Wales has the most porous culture in Europe

Rhodri Talfan Davies invites a national conversation on how Radio Cymru can find its place in a ‘messy’ world

Four months ago, the results of the latest UK census were published and the picture it painted of the language – and those who speak it – surprised and, I think, alarmed many. I want to, first, talk a little about what we learned – and then look specifically at what this might all mean for Welsh broadcasting, and our own Welsh language station Radio Cymru particularly.

So what did we learn first?

Well, there were some big headlines. Overall, the numbers who say they speak Welsh fell from 21 per cent of the population ten years ago to 19 per cent this time round. It was a decline that many had not predicted. But the detail behind the number is rather more revealing.

The language appeared to be in retreat across much of what we call Y Fro Gymraeg – the so-called bedrock or heartland of Welsh-speaking Wales. Carmarthenshire, just across the county border from here, saw a 7 per cent drop in the number of Welsh speakers; Ceredigion to the north saw an 8 per cent drop. Only Gwynedd and Anglesey appeared to be largely unscathed.

Now, it’s also the case that those losses in the old heartlands were partly offset by increases in south east Wales – but they were not enough to prevent an overall decline.

The census was also a reminder that the language is in the midst of a fundamental shift. Traditionally, Welsh was a language learned and passed on in the home. As a result, it was the main language among those who spoke it. A culture – not just a language – was passed from generation to generation.

That’s changing – now, more often than not, Welsh is learned in the classroom rather than in the home. That’s a big generational shift. The census also told us that while the education system may be introducing the language to far greater numbers – its hold on young lives can be fragile and what is taught can often be lost quickly.

Ten years ago, the census that told us that 40 per cent of school age children in Wales could speak Welsh. But among that same group of young people – now ten years older – only 24 per cent say they can still speak the language. To put it another way: almost half of those learning Welsh at school are losing that ability within a decade of leaving.

But there was something else too – in among all that data – the impact of a long and open border that sees phenomenal traffic in and out of Wales. The result is that Wales, in one sense at least, boasts one of the most diverse populations in Europe.  More than a quarter of those living in Wales weren’t born here – a higher number than anywhere else in Europe, apart from Luxembourg (and it doesn’t really count – because most people there could reach three other countries within 10 minutes).

The impact of such a porous and open border is, I think, profound – not just linguistically but more deeply and broadly. It impacts on our attitudes to culture, to society and to the way we think about ourselves in Wales. Because it’s not just traffic that moves easily across such a long and open border – it’s ideas, cultural and media influences and the values that shape us. And not just from England – but from across the globe. And if we are honest the cultural and social transmitters beaming daily into Wales are often far, far stronger than those facing out.

Just take newspapers as one example – some 95 per cent of morning newspapers read in Wales are printed in London and contain virtually no editorial about Wales. The challenge this poses to the wellbeing of the Welsh language has been debated for years. In his seminal Welsh Extremist back in 1971, the language campaigner Ned Thomas wrote pointedly of “Welsh children brainwashed by hour upon hour of English television from infancy”.

I was reminded of this issue in a rather more benign way last month. On 16 April in fact: an historic night for football in Wales as Cardiff City sealed promotion to the Premier League, where of course they’ll join Swansea City. This is significant. Next year 10 per cent of the English premier league, the world’s biggest and richest sporting league, will in fact be Welsh. That’s an amazing sporting success story and a moment of real pride for Wales.

But it has cultural significance too because it edges Wales’s sporting world and Welsh sporting interests closer to the traditions, rhythms and norms of our English neighbours. Again, the power of those cultural transmitters edges up another notch or two. And it illustrates perhaps the scale of challenge for those who cherish the idea of a distinctive Welsh culture, a distinctive Welsh public space.  This plays out at many levels in different ways.

  • Regional rugby in Wales wonders how it will survive the onslaught of the English Premiership – and its potential grip on the hearts and minds of youngsters across Wales.
  • Welsh educationalists and parents wonder whether a separate qualifications system for Wales might disadvantage students looking to work in England.
  • And Welsh language campaigners of course wonder aloud about how they will safeguard one of Europe’s oldest linguistic cultures in the teeth of such external, UK and global influences.

In all these examples, the power of external and global influence can inexorably shape our own local or national debate here. That’s not necessarily right or wrong. It just is. So what does this mean for a radio station like BBC Radio Cymru which exists to serve Welsh language audiences?

Since the beginning of the year, we’ve been looking hard at the census results but also commissioning our own parallel research to really get under the skin of this social change, and to think hard about how it should inform the direction of our service. We’ve also been talking to the Radio Cymru team – both the staff and independent producers – who know their audience best of all. There’s more work to do, more conversations to have and more research to pore through. But we’re making good progress and the immediate challenges are already clear. I’d highlight four key points:

  • The so-called homogenous Welsh language audience is becoming more diverse than ever before.
  • At a functional level, their ability to use the language varies more than ever before.
  • And at a more emotional level their confidence in using the language is also becoming more varied.
  • But perhaps most profound of all, the cultural and social reference points of Welsh speakers – both those fluent and those less so – are more varied than ever before. For an increasing number of Welsh speakers, Welsh language culture is only one part of a patchwork of influences that straddle Welsh, British and international cultures.

So how do we think we’ll need to adapt over the coming years? Or, indeed, do we need to adapt? Let me offer you a starter for ten. First and foremost, we want to extend and broaden the appeal of Radio Cymru – and strengthen its role as an indispensable part of national life. If Radio Cymru is to thrive it must reach out to serve the broadest possible Welsh language audience – including those less confident with the language – to fully embrace their lives and passions.

To be crystal clear, we don’t think the answer is for Radio Cymru to mutate into a bilingual station. But we do need to work harder to reach those who are less confident in the language – or are still learning it. And we do need to reclaim those more heartland audiences that have drifted elsewhere.

Our research tells us that they all need to feel more confident that the station will be welcoming and inclusive, that it’ll talk their language and reflect their world. There is a perception among these potential listeners – mostly ill-founded, I should hasten to add – that Radio Cymru will be too formal or culturally narrow for their liking. To succeed in this we also need to address head-on the attitude of too many Welsh speakers to Welsh language broadcast services – “it’s important, I’m glad it exists but, really it’s not for me”.

The fact that the station broadcasts in Welsh is no longer enough for this broader audience. They want clearer reasons to listen and they want us to recognise that they’re busy lives encompass more than Welsh language culture and interest. My sense is that they really want to be convinced that Radio Cymru is a station that reflects our national life as it is – not as we might wish it to be, or how we imagine it once was.

Now this can be controversial territory. Among the station’s most loyal listeners are those who are sincerely uneasy about change – who believe the station has already travelled too far in the name of modernity. For some, the station is more than a public service. It is a totem that should stand impassive to changing tides and fashions.

I respect that view but I don’t agree with it. Radio Cymru’s overwhelming priority is to serve its audience – rather than save a language. And conflating the two is dangerous. If we were ever to insist that the station’s over-riding goal should be to protect and preserve a rarefied form of Welsh language and culture come what may, we would – in time – condemn it to irrelevance.

The secret in the digital world – just as in radio – must be to stay close to your audience and anticipate the challenges ahead, however disruptive they might appear.

BBC Cymru Wales’ head of programmes in the 1960s, Hywel Davies, got it right when he said the role of the public broadcaster is to stay stubbornly “in the vanguard to society”. For me, that means we should never lurk nervously in the shadows or shuffle our feet – our job is to embrace change with real ambition and grit.

And that’s why we’ll be spending the coming months listening to what our audiences want and expect of us.

  • We’ll be asking them whether Radio Cymru is striking the right balance between its news and entertainment output.
  • We’ll be asking whether the station’s music strikes the right chord with listeners and their families.
  • Looking to the future, we’ll be asking whether listeners agree we should look to broaden the appeal of the station, including among those less confident in Welsh.
  • And if they do agree, we want to hear their ideas about how should we change or adapt our programming to make these new audiences feel more welcome and included.

We’re going to listen hard to the answers as we shape our plans for the station. And we’ll shape our response carefully to ensure that Radio Cymru secures a confident and vibrant place in our national media for years to come.

Because in the end the census tells me two things: there are challenges aplenty but the role of Welsh language broadcasting has never been more important nor more precious.

Sgwrs Radio Cymru is a nationwide ‘conversation’ about BBC Radio Cymru as part of the biggest radio research project ever undertaken in Wales.

Listeners can share their views with BBC Cymru Wales in a number of ways:
By email at [email protected]
By telephoning the dedicated Sgwrs Radio Cymru hotline on 03703 33 16 36
By writing to Sgwrs Radio Cymru, Room 3020, BBC Cymru Wales, Llandaff, Cardiff, CF5 2YQ

Rhodri Talfan Davies is Director of BBC Cymru Wales. This is an extract from a lecture he delivered at the Celtic Media Festival in Swansea on 25 April. The full text of the lecture is here.

32 thoughts on “Wales has the most porous culture in Europe

  1. There’s one or two things that I’d like to explore with you Rhodri. Firstly WHY did the census come as a surprise? Every year there is a data set published (The Welsh Labour force survey) which records the number of people able to speak Welsh in Wales by county. There are reasons why this survey will always give higher percentages than the census but the survey itself is very large and therefore accurate within its own singular methodology. This survey, year after year, since 2001 has shown a decrease in the number of Welsh speakers in Wales (Except in Ynys Mon and Gwynedd). Hywel Jones, working for the WLB produced estimates to predict the outcome of the 2011 census which showed a decline in the percentage able to speak Welsh. This was known before the census.

    Why the surprise?

    I can hazard a guess; the Capuccino Cymraeg, the Welsh chattering classes are too adept at talking amongst themselves and locking out all other voices. The absolute certainty of moral righteousness and superiority that the Language Campaigners display is actually a barrier to any sensible discussion or even contemplation of the reality of Welsh Language and Culture affairs in Wales.

    There is no single “Discussion” on the Welsh Language that isn’t swamped by the single minded pressure groups that exist in Wales with the sole objective of generating or maintaining employment in the Welsh language industry and of course the Welsh media is foremost amongst those beneficiaries.

    In short can you be taken seriously? Have you got a logical starting point from which you can consider your own position?

    For instance take your position with regard to:
    “the impact of a long and open border that sees phenomenal traffic in and out of Wales.”

    There is another way of looking at this, before comparing us with other European countries, you could have considered the non-Nationalist perspective… there is no border… there is just Britain with all its various blurring and subtle distinctions from person to person, village to village at every large and small unit of society.

    I think that you could find this a liberating point of view. Now you are no longer serving “Wales” in the Welsh media, you have no greater responsibility to “Save the Language” you have no cultural or political battle to fight or belligerent campaign group or political party to placate. You are just what you should be; a service provider for a shrinking audience. You have no responsibility to grow that audience…there is no financial imperative to generate money, you do not have moral responsibility for the passing of an ancient language, no moral responsibility to halt that decline.

    Now go back to the drawing board, acknowledge that your time is passing and carry on.

    Go gentle into that good night.

  2. “The result is that Wales, in one sense at least, boasts one of the most diverse populations in Europe”

    Is that really something worth boasting about? Wales isn’t diverse, it’s just that most regions have a large English population who don’t want to assimilate into Welsh life.

    “The fact that the station broadcasts in Welsh is no longer enough for this broader audience. They want clearer reasons to listen and they want us to recognise that their busy lives encompass more than Welsh language culture and interest. My sense is that they really want to be convinced that Radio Cymru is a station that reflects our national life as it is”

    Why? The reality is that we’re a colony of England, where Welsh people and ideas are ridiculed. Wales won’t exist in 50 years time. I don’t tune in to Radio Cymru to be reminded of that fact.

  3. Why is it expected that the diverse Welsh-speaking community can possibly be satisfied with one catch-all radio station, when even smaller language communities have a choice of stations?

    The BBC has not moved on since the late 1980s when other languages have. Many in Wales, including many in the BBC, suffer from hubris to think that Wales is still leading the way in minority language broadcasting. The Basques are way ahead of us after starting from a weaker position in the 1970s. http://syniadau–

    But then, BBC News in Welsh, or English in Wales, gives us a totally anglophile world view which means we and our audience have not idea of what’s happening in other countries – places we could learn from and give us some context. Maybe that’s the intention.

    Rhodri Talfan’s article is to be welcomed – it should have happened years ago. But he, and his predecessors, seem to be avoiding the one obvious answer which is to have more than one radio station in Welsh.

    There are two options

    a) Two national stations – essentially a Radio 4 and a Radio 2 using the same news bulleting.
    b) One National services essentially the current Radio Cymru + three regional services: South East, West, North which would be more local in output.

    If this isn’t on the table then there frankly is no point to this consultation. Welsh speaking society is too diverse to be catered by one station.

    In an age of digital broadcasting and an explosion of radio stations then BBC Cymru Wales’s complete lack of courage, vision and honesty of the issues facing Welsh has been tragic for the language and a damning indictment of the Corporation.

    Rhodri Talfan’s assertion that it isn’t Radio Cymru’s job to ‘save the language’, whilst understandable and a good sound bite is also a deeply troubling one. Not because I believe in keeping some linguistic standards or wish to have wall-to-wall eisteddfod coverage, but because it’s a slip of a mind-set, like one that affected S4C under Iona Jones, of de-coupling the service from the audience.

    For a service which broadcasts to a minoritised language, the service needs to be engaged with the audience and also grow it. For many, (most?) Radio Cymru listeners, and potential listeners, ‘saving the language’ is important. Much of the cultural activity – gigs, concerts, drama, art, prose and writing is done with the underlying aim of ‘saving the language’. If Radio Cymru aren’t in the business of ‘saving the language’ then it will decouple itself from its audience … and I’m not convinced there’s another audience for it.

    I’m sorry, but I don’t think the BBC is serious about reviving radio broadcasting in Welsh and Rhodri Talfan’s assertion that Radio Cymru’s jobs isn’t to ‘save the language’ confirms that. I understand that, maybe what he is trying to imply, is that Radio Cymru needs to make programmes which people who speak Welsh want to listen to.

    That’s correct, but this is an argument about structures not just content, and unless the structures are there (two stations) then it’s impossible to offer the diverse content which is needed. To create the structure there has to be an element of believing in ‘saving the language’ because, ultimately this is also a political question. By saying he doesn’t want to ‘save the language’, Rhodri, to me at least, is saying he doesn’t want to engage in a debate about political structures. That means that a second station isn’t on the cards.

    Speaking from personal experience, there was a time when I would have gone out to on the streets to support and ‘save’ BBC Radio Cymru. But various issues – an Anglophone news service, the Eos dispute, inferior online service in Welsh, a complete lack of ambition (it seems from the outside) by anyone inside Radio Cymru to make a case for a second station and by now, I just don’t feel that affinity for the station I once have. I would feel happier were Radio Cymru taken over by Ian Jones’s S4C.

    Unless there is the option of two services on air, then the BBC are just rearranging the deck-chairs.

  4. Sion, I think the real issue around the creation of a second station is whether it could ever be affordable – and whether relatively scare resources are better focused on a single service rather than being spread more thinly. My own view is that the combination of an ambitious radio and online service – coupled with a more dynamic partnership with S4C – provides the best route forward in pretty tough financial circumstances. We’ll be announcing our new online plans shortly.

    On the point about ‘saving a language’, of course Radio Cymru plays an important part in supporting the development and health of the Welsh language, and it must continue to do so. We work with a wide range of partners in addressing this issue. But I wanted to stress in the speech that any discussion about the future of the station needs to be centred, first and foremost, on the needs of its audience. Because far from wanting to ‘uncouple’ the station from its audience, the current research project is intended to strengthen the bonds that already exist.

  5. Dyfodol i’r Iaith wants to see Radio Cymru developing into two services, Radio Pop and Radio Pawb (for all), thereby becoming a strong force in the revival of the Welsh language throughout Wales.

    We regret that the head of the BBC in Wales has spoken disparagingly that it is not the station’s duty to “protect and preserve a rarefied form of the Welsh language… come what may”, as we believe that Radio Cymru should do more than ‘preserve”. As the chair of Dyfodol Heini Gruffudd, says. “It’s the BBC’s responsibility, as a public service that we all pay for, to honour its own Royal Charter by ‘promoting education and learning’ and by ‘stimulating creativity and cultural excellence’. In Wales, that means promoting its indigenous language and culture, not merely ‘offering a service’ that reflects the language’s decline. If Welsh learners and those with little confidence in the language were given an impetus to learn on Radio Wales, thereby increasing their confidence, they could then be directed to appropriate programmes on Radio Cymru.”

    In order to expand Radio Cymru’s appeal to learners, and young people in particular, Dyfodol i’r Iaith wants the service to be shared between two stations which they have named as Radio Pop and Radio Pawb (for all). The former would target the young and Welsh learners with music using contemporary spoken Welsh in its presentation. The latter would be a comprehensive service of news, drama, entertainment and music in a natural and standard form of Welsh. This would be an opportunity to deliver Rhodri Talfan Davies’s wish to expand Radio Cymru’s appeal beyond its present audience, without antagonising and losing that traditional audience.

  6. This passage is intriguing:

    “Our research tells us that they all need to feel more confident that the station will be welcoming and inclusive, that it’ll talk their language and reflect their world. There is a perception among these potential listeners – mostly ill-founded, I should hasten to add – that Radio Cymru will be too formal or culturally narrow for their liking.”

    If the perception is “mostly ill-founded” (which rings true,given the diverse nature of radio Cymru’s output) this suggests that Radio Cymru is already accessible to and suitable for certain listeners, it’s just not getting to them. They are not choosing to listen to it. If that’s so, then one wonders what the purpose of the conversation might be. Those who listen to Radio Cymru are likely to say that they like it, or at least some of it. Those who don’t will be stuck with their perceptions, which the unfortunate and anachronistic reference to a “rarified form of Welsh” does little to dispel.

  7. The big question, the first question to ask, is “Is it possible?” What I mean is, is there anything that BBC Cymru can do to provide a service that attracts more listeners?

    At the moment they have 5 per cent of the overall (age 15+) listeners. To me, having seen how low the take up of most Welsh languages services is, that is 1% over what I would have expected. In other words, it is a very good result. Radio is, of course, very un-demanding. It doesn’t require Welsh language ability at a high level or, indeed, at any level.

    Radio Cymru is expensive and its year on year cost per listener has gone up while costs for other minority stations like Asian network and Radio 3 have gone down. I’m not quibling about cost (although others will) but is it POSSIBLE to increase interest in Radio Cymru above 5 per cent of the population?

    Radio Wales spends £13 Million on content for an audience of 17 per cent of the possible listenership.
    Radio Cymru spends £11.4 Million on content for an audience of 5 per cent of its possible listenership.

    One thing cost analysis brings about in the real world is helping to focus on the fundamental ideological question… at what point do we stop saying that Welsh language services are more important than money?

  8. On the subject of online content I just wonder where you can go. Last year I asked the BBC just how many “Hits” the Newyddion site received in comparison to BBC Wales News English Language site. Strangely enough (and this also relates to the IWA piece by Professor Hargreaves on fear of openness in Wales) the BBC refused to tell me on the grounds that they were protected from revealing journalistic information.

    There followed a complaint to the ICO on the mis-application of the BBC’s exemption from the Freedom Of Information act and, eventually, this reply:

    “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.”

    You can perhaps see why the BBC were so shy of releasing the information and why, whenever we discuss Welsh Language services, we aren’t ever actually allowed to look at numbers.

  9. “Since the beginning of the year, we’ve been looking hard at the census results but also commissioning our own parallel research to really get under the skin of this social change…”

    I hope you can publish something useful from this research because the evidence on the ground has consistently been that the Census figures over-state the number of people who actually use Welsh by a factor of 2-3. The fact that somebody can speak Welsh doesn’t mean they actually do.

    In Gwynedd we have people with up to Welsh A Level who never speak a word of Welsh from one week to the next and probably never will. They took the Welsh exams because they could, and because it bumped-up their apparent academic achievement, not because they have any use for the language as part of their daily lives.

    We need a better understanding of the cost-benefit relationship for the provision of tax-payer funded Welsh language services using drilled-down data not the catch-all figures from the Census.

  10. Looking at the young people of Gwynedd is a useful measuring stick for BBC Cymru. Gwynedd, with the highest number and percentage of Welsh speakers is a barometer for the language. Gwynedd contains a large proportion of BBC Radio Cymru listeners and, with the remaining counties of the Fro Cymraeg, will supply the bulk of listeners in the future.

    We know from the census that 93 per centr of the secondary school age population (10-14 for convenience) said that they could speak Welsh in the 2011 census.

    Now look at the 2012 GCSE cohort in Gwynedd. When we look at how many pupils decided to take the all important exam in Welsh there is a different picture:

    All schools and all examinations………… 49% in Welsh.
    State schools all examinations………….. 50% in Welsh
    State schools minus English and Welsh……. 54% in Welsh

    This is examinations not pupils but there is no reason why it can’t be used as a useful indicator of language preference amongst 15 year olds and is a good indicator of how many children feel more comfortable expressing themselves in English.

    With a high level of fluency in Welsh (82%) and a very high level of some Welsh speaking ability (93%) we, even so, see a relatively low level of Welsh preference. This, Gwynedd, is the best case scenario for the future consumption of media products and we should take note. Actual Welsh speaking is rapidly going South… both literally and metaphorically.

  11. I’d like to thank Sion for linking to my article on Syniadau and largely agree with what he says, and agree with E Ll Jones of Dyfodol i’r Iaith about the immediate need being for one additional Welsh-language radio service. The suggested content that “Radio Pop” and “Radio Pawb” would deliver seems sensible to me.

    Rhodri Talfan responded by saying that the real issue is affordability, so I’d like to offer him some suggestions on that specific point.

    At present the BBC has a total of ten radio stations which broadcast across the UK, but there is only one BBC station in each area of the UK offering non-UK-wide content (with the exception of Radio Cymru and Radio nan Gàidheal, which effectively offer bilingual listeners in Wales and mainland Scotland a choice of two stations offering non UK-wide content). This is why I said that in my article that the BBC is not good at handling regional variations.

    In contrast, the model in Spain provides fewer stations which broadcast across the whole of Spain (only four) but makes up for this by having public broadcasting corporations owned by the Autonomous Communities to provide the regional variations, so that the total number of publicly-owned radio stations available to listeners is about the same. For example EITB in Euskadi has five radio stations giving listeners a choice of nine publicly-owned stations in total; and CCMA in Catalunya has four radio stations giving a choice of eight publicly-owned stations in total. To my mind, this is a much healthier balance between the central state and its devolved regions than exists in the UK. In broadcasting terms, the UK has failed to respond in any meaningful way to devolution and could learn from Spain’s example.

    If the UK followed the Spanish model, it would mean the BBC cutting back from ten UK-wide radio stations to maybe five or six, but this would allow for maybe four or five radio stations in each nation/region broadcasting a range of content tailored to suit their specific audiences. The total number of stations available would perhaps be one or two fewer, but the balance would be very much more healthy. In Wales, this might result in two public radio stations broadcasting in Welsh and two radio stations broadcasting content tailored to a Welsh audience in English.

    Perhaps the BBC could adapt itself to this model by making BBC Cymru Wales a fully autonomous entity accountable to the Welsh Government rather than to the UK government; and do the same in Scotland and Northern Ireland as they also have devolved governments to which a fully autonomous BBC Scotland and BBC Northern Ireland could be accountable. But if the BBC was too hidebound to adapt, then a new Welsh Broadcasting Corporation could do that job in the same way as EITB does for Euskadi and CCMA does for Catalunya.

    Clearly the finance stream to these autonomous broadcasting corporations would need to be separate from the finance stream to the UK-wide corporation, and this could be achieved in any number of ways. For example part of the existing TV licence fee could assigned to these autonomous corporations. Or the existing licence fee could be reduced to fund only the reduced UK-wide service and the difference made up from general taxation (which in my opinion is inherently fairer because general taxation is to some degree progressive, whereas the current TV licence fee is anything but). With the first, the funds available to the autonomous broadcasting corporations could be increased if the devolved governments wanted to give them more money. With the second, the funds could be either increased or reduced.

  12. E.Ll.Jones of Dyfodol i’r Iaith suggests having two Welsh-language stations Radio Pop + Radio Pawb, which would be fantastic. As things stand, as a Welsh speaker I find myself listening more to Radio 4 and less to Radio Cymru than I would like a (although I am a devotee of Lisa Gwilym’s C2 music programme). This is not because Radio 4 is in any way better, its range of programmes just happen to suit my tastes more. It is because – through no fault of its own, given that it’s the ONLY Welsh-language station – Radio Cymru has no choice but to try be all things to all men.

  13. So…do you think that you could fund two stations on the £11.4 million spent on content for Radio Cymru?
    How many extra listeners do you think that you would attract?

  14. “The absolute certainty of moral righteousness and superiority that the Language Campaigners” – Jon Jones, you’re describing your own seeming opposition to anything non-English.

    Also:”you could have considered the non-Nationalist perspective… there is no border… there is just Britain” is a very English (Imperial) Nationalist statement.

    There’s no such thing as a “non-nationalist”. If you support the status quo of English Unionism you are a Nationalist. David Cameron and his Conservative Party are proudly and openly English Nationalists with Imperialism thrown in for good messure. This means that Welsh and Scots Conservatives have a problem (which includes Labour).

    We should and could have more than one Welsh language radio station. If ITV 24hr rolling news only cost £3m it must be feasible.

  15. There are at least 12 radio stations broadcasting in Icelandic for 320,000 speakers: The stations include Ras 1 and 2 from public broadcaster RUV (which has as its “main obligation of RUV is to promote the Icelandic language, Icelandic history and Iceland’s cultural heritage”). There are no objective reasons why Wales can’t have several stations in Welsh as well as more variety in English. Given the BBC’s supposed economies of scale, providing diversity and choice should be easier than it is for the Icelanders. Poverty of aspiration?

  16. The term ‘border’ to describe a demarcation line between England and Wales is a ploy by Welsh nationalists to pretend that there is a substantive difference between two constituent parts of the UK. It’s clear that they would LIKE a proper border with towers/crossings at the severn bridge, mainly to stop Welsh people getting out, rather than others getting in! This myth peddled by the nationalists about English imperialism must be something drummed into pupils in WM schools. All great powers have strategic interests throughout the globe and we (UK) were no different, however when the ‘winds changed’, so did we and our release of imperial holdings went down very well. If people/countries were so upset about our historical involvement why have they joined the Commonweath with HM the Queen as its head. In discussing where we/the Scots are in relation to remaining in the UK I remember talking to a retired Barrister who is more English than Ray Gravelle was Welsh and in his opinion we were wrong to try and persuade our people to vote for separation. In his opinion we should ask the ENGLISH and separation would be agreed in about 48 hours!

  17. It goes without saying that Nationalists will emphasise a border at every opportunity. Equally it goes without saying that Nationalists will call for the devolution of every responsibility for every function carried out within Wales. None of this is truly relevant to the situation with regard to Radio Cymru but it is worth looking at one aspect of the argument; is Radio Cymru “responsible” in some way for the preservation of the Welsh language? Does this station contribute to the sustenance of the Welsh language and how is this done?

    Firstly I think that we should acknowledge that there ARE other radio stations using Welsh. Where I live the Pop station frequently listened to is Heart which links English language and some Welsh language music with mostly Welsh commentary and either Welsh or English adverts.

    I don’t know but I believe that in other parts of Wales there are other commercial stations which use Welsh to some degree…someone else can enlighten us (not Michael Haggett since none of these stations broadcast in London).

    What can be seen is that these commercial stations use “Hybrid” Welsh-English output. This is a reflection of reality in the country, even within the Fro Cymraeg. It is also a reflection of economic reality; none of the commercial stations could afford to invest £11.4 million on content alone when the audience is so small. These stations have to recognise that they are slaves to demand…if they fall out of touch with their audience they lose listeners and then advertising revenue.

    BBC Radio Cymru is different; no one is going to pull the plug on it because the listenership falls or is disproportionately small for the budget expenditure. This is why it is possible for a group such as EOS to hold the station to ransom for uneconomic royalties. The BBC in Wales is inclined to agree with EOS…they are after all people cut from the same timber, products of Welsh Medium schools, with degrees in Welsh and drama or Media studies through the medium of Welsh or music through the medium of Welsh. They are inter-related, the Welsh protest/media dynasties dominate still in the BBC and Cymdeithas Yr Iaith. In other words, the logic of day to day economic reality and the rules that we, the 95% of the population not listening to Welsh language radio, recognise of necessity are not on the radar (or RAJAR) of these people.

    I have long been of the opinion that the single most useful function of the Welsh Language media in Wales is not to provide output but to provide well paid employment to a shrinking but powerful clique of Welsh speakers.

    It is in these terms that we should try to understand and rationalise the place of BBC Radio Cymru.

  18. If I understand Jon Jones correctly then
    Unique Browsers FY 2011/2012
    Wales-English-news – 1.67m
    Wales-Cymru-news – 7,000

    Translates as 2284 hits per day on the English and 9.5 per day on the Welsh. If the BBC can’t attract Welsh speakers there, what chance does it have elsewhere? And what chance do others have?

  19. Colin, nothing that I say about the lack of interest in Welsh services amongst Welsh speakers themselves comes as a surprise to the Media. If you look at the 2005 study looking at media consumption amongst Welsh speakers: “Living Lives through the medium of Welsh”

    You can see that the writing has been on the wall for the last eight years or more. Even fluent Welsh speakers quite deliberately choose to access the English media for preference. When it comes to non-fluent Welsh speakers and younger fluent Welsh speakers the position is dire.

    The BBC at first blocked my Freedom of information Request (even though all other user/viewer/listener numbers are published) and then grudgingly, after intervention from the Information Commissioner’s office, released those numbers.

    As I have said, the higher the skill needed to access Welsh language content, the less likely that content is to be accessed. Radio Cymru needs low or no Welsh skills to access. People who just like the music can listen without total comprehension. Similarly I look at the Eisteddfod on S4c, although I am not interested in understanding what is said, eisteddfodau are part of my youth and I still enjoy the talent on show.

    With written news online a high level of skill (sophisticated Welsh reading) is required… just isn’t there in significant numbers of the population.

  20. “Audience figures for the BBC’s Welsh language service Radio Cymru have dropped to their lowest ever level, according to the latest Rajar survey.

    On average 119,000 people listened to BBC Radio Cymru each week, 3,000 fewer than the station’s previous record low.”

    On the plus side an extra 26,000 listened to Radio Wales and it’s easy to blame the EOS boycot for falling Radio Cymru figures but what to do? Eos is clearly holding the whip hand; Radio Cymru it seems can’t do without them and so the BBC will have to open the coffers…this will have a knock on effect; why will Welsh Language musicians get more money than English Language musicians on small BBC stations? Once more we are confronted with the inequalities in Wales surrounding the minority language and, as Rhodri implies, is Radio Cymru an extension of Cymdeithas Yr Iaith or a niche broadcaster with no greater responsibilities than to please its audience and shrink alongside that audience?

  21. Rhodri Talfan – it’s good to see you interacting with this debate, that’s a healthy attitude and one which is appreciated.

    I think we’re on the same line in that Radio Cymru needs to focus on what the diverse Welsh speaking community (communities?) want. However, I just can’t see how this can be done now with 1 radio station in the language. That’s not the case in other language communities of a similar size.

    Changing the schedule around, maybe an hour extra of music here, a talk-show there, frankly doesn’t get to the heart of the problem,

    Back in the early 1990s I remember Cymdeithas yr Iaith had a campaign against Radio Cymru which had the slogan along the lines of ”mond mae Nain sy’n gwrando ar Radio Cymru’ (only granny listens to Radio Cymru). The writing was on the wall then. With the explosion of digital broadcasting, the relative cheapness of radio as compared with tv, then it really is an indictment of the BBC centrally and Wales in particular that there never seems to have been an effort to create a second radio station.

    When one sees the cuts which S4C have endured recently (some 36% – more cuts then Greece has seen, as one person noted) then it really does seem to have been a systematic intellectual failure on behalf of the Welsh leaders in the media that a pooling of resources was never tried a decade ago when things were better and which could have been offered within a BBC and S4C shared platform of some sort. That is, there was money to do it but not the will.

    And this is my big concern with you saying that Radio Cymru isn’t there to ‘save the language’ because it was this kind of attitude which created an over-riding culture over decades in Radio Cymru and S4C not to think of a broader picture and to work towards that. It was this, not here to ‘save the langauge’-ism which allowed effectively no progress to be made in radio broadcasting in 30 years and no cooperation with S4C or for S4C to set up its own radio station.

    You know as well as I do that there are factors at work mitigating against Radio Cymru which are bigger than any schedule change or adverstising campaign can answer – that is, out-migration (not helped by the Welsh Government’s policy of paying students to leave Wales); inmigration into Wales which denormalises Welsh as a community language and so workplaces and family are less likely to listen and watch Welsh media together; low birth-rate; lack of status (social and institutional) and disconnection with various forms of spoken Welsh, which make the job of running Radio Cymru more difficult than many other larger stations.

    That is, in many respects, the Welsh speaking society is more diverse than any inner city borough in London because the ability of people to speak Welsh is more variable than those who speak English, even English speakers from ethnic backgrounds. So, if Radio Cymru’s audience is to grow the Welsh-speaking community has to grow too. This can only be achieved by an over-arching effort to (for want of a better and more positive term) ‘save the language’.

    Had there been this over-arching philosophy to ‘save the language’ in 1990s within Radio Cymru and S4C then, who knows, maybe we could have seen the pooling of S4C’s resouces (financial and human) to create a second radio station?

    The important point in terms of saving the language is to increase the diversity of output so that it appeals to as great a number of Welsh-speakers as possible. ‘Saving the language’ doesn’t, for me at least, mean keeping the language pure.

    The only way of offering that diversity is through 2 stations. There is no other way. For many Radio Cymru’s brand is just unappealing and nothing it will do will change that.

    And what’s so wrong about a slogan like ‘saving the language’? Why shy away from it? Is not the BBC’s slogan ‘nation shall speak unto nation’ nothing more than nation-building? Some could even say ‘nationalist’. Was not the British Council formed in the 1930s explicitly to counter the success of German and Italian efforts to woo Middle Eastern states? The British Council and BBC World Service state explicitly their object is to increase the teaching and the use of English abroad – that is ‘saving’ the English language by increasing the number of speakers. As a Welsh-speaker I really do object to my money going to promote English, which is undermining my language and dozens of others in Africa and Asia in what Prof Robert Phillipson calls a deliberate strategy of ‘linguistic imperialism’. But it’s perfectly acceptable to most British (and Welsh) politicians. The demand was created.

    So, the point I’m trying to make is that if ‘saving the language’ and ‘nation building’ is OK for the UK BBC and the English language, then it’s also OK for Welsh to use similar arguments and strategies. Within that over-riding arch there should be a diversity of voices and views.

    BBC Wales managers have allowed broadcasting in Welsh to be stuck in some 1950s world. Through their own self-imposed arrogance or delusion they’ve deliberately ignored learning lessons from other, (now more successful) language communities in Europe. BBC Radio Cymru really isn’t a gold standard of any sort.

    Radio Cymru has problems. You’re right to raise that. But it can’t be done with keeping to 1 station and it can’t be improved without laying an intellectual argument for growing the number of Welsh speakers by creating a wider choice for people who speak Welsh or wish to join the Welsh-speaking community enjoy and interact with.

  22. There’s one or two things wrong with your analysis Sion. Firstly; Welsh speakers have a plethora of choices which they can make with regard to Radio and media in general. They can and do choose to listen to English language radio of all sorts. It is no use you or Cymdeithas pretending that Welsh speakers live their lives in a Welsh Language bubble. They don’t, and why should they?

    Two languages means a multiplicity of choices and no one can replicate that range of choices in a minority language that cannot hope to attract every single listener who is capable of understanding Welsh. Not every Welsh speaker is wedded to the rather extreme aim of a life “Lived through Welsh.” In fact I doubt that such a person exists….if they do, how sad.

  23. Rhodri’s comments about making Radio Cymru more able to reach out to a Welsh speaking population that are increasingly learning the language at school is totally contradicted by the culling of C2 last year, from 6 hours a weeknight to 3. And the Welsh language Smashie and Nicie programme that replaced it at 10pm just makes me glad that the anti-Welsh language brigade can’t understand it.

    Posters above have rightly pointed about the absurdity of describing as “diversity”, people moving to Wales who wouldn’t be out of place in 1950s Rhosdesia.

    Going beyond the language, Rhodri mentions “Regional rugby in Wales wonders how it will survive the onslaught of the English Premiership – and its potential grip on the hearts and minds of youngsters across Wales.” Apart from the Pavlovian obsession in Wales with a UK and Irish representative rugby team that plays a series of exhibition games, I don’t think anything shows us the Anglocentric grip on people’s minds than this, especially in a year that has seen a 2nd 6 Nations triumph, by a country of 3 million. Foorball leagues all around the world are struggling with the onslaught of the Premier League behemoth. I find the fact that Wales has four regions playing alongside our brothers in Scotland and Ireland is something healthy and to be celebrated. The crowds stand up well to English rugby, yet there are actually widespread calls to join English rugby, like a kind of sporting Stockholm syndrome. Playing Rotherham in the 2nd division instead of at Thormond Park.. Welsh clubs struggle to match English and French sides money, just as sides like Benfica and Ajax are similarly now selling clubs in the global football tv market. I tune in to Radio Cymru to feel part of Wales, a Wales that’s happy with itself and it’s place in the wider world. Not a pygmie Welsh translated version of parochial English nationalism, with English royalty and militarism.

  24. I hate to raise this but does Radio Cymru play Justin Beiber, JLS, other modern beat combo’s? You won’t capture the minds of those young people if you’re not speaking their ‘language’. So Radio Cymru, you need to become a Belieber, it’s the future….. I’m told.

  25. Jon Jones says that it is “rather extreme” to want a life “lived through Welsh”. If so, then those who succeed in living their lives through English must be equally “extreme” and equally “sad”.

  26. It’s good to see that Andrew is a dedicated listener to Radio Cymru, no doubt one of the 119,000 who listen at some time each Week. Apart from the joy of describing people who move to Wales from England as people “who wouldn’t be out of place in 1950s Rhodesia”, what is the point of raising this issue at all? We know that few people who move to Wales from anywhere else actually learn Welsh. Why would they?

    In fact, since the Census figures have just come out, we know that just 8% of people not born in Wales speak Welsh. When it comes to how they identify themselves and ability to speak Welsh, looking at those who Identify with other nationalities and not Britain or the UK:

    Other Identity (Polish, Asians, Africans etc) 91,211 people………… 3% speak Welsh.
    Irish………………………………………………………… 9,808 people speak Welsh.
    Scottish……………………………………………………… 15,101 people speak Welsh.
    English………………………………………………………. 339,210 people speak Welsh.

    Those who Identify as just “British” 10% speak Welsh.

    It’s no use even considering these people as a potential Welsh Language media audience since their ability in Welsh is likely to be very sparse. Their sympathy with Welsh culture non-existent.

    This leaves us with the future audience born and schooled in Wales. Forget those who go to English medium schools, their level of Welsh comprehension is too low to access Welsh Language media output.

    That leaves those pupils in Welsh Medium and bi-lingual schools……potentially 22% of those educated in Wales. But, as I have said before, those pupils still choose to use English in ever increasing numbers. I have mentioned that only 54% of GCSE pupils in Gwynedd chose Welsh as the medium of their examinations. In Ynys Mon the figure is 29%.The inclination to choose English amongst Welsh Medium schooled pupils was explored in a BBC programme not long ago. “The Welsh Knot” looked at the cultural dominance of English amongst Welsh medium school pupils.

    It is utterly useless chasing an audience that does not exist.

  27. Slight omission in the way that you have put that out Eds:- You’ve missed the percentages who speak Welsh amongst those identifying as Scots, Irish and English

    When it comes to how they identify themselves and ability to speak Welsh, looking at those who Identify with other nationalities and not Britain or the UK:-
    Other Identity (Polish, Asians, Africans etc) 91,211 people….3% speak Welsh
    Irish…………………………………………………………9,808 people…4% speak Welsh
    Scottish……………………………………………………15,101 people..4% speak Welsh
    English……………………………………………………339,210 people.6% speak Welsh

    Those who Identify as just “British” 10% speak Welsh.

  28. “those who succeed in living their lives through English must be equally “extreme” and equally “sad”.”

    Well Herbert, try it. Compare the amount of media output that you can consume through the medium of English and then confine yourself to Welsh literature, S4C and Radio Cymru….good luck with your lifetime long experiment.

  29. Jon Jones is as bad as Sedwot on the BBC forum for mis-quoting figures. Are they both so consumed by their prejudice and blind hatred of Welsh that they will spread their false information to whoever is foolish enough to be taken in by it? Mr Jones is very fond of calling OTHERS extremists, but his OWN fanaticism as demonstrated by dozens of posts that I’ve read on this forum is more extreme than anything or anybody that he criticises. (Offensive comment removed by editor)

    To put the record straight, 78.1% of 15 year old GCSE candidates in Gwynedd take some GCSEs other than Welsh in Welsh. In Anglesey the figure is 59.4% and in Ceredigion it is 51.3%. But what that has to do with listening to Radio Cymru is beyond me, I half expect he’ll be telling us next that you need to have taken GCSEs in English before you can listen to Radio 1 or Radio 5 Live!

    And look at his figure for how many English people speak Welsh. Ha ha ha. You don’t need to have taken a GCSE in any language to realise that he just throws around numbers like confetti without ever checking what he writes no doubt because he thinks ANY number he makes up will make him look clever. He has been hoisted by his own petard…………a painful experience, and it jolly well serves him right!

  30. Well you are right in one respect Cefyl; the figure for GCSEs taken through the medium of Welsh should read just that…it is the percentage of GCSEs which 15 year olds choose to take through the medium of Welsh not the percentage of pupils. But what I was trying to say is that this is a good indicator of language choice even in the Fro Cymraeg. However I find it hard to believe that 78.1% of 15 year olds in Gwynedd take some GCSE’s in Welsh. The information is at

    The FOI is ED 223.

    The number of 15 year old Pupils who took GCSE from schools in Gwynedd in 2012 was 1,292.

    Of that number 328 were in schools where NONE of the subjects other than Welsh were taken through the medium of Welsh (NB. The figure for Art in Friars is in the wrong column, I checked)
    That means that the maximum percentage of pupils that could take at least one GCSE in Welsh is 75%
    However, when you look at the figures for the schools it is stretching credulity somewhat to think that when, for instance, 46 pupils at ysgol Ardudwy take maths through the medium of English and 50 through the medium of Welsh, some of that 46 are also taking history through Welsh.

    You’ll be interested to know that since I’ve been monitoring the exams taken though English in Gwynedd (since 2009) the figure has increased by 3%

    As for the percentage of English identifiers in Wales who speak Welsh, what’s the problem with 6%? It’s straight from the 2011 census: 339,210…..6% of whom speak Welsh. The earlier post was the fault of the IWA Editor who left out the percentages for all of the Identifiers. The correction was the next post down.

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  32. As someone from England I genuinely believe it would be a crime to let ancient languages die out. I have always had a slight interest in trying to make out what Brythonic words mean. Unless you start from young it is a complicated language to learn. It makes you wonder how Vortigern Pendragon ever managed to ask the English to help defend them from the invading Scots after the Roman Empire. Perhaps that’s where it all went wrong. You said help us defend the country and we said come and live here we will be glad to see you.

    I would point out though that it was Henry VIII who was of a Welsh dynasty (House of Tudor) who decreed that all official business in Wales has to be in English. He also decreed the same for Ireland, and attempted to undermine celtic culture. So if you resent the English for you speaking English, when the true facts appear the ones to blame were the House of Tudor. And you could say it was Vortigern Pendragon who is ultimately to blame. You could even state that if the Scots had not been invading Vortigern would not have instructed the English to assist, so the Scots are to blame. I know here and now you would rather be speaking your own national language, but if nothing else the historical facts of where you are today are interesting to know. You cannot change history, some you win some you lose. If it makes you feel better English in a Welsh accent sounds quite good, very distinctive. What would I sound like trying to speak Welsh, with a Yorkshire accent, don’t even go there.

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