The Judge RANTS!
(...or, "If You Can't Be Bothered To Do It Right, Don't Bother At All!")
- We are in the closing years of the second decade of twenty-first century
- Newsnight is BBC Television's flagship news programme.
I make these superficially obvious points because the evidence around us would - should we not know otherwise - prevent us from reaching such conclusions unaided.
Last Wednesday night (9 August), Newsnight featured a segment on the 'Welsh' government's plans to abolish the post of Language Commissioner and replace it with a Language Commission (leading to the creation of a number of new positions which would inevitably be filled by our one-party dictatorship's pals and trusties).
What follows is a verbatim transcript of both the trail at the top of the programme and the segment itself. But first, a few points:
As regular readers will recall, I junked my television set nearly eleven years ago, so my memories of Newsnight are still associated with Jeremy Paxman and Kirsty Wark. Nonetheless, when I picked up on the social media shitstorm which followed Wednesday's broadcast, I felt that I had to see and hear for myself.
Now, due to a change in the law just under a year ago, if you want to watch the Castration's television output on their iPlayer, you have to sign in so that you can be vouched for as a valid payer of the television tax (you even have to do that for radio programmes now, which is a bit rich given that you don't need a licence to listen to radio). Refusing to go along with this (you can't be sure exactly what they're doing with the data - except sharing it with the hysterical dunderheads at TVLicensing plc, that is) creates a problem for me. But not one which is insuperable; there are ways and means, m'dears, ways and means.
Anyway, I watched the relevant sections of the programme with brows which were, by the end, not so much knitted as crocheted.
For a start, there was the presenter. This now appears to be a rising simian by the name of Evan Davis. I seem to remember that he was the economics editor at one time. Well, he may be able to explain the Exchange Rate Mechanism, but he sure as hell can't present a live news programme without looking and sounding utterly out of his depth.
The other dramatis personae of the grand guignol of TV hackery which I was about to witness were:
- a young woman who is the 'Wales editor' of a news website called The Conversation. I had heard of the site - indeed, I may have visited it at some time - but from Ruth Dawson (for it was she) I knew nothing; and
- one Julian Ruck, described in the caption as 'Author and columnist'. The wider reality - apart from the fact that Mr Ruck has to self-publish his books and that his columns are published only by one group of small newspapers in and around Swansea - is that the man is a notorious anti-Welsh bigot, who has infested news sites and blog comments over a period of a number of years with his Taxpayer-Alliance-like insistence that no public money should ever be spent on something he disapproves of, like...Welsh. It must be said that he doesn't much help his cause by his mode of dress, which might be summed up as, "Peter Capaldi stole my wardrobe". I had a friend in sixth form all those years ago who - at the age of sixteen, remember - would come to college every day in suit, collar and tie, and Ruck reminds me a little of him, except that William would never have resorted to a waistcoat, an over-flamboyant item of neckwear or a spotted snotrag in the breast pocket; he had a bit more class than that.
Whatever, here's the transcript. I have faithfully reproduced the hesitations, tics and unnatural pauses of the participants so that You, The Reader, can get some idea of what a presentational motorway pile-up it was:
(Note: the numbers in brackets are referenced in the 'analysis' of this exhibition of ineptitude which follows the transcript. I had considered other ways of doing it: having the exegesis appear in a different browser tab or window; interpolating my comments with the relevant point of the transcript, that sort of thing. But it would have had poor results for some readers because of the technicalities of the matter, so this is the least worst option)
[Start of programme: length 14"]
(Footage of woman dressed in green robes singing at an outdoor National Eisteddfod ceremony) (1)
Evan Davis: Also tonight: the Welsh (2) debate the rôle of Welsh...
(Shot of female interviewee sitting in studio)
ED: ...is it government's job to promote it, and is it a help or hindrance (3) to the nation (4)?
[Main segment: length 6'26"]
(Backdrop of a mountain road with a large sign saying
Welcome to WALES
Croeso i GYMRU)
ED: (5) The Welsh Government has set out plans...to change the way...it promotes the use...of the Welsh language today...now this is a sensitive area of public policy, inevitably...any change can cause a row. Those keen on (6) Welsh...er...to some extent feel that one inocuous-sounding proposal, which is to abolish the job of Welsh Language Commissioner and replace the job with a Welsh Language Commission, is...a potential threat to the identity and culture...of Welsh speakers. The Government...er...of Wales has talked of the bureaucracy of the current rules, and the need to reform them. So should they be...trying to make life easier for, for example, non-Welsh companies (7)? Or should they be doing more...for the language and the people who speak it?
Er...before we do...er...discuss that, let me infuse some facts into the debate...
(Graphic showing 1901 WELSH SPEAKERS 50%)
...Innnn...1901, half the populawation...population of Wales could speak the language. Now the figure is...it's actually not even a quarter...
(Graphic counts down to show 2015 WELSH SPEAKERS 24%)
...it's just shy of...um...seven hundred thousand people, and only around...half those people...
(Graphic counts down further, to show 2015 FLUENT WELSH SPEAKERS 11%)
are...fluent in Welsh.
According to the official Census figures, all the Welsh speakers can also speak English (8). What is true, though, is that there's been growth in Welsh speaking since the introduction of the Welsh Language Act in 1993.
With me now, Ruth Dawson is the Wales editor of The Conversation news website, and the novelist Julian Ruck is in...er...Carmarthen. Very good evening to you both.
Now Ruth, you're a...you feel strongly about Welsh, but...eh...how much of it do you actually speak?
Ruth Dawson: Erm...not much at all (9), I can say the basics, "Bore da", y'know, the colours, the numbers...
ED: So what's the...what's the...what's the importance of it to you...as this...um...small Welsh-speaker (10) living as a Welsh person?
RD: Erm...well, it's a huge part of Welsh culture, I mean I wish I could speak more Welsh, and, you know, I...I...do think that this government drive is...is fantastic, y'know for...for showing how important the language is...is to the people of Wales...erm...y'know, I just...like I said, I just I could (laughs) speak it a bit more myself! (11)
ED: (Laughs) Ah...erm...Julian, I mean, is it possible...that actually most people in Wales...are a bit like Ruth; they...they sort of believe in the language even if they don't really speak it?
(Backdrop of small television studio)
Julian Ruck: (Laughs) Well, let me firstly say that...er...I have nothing against a Welsh speaker (12), but the statistics that you use...they don't, er, they cloud over...er...whether someone can read or write the language. Now, as far as I'm concerned, the...the expense to the taxpayer - that's the English taxpayer as well as the Welsh (13) - is far...out...raged (14) by the number of people who can speak it. I mean, you're talking about a hundred-and-fifty-odd million a year (15). Now, you say to someone who's...er...who's dependent on the Health Service, that you've got to wait because...x y z (16). They're not going to be happy with that...if...they know that this money...is going...to the Welsh language (17).
Now, y'know...it is...I mean, nobody has mentioned in the...in the news reports about Meri Huws, the Welsh Language Commissioner, being an ex-chairwoman of the Welsh Language Society. Now...that is a conflict of interest, and shouldn't be allowed, but that is the extent of...the situation we've got. (18)
ED: OK, quick then: Ruth...Ruth, I mean there's this sort of classic liberal position here, which says, "No-one should be discouraged..." (laughs) "...from speaking Welsh..."
ED: "...everyone can be allowed to speak Welsh, and we'll...see how many people choose to speak it, and how many have it as a hobby (19), how many speak it as their sort-of main language (20), how companies...independently decide how to speak it." Is there not something to be said for that for that position?
RD: I mean, y'know, in an ideal world (laughs) everyone would just be left to their own devices...er...and, y'know, pick up Welsh naturally and...and get on with it, but...
ED: But they may choose not to pick it up...
RD: Well, yes...
ED: ...they may feel as if "it's not for me, why do I need to have to", y'know, pick it up if they don't want to, and it...you'd leave it to them?
RD: Yeah, I mean, y'know, languages aren't the easiest thing to learn, are they? (21) Erm, but I, y'know, but I do think...I do think that...people need help...y'know...I mean, since (laughs) well, as long as I've been alive , y'know, the Welsh government and the people of Wales have been encouraged to learn Welsh. I had Welsh-language education in school (22)...erm...but the fact of the matter is that...I didn't pick up enough of it, my education wasn't good enough, and so now there needs to be a bigger push to make sure that more people are learning the language, and using it every day.
JR: But...but, you see, hang on! There...there's the key there. Y'know, you can go to a Welsh-medium school and come out of it, and you cannot speak...Welsh (23). What's the point in all the money? It...it...it's nonsense, because the S4C is down, Radio Cymru (24) is down, the Census of 2011 is down. All of them are down. The...all this money that they're pumping in to the language is not. Making. More. People. Speak. Welsh, I mean that is a fact.
JR: It's a fact!
RD: Erm...I think you'll find then that, y'know, across the board in Wales, a lot of English-language Welsh media has lost its audience as well, and, y'know, there are new forms of Welsh-language media - especially online - that are building up a new audience, especially in the under-40 category.
ED: Is there...is there an issue around...erm...economic development? Is it a deterrent to people...to companies or English companies, or international companies who have no Welsh-speakers in them at all... (25)
ED: In...investing in Wales, putting something in Wales, that they're thinking, "Oh, my goodness! The...we're going to have all this Welsh...y'know...these Welsh...these Welshish-language issues (26). If we're thinking between an English region or a Welsh...
ED: ...part of Wales", it just tips the balance?
RD: I mean, I couldn't speak from experience there (laughs), but...umm...I don't think that's the case. Y'know, the Welsh government has done a lot of work to encourage a lot of international companies to come into Wales...erm...and, y'know, they...sort of...don't see it as a barrier at all.(27)
JR: But...but...but hold on there! Hold on! This is...this is a nationalist argument (28), and nationalism turns companies - whether they be small, medium or large - it turns them away (29). You say to a company, "Come and work in Wales", and then you give them a massive bill to convert everything to Welsh (30). They're going to take a hike...
JR: ...And it's a hike... (throws thumb gesture over shoulder) ...left!
ED: Julian, Ruth, thanks both very much indeed. Thanks.
To take it in order:
(1) Now that there are no pits left, those fine and superior minds who order our media diets have to reach for other stereotypical images, and one can imagine a Tarquin or Emma at 'HQ', oblivious to the lively scene in contemporary music in Welsh, grasping at this like a hipster grasps at his latte. The intent is clear; to portray our culture as twee and Dylan-Thomas-ly fake.
(2) For certain values of 'Welsh'. In this case, someone who can't actually speak the language up against someone who is virulently against it.
(3) Coming up next on Newsnight: is teaching children how to read and write a hindrance to our nation?
(4) And which 'nation' would this be, I wonder? Oh, look! It's Greater England again!
(5) It could be argued that I'm being nasty to poor old Evan in transcribing his odd declamatory style; but if the premier BBC news programme is being fronted by someone who sounds as if he is a blind man desperately trying to speed-read a text which is being scrolled past him at seven feet per second, then it's fair comment, if only to reinforce the view that standards of presentation on the programme have gone downhill horribly in a few short years.
(6) 'Keen on' is an interesting phrase to use in this context. 'Keen on' is the sort of phrase which would otherwise be reserved for philatelists, record collectors and those odd people who stand on street corners photographing buses in the hope of seeing a rare twin-entrance version of an Alexander Dennis Eco200D. Using a term denoting the fanciful or the obsessive in association with the everyday language of a few hundred thousand people makes one wonder if there isn't a hidden agenda behind the apparent ignorance.
(7) The first - but not the last (q.v.) - time that Davis tries to bring in the economic argument. Of course, we mustn't let such fripperies as the inherent right of cultures to continue meaningfully to exist annoy the 'business community', can we? It should be pointed out that either languages and their speakers have rights or they don't. If you reduce the whole issue to economic utility, you have placed yourself outside of civilised values.
(8) Whenever the Brit media see fit to broach this subject at all, it is merely a matter of counting under your breath to twenty before the "Well, they can all speak English, can't they?" trope is introduced in some way or another. This is also to miss the point. We speak English because - in a colony of England, and one which is being further Anglicised by the week by its unfortunate proximity to its culturally monoptical and arrogant occupier - we have to to get anything done. Hundreds of thousands of people wish it could be otherwise; it's not a matter of all that classical liberal 'choice' which Davis refers to later.
(9) To which the question might fairly be put; what the hell are you doing in this 'debate' in the first place? I mean, no real blame to you, Ruth Dawson, but you might be the first to admit to being slightly underpowered on the subject.
(10) I would like to think that I didn't hear Davis say this, but I've gone back through that section of the video, and I can't for the life of me hear it as being anything else. Paging Dr. Freud...
(11) I could make an unkind remark about Ruth Dawson's fluency in English at this point, but having done live television a few times myself, it would be a bit cruel. The screenshot of her shows her sweating profusely, which I can understand. All of my live work so far has been done on location and outdoors.
(12) Here Ruck deploys the "Some of my best friends..." ploy. Anyone who has encountered this wretched self-dandified troll will know that he believes that Welsh-speakers en masse are to be ridiculed, belittled and denuded of any meaningful right to use their own language in their own country.
(13) Now I have to confess an admiration for this sneaky trick. Knowing that most of the audience for the programme is in England - and is therefore ignorant of 99 per cent of the reality - he makes a play for the support of the Daily Heil readers who will, of course, be furious that hard-working, tax-paying, cliché-ridden folk such as themselves are having to pay...oooh...about a farthing a year for something which isn't even English!.
(14) "far outraged"? This man is supposed to be an author? But then, see this Twitter thread by João Morais for a fuller exposition on Ruck's 'talent' in this area. Perhaps he makes a more fruitful living translating the instruction manuals for Malaysian cars.
(15) In other words, 0.01 per cent of the total Welsh government budget. But what the hell, the number sounds huge, and will impress (and possibly "out...rage") the 99.9 per cent of the public who don't know the size of the budget.
(16) This is Ruck being disingenuous to the point of dishonesty. The total budget for 'Health, Well-being and Sport' for 2017-18 is £7.3billion. An increase of a further 0.005 per cent if the funds for language support were removed and transferred directly to it would be negligible to the point of invisibilty. It certainly wouldn't have any impact on waiting lists for treatment...or, indeed, much else.
(17) Which it isn't, and wouldn't make any difference anyway (See (16)).
(18) There is a major debate to be had on how we are governed, with particular reference to the way that people get appointed to positions of authority and who does the appointing. We are run by cliques of the self-serving and arse-covering, and the endemic corruption of the Labour Party in particular - in both national and local government - is something which should be far more widely reported on and examined. But Ruck clearly implies - and clearly seeks to imply - that this is a situation unique to the rôle of Language Commissioner, in order to discredit the whole notion of support for our language in the minds of people - the Welsh prominently amongst them - who are ignorant of the wider reality because that reality is seldom if ever reported by the 'official' media, with their all too cosy relationship with national and local political élites, such vital work being left instead to hardy bloggers such as Y Cneifiwr and Royston Jones.
(19) Presumably it's a 'hobby' to those people who are 'keen on' the language; namely, the half-million or so who speak it, mostly as their everyday mode of communication with one another. Or perhaps we're all anoraks and train-spotters after all.
(20) 'Sort of'? I know a woman who is 'sort of' pregnant just now. It either is or it isn't, and if it is, then 'sort of' doesn't enter into it. At all. In brief, Davis' 'classical liberal position' turns out to be just good-ole colonialism and cultural supremacy after all.
(21) Res ipsa loquitur...
(22) This may have been an unfortunate way of phrasing it. I can't imagine that Ruth Dawson went to a Welsh-medium school, and left unable to handle more than a few words and phrases. It is far more likely that she had the same sort of 'Welsh-language' education I had back in the seventies; about an hour a week or basic phrases and conversation. But her slip - if indeed it was - gives Ruck his opportunity...
(23) ...for he has gleefully assumed - perhaps understandably given the lack of clarity in Dawson's remark - that she did go to a Welsh-medium school, and uses that assumption to attack the whole notion of children being educated in the indigenous language of their own country.
There is a debate to be had over the efficacy of Welsh-medium education, but Ruck's position - and the position of other extremists such as the group of 'concerned parents' involved in the hoop-la at Llangennech recently - seems to be that of, "This road has three potholes in it. Instead of filling in the potholes, we'll take the whole road up and let it revert to being a dirt track with grass growing up the middle of it".
(24) Ruck shows his contempt and ignorance here by pronouncing 'Radio' the English way, and this in the title of a Welsh-language radio service.
(25) Davis reverts to the economic arguments which I covered in point (7) above. It should be noted that 'international companies' don't seem to have any trouble operating in countries where English is neither the first language of the population nor a language spoken by any significant proportion of the native population. Companies who operate in Slovenia, Estonia or Slovakia don't seem to have been put off by this, so why would they have a problem here? It's true that the main problems we have are from English companies who - because of the woeful standards of education and media in their country - are totally unaware that they are moving into a different social and cultural environment, which leads to stories every few months of English employers telling their staff that they are on no account to speak any language other than English in the workplace (this is usually excused ex post facto as a 'misunderstanding' or being due to 'health and safety concerns').
(26) Presumably 'Welshish' is a bit like having a 'sort of' main language.
(27) This is the best point Ruth Dawson made all night.
(28) A common tactic used by BritNats when referring to their remaining colonial possessions (Scotland gets this in spades) is to decry those who wish to assert their nationhood against the Empire as being 'nationalists'. Such an epithet does not, of course, apply to the mass-shooting-of-selves-in-foot of such phenomena as Brexit, because BritNats aren't 'nationalist' at all, oh deary me no, you'd have to be a Remoaning Enemy Of The People Saboteur to believe that.
To put it briefly: there are as many nationalisms as their are nations, and they fall into two broad categories:
- Aggressive, expansionist nationalisms, which seek to extend the reach and power of a particular nation over other nations (the more the merrier). This aggression and expansionism can be military, commercial or cultural in nature (or any combination thereof). Examples include the English Empire, German Nazism, early-period Shōwa Japan, Zionism and post-1940 USA.
- Defensive, de-colonising nationalisms, which seek to re-assert the identity and sovereignty of a nation or cultural group within its own territories, and counterposed to imperial or colonial ambitions. Examples include early-20th century Ireland, India under Gandhi and - latterly - the Baltic republics.
(It must, of course, be recognised that nationalisms can move between the second and the first categories over time; the United States is a prime example, but there are others.)
(29) There is no evidence of this ever having happened, but I look forward to Ruck providing evidence for this assertion, whether applying to Wales or anywhere else. I suspect strongly that there isn't any.
(30) If companies (as opposed to Departments of State) have ever been obliged to 'convert everything to Welsh', then this is the first time I've heard of it, and I like to think that I keep my ear quite close to the ground on these things. If Ruck means that supermarkets provide bilingual signage on their stores, then that is a decision which they have made on the basis of it being good customer service - and a potential added selling point - rather than having had anything imposed upon them by government, either national or local. All they have done is accede to customer demand, something of which I would have thought an out-and-out marketist like Mr Ruck would approve.
In any case, the costs to those companies would be minuscule compared to the goodwill and extra customer footfall it would generate.
So, where do we find ourselves at the end of all this?
With a sense of resignation and despair, I think.
- The Brit media seldom cover any story concerning our culture
- On the occasions that they do, they either fall back on convenient cliché or treat the issue in a superficial manner; or else, they show either total incomprehension or at best a preset mindset towards the subject (this may often merely be unconscious rather than a covert agenda)
- They usually deploy hacks who have no depth of knowledge surrounding the issue at hand, thus compounding the problem
- This leads them to be easy prey for those forces inimical to our identity who - however lacking in acuity they may be - know an easy mark when they see it
- And they assume that we will just sit there and let them do it.
We see all of this in the Newsnight débâcle in various combinations:
- The angle of coverage was impertinently obtuse
- Evan Davis - when he wasn't being largely incoherent and waving his arms around (one thing you could say for Paxman was that he was a stroppy, patronising git, but he could present, he could interview, and he seldom let bullshitters wriggle off the hook) - seemed to be puzzled by the concept of there being any validity to the concept of there being another indigenous language on this island whose speakers used it because they had done so all their lives, rather than have it as a mere pastime à la the Esperantists.
- The editor - who must take the lion's share of responsibility for this - was seemingly unable to find anyone to take part in the debate whose experience and knowledge was relevant. I'm told that a researcher rang up a former Plaid Cymru MP asking if he would take part, on the mistaken assumptions that he was, a) still an MP, and b) a former official of the Welsh Language Society. I can easily imagine that; what I can't imagine is that no-one thought of getting hold of their colleague Huw Edwards - his dressing room must be only down the corridor - and, if he wasn't willing to take part himself (despite the fact that he waded in to the Llangennech shit-fest, and on the right side), he would at least be able to point them in the direction of someone who had the knowledge and the television experience to prove a worthwhile disputant. Instead, the editor seems to have picked someone who had some vague connections or other and who happened to be 'in town tonight', irrespective of how wretchedly inadequate her contribution was likely to be. The attitude of, "Oh, this'll do, it's only the Welsh" permeated such a decision.
And that - on the other side of the argument - they fished up a self-aggrandising self-publicist with no knowledge of the issues beyond his own prejudces and preconceptions and whose 'expertise' has only ever been what he himself assesses it to be, and a infamous online troll of the sort who usually gain only the tutting opprobrium of the 'right-minded', who is qualified only to play to the gallery, and who is analogous to the 'alt-right' rentagobs who infest US media hour after hour, day after day. He, of course, was allowed to have the run of his teeth, never challenged by either his opponent or the interviewer.
It's an approach which we have seen so many times from the BBC in recent years. As with the debate around climate change, for example, where the Corporation's idea of 'fairness' and 'balance' involves pitting experienced scientists in the field against the likes of Nigel Lawson and James Delingpole and thinking that that will do. There are positions which are - objectively - utterly incorrect, and treating them as equal to correct and accurate ones creates a totally false equivalence which leaves the viewer and listener mal-informed.
- And the initial silence from the BBC in response to the tempête de merde which followed the broadcast (of more anon), followed by a boilerplate non-apology after about 48 hours indicates an unwillingness to face the consequences of their actions. The underlying stance seems to be an astonished cry of, "What are they so offended about?"
For the shit did hit the fan. People who had either trusted the BBC to get somewhere near the meaning of 'fairness' as understood by most of us, or at least continue giving it the benefit of the doubt, shook their heads in disbelief. Others - such as me - just nodded and said that that was what was to be expected from an organisation (and not merely its news department) which had in recent years become overtly what it had always been covertly, i.e., the State Broadcaster. A government minister even dipped his dinky little toe in the water and requested (about as strong a defiance of Brittism as we ever get from the breed) an apology from the Corpse. A petition was set up to demand an independent enquiry into the way that the BBC covers Welsh-language issues, reaching nearly seven thousand signatories in under three days.
And how was this covered by the rest of the Brit media? Well, not to put too fine a point on it, it wasn't. Oh certainly the BBC mentioned the stories on the Welsh pages of its news website (in both languages), but in each case several clicks down and soon buried in the back catalogue by other stories.
The Guaraniad, never slow to publish anguished pieces by gap-year wanderers about the threat to the survival of the cultures and languages of tribes of fourteen people and a parrot in deepest Amazonia, and similarly alacritous when publicising the campaigns of anti-Welsh zealots in Llangennech? Not a word, not even in its 'Wales' section where the matter was deemed far less important than the theft of a beehive and the joys of a train ride from Holyhead to Cardiff (a large chunk of which passes through Western England anyway). At least The Conversation has a 'Wales editor'; the Graun hasn't even had a specific Welsh Affairs correspondent since the eighties to the best of my knowledge.
And the Abu bin-Dependent? Nada, nowt, dim byd, wala shay.
The consequence of all this being that not only the population of the rest of this island, but a large proportion of the population of what is increasingly no more than Western Greater England, will think that those half-million hardy souls who speak an indigenous language other than English are, a) freeloaders, b) backward peasants, and c) doing it just to annoy, or to be 'racist' against the English (especially when they walk into our pubs, where we have been happily speaking English all night, but then suddenly switch to our own language just to piss off Conor from Behrk-ned).
We obviously can't look for succour to the faux-liberals of Media England, so it's time we did it for ourselves. The first step must be a campaign of refusal to fund the BBC for as long as it behaves in such an arrogant and ignorant fashion. This must be followed by support for the growing independent media sector, such as Nation.Cymru and, possibly, even speaking our own language in our own pubs, shops and streets whenever we see a colonist approaching and refusing to change to his language. Then they, like their soulmates amongst the Christian fundies of America who think that they are s-o-o-o oppressed (try your tricks in Saudi, Bubba, and see how that turns out for ya), they might finally get what it's like to be on the shitty end of the stick.