Welsh Language Needs English TV Too; in the Second of Three Pieces Drawn from the Institute of Welsh Affairs Publication, English Is a Welsh Language: Television's Crisis in Wales, Geraint Talfan Davies Looks at the Need for a Fuller English Language Service

Article excerpt

Byline: Geraint Talfan Davies

As the Government reviews the future of public service broadcasting, and as the argument for a fuller service in the English language for Wales is made in the corridors of power, time and again you will come up against the argument that Wales is already supremely advantaged in television because of the investment in S4C.

S4C's more limited value to non-Welsh speaking viewers is discounted. In this particular debate the elephant in the room is not the BBC, it is S4C.

Only a handful of rabid letter writers to newspapers would question the need for a Welsh language channel, even today when the broadcasting environment has made it infinitely more difficult for it to make its mark with the audience.

Personally, I have always been proud of the work that we did at HTV at the inception of the channel in 1982 in creating current affairs and rural affairs programmes - Y Byd ar Bedwar and Cefn Gwlad - that still survive today. Successive Controllers of BBC Wales, including this one, have taken pride in the fact that the BBC has provided S4C with core strands that have made a disproportionately large contribution to the channel's audience.

The case for S4C is still strong, as the only television expression of the Welsh language in the global cornucopia of the digital age, even if, like the BBC's Radio 3, it is a public good supported by more people than actually use it. S4C has delivered a wider public value, as well as an institutional value in being the only fully autonomous broadcasting organisation in Wales.

But that is no reason for the institution or the politicians or the public to shield their gaze from some of the consequential effects - a too common practice in Wales.

For instance, within the BBC in the 1990s I found it difficult to make headway with the case for more funding for English language broadcasting in Wales because the BBC looked at total investment in the nation, rather than at parity of service. In that sense, there was no escaping the conclusion that, to some extent, the investment in Welsh language television and radio, was being bought at the expense of the English language services.

In 2007-08 BBC Wales and BBC Scotland each spent around pounds 50m a year on television within their respective nations - Scotland pounds 50m and Wales pounds 47m. Yet if you look at spending on English language television, a huge disparity opens up - Scotland pounds 48m, Wales pounds 24m, only pounds 1m more than BBC Northern Ireland at pounds 23m.

Of course, the gap cannot all be blamed on the need to provide in two languages. The fact that the

BBC is a bilingual operation creates its own countervailing synergies that benefit both Welsh and English language programmes.

But the gap does help explain why BBC Scotland is able to produce about 93 hours in the drama, comedy, music and arts categories against BBC Wales' 32 hours, despite the fact that output in news, sport and other genres is broadly comparable. …