting than the commercial reality that all but the cheapest productions need to find an international market. Welsh-themed productions could do that – we have the stories, the landscape, and the talent on both sides of the camera – but they are not being made. Production in Cardiff is indeed prospering but as a ‘back office’ for London. Nearly all the big Welsh names in television writing broke through via London. A personal attempt to get something produced a few years ago was very instructive: it was actually easier to meet serious players in Los Angeles and get helpful feedback from them than to get through to their local equivalents in Cardiff. Although the result was ultimately the same in places, so there is no bias, the atmosphere, subject to some rare and very honourable exceptions, was definitely less welcoming on this side of the Atlantic. As with so much in Wales, a culture of ‘who you know’ seems to prevail in Welsh broadcasting.

  23. A debate about Welsh television is required and is to be welcomed.

    @Jon Jones

    It seems to me that you have an unbalanced, almost irrational, obsession regarding the Welsh Language. You comment about it, ad nauseam, at every opportunity. Like it or not, the existence of half a million Welsh-speakers is a fact in a country of three million people. In addition, a significantly greater proportion of the younger generation is being educated in Welsh medium schools, largely as a result of parental demand, many of whom are not Welsh-speakers. They have to be catered for, as are all kinds of other minorities in this society. It is a reflection of a civilised and democratic country. There is always a cost involved in so doing, but it is the price of living in a civilised community. It is approved by the four main political parties in Wales, all of whom support the Language and measures to increase its use. The Westminster Parliament devolved the power to legislate regarding the Language to a democratic Welsh Assembly. It has a democratic mandate to legislate as it sees fit. The only debate is how to best go about it, and how to use the available resources to greatest advantage.

    It’s clear to all but the most blinkered, that English does not need legal protection. It’s the language of the majority – that is taken for granted. All Welsh-speakers are bilingual. I believe my command of English is the equal of yours. Services are easily available to you and I in English, even S4C programmes, via subtitling, but very few are in Welsh to me. In my long professional career I didn’t witness any linguistic job discrimination, other than when the jobs in question required the ability to speak Welsh, as, for example, would be the case in a Welsh medium school, or a surgery in a predominantly Welsh-speaking area. Even those jobs require a good command of English too.

    I believe Aneirin makes a valid point regarding the handful of those who obsess negatively about the Welsh Language, its cost to society, and its exceedingly heavy burden on them and their lives in Wales, whilst completely ignoring,

    “…the big money wasters of the UK and Assembly govts – foreign wars; nuclear weapons; procurement; off-shore taxation; royalty; foreign aid; the lost billions of Objective One funding; HS2; PFI; health ‘reorganisation..”.

    I agree with Ben when he writes,

    “..the fact is that whatever is done in Welsh, however much it costs, you will have a problem with it. And that problem will continue as you will not outlive the Welsh language.”

    Your extreme opposition to the Language is such that it leads me to think that you either wish to see its demise, or its ghettoization, that is, its complete removal from your sphere so that you can live your life in Wales as if it didn’t exist. If either is true, why don’t you say so, or if not, enlighten us with your more liberal view, if you have one?

    Though stronger adjectives come to mind regarding those with your attitudes and obsession, I’ll leave it with the Bard’s words:

    “Methinks he doth protest too much”

  24. @Jon- ‘whereas your opinion is currency throughout Wales’. Well, what does that tell you? A lot of people support our ancient language, as shown by a recent survey, here it is. Feast your eyes; http://blogs.walesonline.co.uk/devolution/2012/02/welsh-language-survey.html.

    I’ve just sent an email in Welsh to the council, as Welsh speakers are treated ‘more favorably’ we’ll see how long it takes for my reply. I guarantee I’ll be waiting a while.

    @David- very well put across, very refreshing to read a balanced opinion. Just watched Cariad@iaith and Hwb on S4C, programs following a group of Welsh learners from all backgrounds learning the language and enjoying the experience, very refreshing again. Such a shame some people spend so much time airing disparaging and ignorant comments when they could be doing something for the language, or just learning a bit more about the situation.

  25. “However, rightly or wrongly Welsh language television will still be judged by audience figures. And that is the station’s Achilles heel.”

    I return to my starting position Gwyn/Dave/Ben/Aneirin/David. What you are all very frightened of is numbers. You can see it in this sentence from Dave above:-

    ” Like it or not, the existence of half a million Welsh-speakers is a fact in a country of three million people”

    No matter how often you call me “Obsessive” “Unbalanced” and “Irrational” (see above) each time that I look for figures for how many people actually USE Welsh language services or media output there is never a figure above 4% of the population and that high point is when a selection of ONLY Welsh speakers are given the clear option of picking Welsh as their medium of expression.

    What was the main criticism of the Commons Select Committee looking at the future of S4C? They couldn’t believe it when they found that S4C did not know WHO their audience were, WHERE their audience was and HOW MANY their audience was.

    And this remains the nightmare of the Welsh Language industry, that someone might suddenly realise that the Emperor has no clothes…..the endless churning out of the number who can say the odd phrase of Welsh (500,000 “Welsh Speakers”…REALLY??) or who broadly agree that it would be terrible to see the language disappear is not really relevant to REAL supply and demand issues.

  26. Welsh has existed for 1,500 years approx, and has even been written in since around about the same time period. It predates English in England and even Gaelic in Scotland. It has been the principle language of this part of the world until recently with the Industrial Revolution, and it is still the majority language of places in Wales to this day. Yet, despite this the language only became official in its own country 2 years ago, and it is only in the past 20 years that it was even possible to do anything in Welsh, and only about 40 since you were not even able to see a single sign or message in the language anywhere in Wales. The language has been treated as if doesn’t exist by English governments successively, and people have been socially conditioned not to use the language. People have been made to feel the language has no place in Welsh public life, now that that is changing people such as yourself are in a blind panic. Devolution has began to change this.

    After centuries of institutional neglect and social conditioning (the Blue Books being a perfect example) Welsh speakers to this day still feel inferior when using the language in public life, it will take years to change that. Another salient point is that when public bodies make it difficult to use Welsh people are just not going to, and they do that on purpose so that people don’t. Any wonder why people don’t use Welsh as much as would be possible? It isn’t as simple as ‘I speak Welsh habitually, therefore I’ll use it with government’.

    The Welsh Language Board in 2004 came up with 250,000-260,000 daily users of the language, here’s the link to the report- http://www2.ku.edu/~idrh/cgi-bin/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/Welsh-Survey-Report-041.pdf.

    Forget the minority/majority binary view you have, we are all equal citizens and a civilized country does not discriminate against its own native people.

  27. I think that you do yourself no favours with your estimate of 250-260,000 “daily users” Ben. I make it higher than that, so does Hywel Jones:-

    “In 2004–06, 63% of people who could speak Welsh said they spoke it every
    day, and another 17% said they spoke it every week. Numerically, it was
    estimated that 342 thousand people spoke Welsh every day. 87% of fluent
    speakers (which was estimated to mean 276 thousand) said they spoke Welsh
    every day, compared with 29% of those who were not fluent.”

    However you have to understand what is meant by “daily users”…..it simply means that at some time during the day some Welsh is used. The 276 thousand who are fluent will have used extensive Welsh but the 29% of those with limited Welsh who used it on a daily basis will have used only a few phrases. The tell tale come when you look at the last conversation held by Welsh speakers …..only 39% used Welsh. The figures paint a picture of life dominated by the English Langauge amongst Welsh speakers.

    However you view it, the claim that there are over 500,000 Welsh speakers (rather than Able to speak Welsh) doesn’t stand up to any close scrutiny.

    You link to the “Fate of the language” survey carried out by the BBC urging me to “Feast my Eyes”. I looked at it in depth long ago Ben and I haven’t anywhere disputed its findings. It seems to me that the comments that you level against me are based on this:- “You are in a minority, most people think like me therefore you are wrong and “ignorant” ”

    In reality it doesn’t matter whether I am “wrong headed” the establishment view will always prevail, what we should wonder though is whether people like yourself are capable of rational analysis when it comes to the Welsh language. Tell me, how many of the Welsh speakers surveyed for “The fate of the langauge survey” responded in Welsh?

    This is the crucial detail that is never published, Nevertheless I asked the BBC for just that information:-

    “Thank you for your request to the BBC of the 15th of February, seeking the following information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000:
    “Beaufort Research, on behalf of the BBC, conducted this poll:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/southeast/images/pdf/2012_02_13_languagesurvey.pdf
    Please can you tell me how many of the 510 Welsh speakers interviewed for the poll answered the poll through the medium of Welsh?”

    Of the 510 Welsh speakers who were interviewed, 129 answered in Welsh. It may also be relevant to note that 48% of the 510 Welsh speakers described themselves as fluent in Welsh.”

    So there you have it Ben; given the opportunity to use Welsh just 25% of Welsh speakers took it up….equivalent to less than 5% of the population. Even amongst fluent Welsh speakers (245) a high number responded in English for preference.

    When looking to predict actual Welsh language usage we should always remember that under the best of circumstances we are looking at about 4% of the population.

  28. @Jon- what exactly are trying to prove? The figures I posted a link to were done 9 years ago, as with any social research there will be problems with accuracy as a result of the research method (quantitative or qualitative) and the interpretation of those results. My point was that the figures I provided were the most recent ones on language use. There will not be 100% users of Welsh only, as Wales is a bilingual society. You can’t live without experiencing the Welsh language either, which is something you clearly detest. My only point was that people still use Welsh, and the figure is quite high. It is the most strong of all Celtic languages and one of the major minority languages in Europe. You can band about % of this and % of that, but people still can and do use Welsh, why are you trying to deny that? So what if it’s a small number compared to English, people still use it every day in Wales. People have predicted the death of Welsh for centuries, it hasn’t happened yet.

  29. @Jon- I missed another one of your comments. Language use within bilingual communities is complex. Usually, monolingual speakers see language use among literate speakers in all three communication spheres (reading, writing and speaking) as one and the same. This is not true. These linguistic skills are all different and different bilinguals have different skills. Just because you speak Welsh, that does not mean that that individual also reads and writes it confidently. This phenomenon occurs in other smaller languages that have until recently been institutionally repressed; people may have lower skills in literacy due to lack of education in that minority language and availability of official domains for the use of that language on paper. This will explain why some at least chose English. 129 chose Welsh, a high figure also; the point is that why does it matter? People still used the language regardless.

  30. Well Ben, what I’m “trying to prove” actually relates to something written in the article above…..perhaps you have lost sight of that. I am not arguing that the Welsh langauge doesn’t exist, I am not denying that it is spoken (it would be foolish since I live in Ynys Mon and Work in Caernarfon). I am not wishing the language dead nor am I in a “panic” about it nor do I “clearly detest” it.

    What I do know is that Welsh has been given preference IN LAW over English but, of course it cannot be given preference IN FACT since that is not within the gift of legislators. People cannot be MADE to understand Welsh, not forced to learn Welsh and not even obliged to use Welsh and nor will they do so under any circumstances.

    What we are experiencing in Wales is the utter hopelessness of attempting to use political means to combat the mass indifference of millions of people. Not that there isn’t a general goodwill towards that vague iconic totem “The Language” but that goodwill is based on ignorance and misinformation. The vast majority of the people in Wales would support and uphold the right of Welsh speakers to “Live their lives through Welsh” but not one of that huge number of people would realise that just 4% of their fellow Welsh men and Women actually make any effort to do so.

    Where my insistance on the % of this and the % of that is relevant is in judging the need for services and the likely consumption of services. The Welsh language is at the heart of Welsh decision making at every level in Wales…no parish council can discuss the siting of a bus stop or the closure of a public toillet without reference to the impact on the Welsh language. Don’t you think, Ben, that a lot more realistic analysis of who and how many this is all for is rather necessary?

  31. @ I still find it intriguing how you can say that Welsh has legislative preference in the Welsh Language Measure. Out of interest, can you please directly quote the part of the legislation which has led you to believe this? And if Welsh is given legislative preference, what about the Official Languages Assembly Bill, will makes Welsh AND English both official? You may remember David Jones the Sec. of State for Wales trying to call back the act as the Assembly does not have power to legislate for English (he failed in the end). In Ireland, the native language is genuinely given preference, Irish is stated in the constitution as being the first official language. That’s a real example of the minority language (a lot less healthier than Welsh) being given preference.

    Yes, a very low number use Welsh public services. A good number of people in Wales could use Welsh, but at this moment there isn’t a culture of doing so. From my own experiences, I find it difficult to use Welsh with an unwilling authority, and have to deal with prejudice when I try to most of the time. This happens everywhere in Wales, so any wonder why people just don’t bother? If there was encouragement from the public services, and the ethos that it is ethical (NHS) or just plain better service (LA services, utilities, which I pay for the same as everyone else) then maybe people wouldn’t be made to feel awkward or like a burden.

    Welsh is at the heart of all policy? No, no it really isn’t. It should be at the heart of central government planning but currently that is not the case. As for the parish council comment, I have a close friend who sits on one and that is not the case.

    I do not advocate forced anything, nor does government policy. Where did you get that from?

  32. Ben, If I tell you one more time why Welsh has preference in law it will make no difference; look back through the posts to each time you have asked and I have answered.

    You don’t have to have legal power to legislate with regard to the English Language to change the status of English. By giving Welsh a position which implicitly states that it can lawfully be treated more favourably than English, English takes on a lesser status.

    What if we re-state the law like this:
    “Welsh can be treated no more favourably than English.”
    Do you consider that this statement leaves Welsh with an equal status to English? After all it allows English to be treated more favourably than Welsh and I guarantee that if such wording had been used then Cymdeithas, Meri Huws and all the hounds of hell would have been baying for blood.

  33. The problem with blaming the availability of Welsh language services or the attitude of providers for the low take up is that I am providing examples of surveys where the survey companies have gone out of their way to provide Welsh language options. Look at the Welsh National Survey sampling 14,500 homes with face to face interviews. Look at the lengths that they went to to allow Welsh speakers the option of using Welsh if they wished:-

    “These results are based on the first quarter of data collected Jan – March 2012.

    All Welsh speakers are given an opportunity to answer the questions in Welsh. All of our survey materials are bilingual (English and Welsh). The advance letter that is sent to every sampled household provides contact information to use if a Welsh speaker would like to take part in Welsh, which gives us the chance to ensure a Welsh language interviewer can be sent to that address. If an English speaking interviewer is sent to an address, and the respondent wishes to take part in Welsh, the interviewer will arrange an appointment for a Welsh speaking interviewer to call round and complete the interview. Interviewers are trained to emphasise the following for any respondents who are unsure whether to complete the survey in English or Welsh:

    · If a respondent is not totally sure about being able to do the interview in Welsh, it is possible to try a few questions in Welsh and see how it goes;

    · The showcards are bilingual, if reading in Welsh is not that strong;

    · Complicated / unusual words are in English – interviewers can help them through it;

    · It is not ‘making a fuss’ or ‘too much hassle’ to request/arrange a Welsh interview.

    Percentage of Welsh speakers who answered the Survey in Welsh: 7.29%

    I hope this helps answer your questions. ”

    So look at that Ben……don’t you agree that the interviewers have bent over backwards to accomodate Welsh speakers of any ability? There is no barrier to those Welsh speakers exercising their “Human Right” to use their language of choice. And how many CHOSE freely to do so?

    .29%!!!! or to put it another way equivalent to 1.38% of the total aged 3 and over population.

    Now I cannot dispute that YOU might be amongst that number Ben…….but you would be very lonely.
    We in Wales are in thrall to a myth generated by a plethora of Welsh Language pressure groups. Today I read that Cymdeithas are incensed that Welsh speaking children cannot get swimming lessons through the medium of Welsh in EVERY county. In some counties of Wales children who have Welsh as a first language are as common as three legged hens with teeth…….No matter; let’s make sure that all swimming instructors can speak Welsh!
    When there is no REAL demand (as opposed to organised self interested Welsh Speakers Guilds) there should be no supply.

  34. Second para from the end of the previous post has lost the “7” in the percentage “7.29%”.

  35. Of course the post that I made at 10.26 is a correction of my post at 06.49 and makes no sense without it……..

  36. @Jon- I am dropping this point now as you are unable to see past your own paranoia. Here is the DIRECT WORDING of the act regarding firstly the treatment of the two and secondly the de facto status of English;

    Part 1 (2) Without prejudice to the general principle of subsection (1), the official status of the Welsh language is given legal effect by the enactments about—
    (b) The treatment of the Welsh language no less favourably than the English language

    Part 1 (4) ”This Measure does not affect the status of the English language in Wales.”

    With all due respect, how on earth can anyone suppose they are not equal? It is not the wording of the act that makes you believe so, but psychology by the looks of it.

  37. Ben – you say ‘Yes, a very low number use Welsh public services. A good number of people in Wales could use Welsh, but at this moment there isn’t a culture of doing so. ‘

    One could argue about exactly what a good number really means, but why is this so and how is this going to change? From what I am told the standard of some Welsh forms isn’t that good so that even fluent native Welsh speakers opt for the English option. And when you have the situation we experienced recently with 3 Welsh translators arguing over what was correct Welsh…

    And a few years ago, not long after we had started learning the language, we were approached by a young S4C lad to do an interview. We demurred saying our Welsh wasn’t good enough. The reply immediately came back – ‘Oh, don’t worry, nobody watches the programme anyway.’

    Unless there is some magical cultural change of heart the level of use of the language, especially the written language, will continue to either decline or simply limp along without getting anywhere. The young are taught it but then lose it, for various reasons – poor teaching plus the fact that it is a difficult language compared to English and that job opportunities are limited to Wales, and so on.

    If you are in a battle then you should choose your field very carefully. The current scatter-gun approach doesn’t work. But be practical. The idea that you can somehow move Welsh speakers and their jobs around and create some sort of language islands and thereby save it is naive in the extreme.

  38. (b) The treatment of the Welsh language no less favourably than the English language.

    And in that statement you have it Ben… it does not preclude treating Welsh more favourably than English and of course Welsh IS treated more favourably in myriad ways, particularly funding for all things specifically Welsh Language.

    Part 1 (4) ”This Measure does not affect the status of the English language in Wales.”

    The MEASURE does not, but in effect, of the two “Equal” languages, Welsh is MORE equal than English since the law allows Welsh to be favoured but not English.

    You only have to think it through Ben; without the particular wording of the act all the “Affirmative Action” used in Wales to support Welsh Language use would become illegal.

    When it comes to your desire to get a Welsh Language service from your Council for instance…..how logical is this? You say “Council” as if it were a single entity…..it is a multiplicity of departments and specialities and staff grades within that entity. Do you just want the girl on the Switch Board to speak Welsh to you? When you phone planning do you want EVERY planner for every area of your County to speak Welsh to you? When you phone the Education department…….? When you phone Housing…….? When you phone the Finance department do you want them to speak Welsh to you??

    So, how logical are YOU being Ben? Because YOU want to speak your chosen language at all times you want the 92% of Welsh people who have English as a first and preferred language to lay aside their rights to work in their first language and learn Welsh on the off chance that you, or a “Secret Shopper” from the Language Commissariat, might phone.

    The worst of it is that you are getting your way….in law at least. It will never happen in reality though Ben, for the rest of your life you will be able to make the same complaint….you couldn’t get someone somewhere to speak Welsh to you.

  39. @ Colin- the Plain English campaign has a sister in Wales, called Cymraeg Clir which aims to ensure Welsh published by public bodies is vernacular, clear and understandable to everyone. Welsh has at least three different ways of been written as a result of being written in for over 1,500 years. I can only sympathize with your experience over the S4C interview, I can’t imagine anyone being to so rude or stupid but unfortunatly it does happen. That one individual however shouldn’t put you off. The rest of the Welsh speaking population don’t act or think like that, from personal experience. You’re correct totally, we need a change of culture and a change of heart when it comes to the use of the language. At the moment, there is no culture of doing so for various sociocultural reasons, i.e the newness of such services, people not knowing they are available and distrust of bodies with regards to Welsh.

    There are many things that can be done to change the situation, which aren’t being done at the moment. Offering the services outright is the most obvious one. And in my view Welsh is no harder than any other language to learn. The far eastern languages would be the hardest for us, linguistics think.

    Where did I say anything about islands as well? I didn’t, and by the way creating areas where the language is the linguistic hegemon has been done in Ireland, they’re called Gaeltachtai areas and they still exist. The word naive is one I wouldn’t use to describe my thoughts on these issues, I have a university background in them.

    @Jon– I use Welsh with public bodies, I want to and they have to comply. That’s that I’m afraid.

  40. @ Ben – you’re quite right. A key step in changing the culture is for the bodies coming under Welsh language legislation to make it as easy to use services in Welsh of the same quality as those in English. At the moment, it is harder and they are often inferior (which is also true, for example, of BBC web pages in Welsh). I need to create a lasting power of attorney, and want to do so in Welsh. If you go to the Ministry of Justice’s website, justice.gov.uk you will see a link flagged up top right quartile (under “Most popular”) to the English pages and forms on how to do this. Good luck to anyone trying to find the Welsh version. It requires a lot of extra work.

  41. It’s going to take a little while to wade through the mire of false assumption and distorted interpretation that is the world of Jon Jones. But a start has to be made somewhere.

    So let’s start with his assertion that the Welsh language enjoys more favourable treatment than English. When he produces any evidence to support this, I will happily debate this issue but half-baked opinion does not constitute evidence.

    There is one point that I would agree on. Audience figures for S4C should be available publicly. It is the case that these figures were concealed because they were embarassing and would lead to awkward questions being asked in public. Well however awkward, that is the nature of democracy and applies to S4C just as much as to any other public organisation.

    But using selected viewing figures, to argue that investment in the Welsh language as a whole is a waste, demonstrates such a low level of ability in reasoning, that it simply doesn’t deserve a reply. Perhaps the scriptwriters of Doctor Who could be asked to take it on as a plotline for the new series. It does, after all, operate in the same universe.

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