The BBC is letting Wales down by not covering the Eisteddfod in English

The National Eisteddfod sign in Llanrwst. Picture by Ifan Morgan Jones.

Leigh Jones

The National Eisteddfod is the largest annual cultural event in Wales – usually drawing more than 150,000 visitors across the course of a week.

The event that is being held in Llanrwst this week is a summer highlight for a huge number of Welsh-speakers – a centuries-old celebration of cultural and artistic expression that’s unique to Wales.

Last year’s event in Cardiff Bay, which unlike previous years was free to enter, opened the doors to Welsh language culture to thousands of curious locals.

The BBC does an excellent job of covering the Eisteddfod in Welsh, with wall-to-wall coverage on S4C, Radio Cymru and the BBC Cymru Fyw website.

The only outside broadcasts made by the BBC that are bigger are their coverage of Wimbledon and Glastonbury (and Glastonbury is the biggest outside broadcast in the world).

However, unless you speak Welsh it is likely the event will pass you by completely. You may not even realise it’s on at all.

With this in mind, it is massively disappointing that BBC Wales chooses to provide almost no coverage whatsoever of the festival in the English language.

Last week, BBC Wales News had a banner at the bottom of its homepage with a litany of stories from the brilliant Homeless World Cup, held in Cardiff. This was a simple, but highly effective way of drawing attention to a fantastic event in the capital.

It turned out to be blind optimism on my part to believe that they could use the same feature to draw attention to the largest cultural event in the nation.

The contrast with the way the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show was covered by BBC Wales is clear. It featured four excellent half-hour highlight programmes on BBC Wales at the end of July. Why can’t the same thing be done for the Eisteddfod?

The cameras are already there, the broadcasters are there, and I’m sure that all of those who are attending in any capacity would love to share the Eisteddfod with those in Wales who do not speak the language.

Unfortunately, as a result of the lack of coverage, the only non-Welsh speaking audiences hear about the Eisteddfod is when it’s in the news for the wrong reasons.

The Gorsedd on the move. Picture by National Assembly (CC BY 2.0)

Responsibility

Whether one speaks the language or not, these traditions and practices that make up the Eisteddfod belong to all the people of Wales – and one needs no knowledge of the language to appreciate the talent on display in most of the competitions.

The Eisteddfod played a key part in the Welsh revival of the 19th century and, it could be argued, protected Welsh cultural identity from being swept up and entirely consumed by imperial British nationalism of the Victorian age.

That the Eisteddfod persists to this day is miraculous, and is a testament to the strength of its cultural importance to Wales. For the national broadcaster to deny an English speaking audience access to this is, in my opinion, a dereliction of responsibility.

It’s time to stop thinking about Welsh-speaking and English speaking Wales as two binary communities living side by side. Hundreds of thousands on non-Welsh speakers in Wales have some Welsh language ability and most will have some connection with those taking part in the Eisteddfod.

For Welsh to thrive as a daily language, it cannot be segregated. One of the main purposes of the Eisteddfod is to show off the riches of Welsh language culture and inspire people to learn the language, and it can only do that if it reaches non-Welsh speakers.

Surveys have shown again and again that the people of Wales who don’t speak it support the Welsh language. Support would no doubt increase again if the rich culture associated with the language was on full display.

The fear may be that English coverage of the event would draw viewers and listeners away from S4C and Radio Cymru. But the English language coverage would not need to match the Welsh language in scope, or even cover the same material – what is needed is to give English language audiences a taste of what is going on.

I hope that BBC Cymru Wales’ Head of Commissioning, Nick Andrews, reads this, and I invite him to respond. You are responsible for the commissioning of content for radio, TV and online – why aren’t you using the resources at hand to share the most amazing cultural event in Wales with the people you should be serving?

Ultimately, all the people of Wales deserve access to the culture of their own nation in all its manifestations, and as a public broadcaster, the BBC has a responsibility to give them that access.

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Alwyn & Zohrah EvansRhosdduJonathon GammondLisaMawkernewek Recent comment authors
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Paul Green
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Paul Green

Welsh subtitles on S4C missing too – they would help Welsh learners and people with hearing loss

Carole
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Carole

This is the in,y purely WELSH festival. It should not be watered down.The obvious answer on TV is to provide subtitles. Greater exposure on the BBC or even a mention on NAtional News would help.

Richard Huw Morgan
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Richard Huw Morgan

I don’t think anyone is suggesting,watering it down’, and I don’t think simply subtitling would help introduce non Welsh speakers to the context of the festival in the same way as dedicated highlights programmes…as there have been in the past. Ps, the Eisteddfod only introduced the ‘Welsh language only’ rule in 1950. What the article is highlighting is that there is a difference between Welsh culture and the Welsh language, a culture that deserves to be shared with non-Welsh speakers

Arwel Jones
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Arwel Jones

The same is true of the Urdd National Eisteddfod. The commitment non Welsh-speaking parents (the majority?) make to the Urdd is immense, you only have to walk the maes tobrealise that. Yet that potential audience and all the nains, taids, mam-gus and tad-cus to boot, is ignored. This is wrong as well as being a missed opportunity.

Pete Rogers
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Pete Rogers

Excellent article. I agree 100%. BBC Wales isn’t worthy of the name. They have always been obsessed with Cardiff and if it doesn’t fit their glorification of Cardiff campaign they don’t want to know.

Hywel Moseley
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Hywel Moseley

The article is spot-on. I have nothing to say about the BBC’s obsessions if any, but it is a pity and a missed opportunity not to cover the Eisteddfod. It would be of interest to non-Welsh speakers; so surely it ought to have extensive coverage.

Trefor Glyndwr Jones
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Trefor Glyndwr Jones

Having devoted the full weight of resources to the Eisteddfod it seems to me a missed opportunity to engage with the whole of Wales..The 1950 date was quite symbolic in my life as it was about the time I lost the last vestige of speaking welsh.,the only language I used on going to primary school in Rhyl in 1942..More communication is the way forward.

Lin
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Lin

Sorry but this is a celebration of all that is welsh, the english did their best to kill off the language by their arrogance and self styled belief of supremacy in the uk. It is right that the programmes should be entirely in welsh & that those annoying english subtitles should only be an option. I tuned into the royal Welsh on s4c & listening to some bloke whining in English over what was being said in welsh only resulted in me turning off the annoying translation. And when it comes to learning any language,the last thing you need is… Read more »

Stuart Stanton
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Stuart Stanton

Interesting paper, by no means radical enough. This is the first time in nine years I am not attending the Eisteddfod and there is one, simple to say, reason – the fence has gone back up and the tickets have to be purchased. One reason the Welsh language is in such a parlous condition is that it insists on hiding itself away, behind fences and admission tickets the whole year long. The statistics behind last year’s free-to-air and free-for-all Eisteddfod are astonishing. Attendance – more or less 450.000; financial shortfall approx. £270,000; price per head of exposure to the Language… Read more »

Mawkernewek
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“The BBC does an excellent job of covering the Eisteddfod in Welsh, with wall-to-wall coverage on S4C, Radio Cymru and the BBC Cymru Fyw website.” So is S4C officially no longer an independent broadcaster and now just another BBC outlet? It might be nice to have an S4C2 channel for people who want to want anything else apart from the Eisteddfod this week. Even if such a channel mainly showed repeats it would at least make them available on catch-up again as well – though it would be better if the archive that has been funded mainly by public money… Read more »

Lisa
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Lisa

Actually, there is a programme on the BBC tonight “Eisteddfod 2019 with Jason Mohammad” covering the National Eisteddfod in English
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b092jrpx/episodes/guide

Alwyn & Zohrah Evans
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Alwyn & Zohrah Evans

Excellent programme – but should have been nightly rather than one compendium

Jonathon Gammond
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Jonathon Gammond

The Eisteddfod costs a huge amount to organize like any festival and no one suggests that the Hay Festival, Glastonbury, Womad, the Edinburgh Festival or the Llangollen International Eisteddfod should be free. (They all cost more per hour than the Eisteddfod to attend.) Most festivals need a variety of income sources: central government, local government, business sponsors, charities, local fundraising and ticket income. Charging for entry keeps a focus on ensuring the event is entertaining and enjoyable as that is the only reason many, if not most, people will come through the gates, otherwise it could get it a bit… Read more »

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

The Eisteddfod must remain Welsh-language-only, of course, but I’d welcome BBC4 doing what they did three years ago, namely sending that female DJ from Newport to interview vsitors to the Maes in English and giving an English-language commentary but also fetauring some of the (Welsh-language) events. My mam says that Jason Mohammed is doing something similar tonight (Wednesday). If you can stomach Mohammed, it’ll go some way towards giving the Eisteddfod the higher profile it deserves among those whose Welsh is poor or non-existent.