From Mark Lawson’s TV review column in The Guardian, 24 June 2010.
Welsh language speakers were invited to snitch in their native tongue. Why does the BBC deem this desirable?
An odd little moment on this month’s Crimewatch (BBC1) offered an Identikit sketch of a wider menace facing British broadcasting. Following a report on a nasty murder in Wales, Kirsty Young made the habitual appeal for information, but this time with a twist. “There’s a Welsh-speaking officer in the studio, if you prefer to give your evidence in Welsh,” she reassured a percentage of a percentage of her audience. “That’s fine by us.”
This devolutionary courtesy raised a number of curious scenarios. A potential grass in Cardiff, perhaps, who watches TV in English but is happier snitching in Welsh, for reasons of either nationalism or security. Or possibly, a Pontypool couple of differing political opinions: the Anglophile wife knows that her husband has the inside track on a crime, but is also aware that he would rather a criminal remained at liberty than pass this knowledge to the cops in the oppressor dialect. She can yell up the stairs in Welsh to her husband that he can see justice done in his mother tongue.
The situation that the BBC actually imagines is more mundane. A subtitling facility will have been available for Young’s links and so it’s possible that a certain kind of viewer in the principality will have been prompted to come forward by the translation alone.
This moment, though, offers a microcosm of the broader problems for broadcasters in an increasingly devolved Britain. For practical and political reasons, networks cannot assume an audience all content with the Queen’s English; in the case of Crimewatch UK, there’s the additional factor that police investigations can be hampered by the inability or reluctance of some communities to speak in the language of most business conducted in Britain.
Logically, the trawl for Welsh evidence should have been made by the Cymru cop himself – even if this might have felt uneasy and exclusive to the vast majority of viewers. Broadcasting to the usual suspects doesn’t work; trying to reach a broader audience raises suspicions.
I’ve already left several comments on the Guardian’s site, so I won’t add more commentary here. This popped up in my Facebook feed this morning, and has been bouncing around Twitter all day. It’s encouraging that the comments on the Guardian’s site are almost without exception complaining about the tone and content of the piece, and that there’s a mix of English posters amongst the outraged Cymry.