As I’m sure many of my peers will write, Cardiff exceeded the highest of my expectations of what a city I had never heard of before could achieve. While there has been activity in the greater Cardiff area for a millennia, Cardiff as a city is but 112 years old, much younger than even most American cities and by far one of the youngest in Europe. Aside from some buildings and perhaps the 900 year old stone castle, it’s quite visible how young of a city it truly is.
It’s also one of the fastest growing cities in Europe, as evidenced by the large amount of cranes in the sky and buildings popping up around town. But let’s be clear, economic development is not what this post is about, nor what this class is about. While I very much enjoyed by time in Cardiff, especially with the fine folks from Golley Slater (seriously, they are truly amazing individuals), I came to Wales to discover the differences in media and its comparisons to that of what I know, the United States.
Two things in particular stuck out to me in my brief time in Cymru. One, the way in which the Devolved Parliament of Wales is attempting to prop up a dying language. And two, the presence and admiration of state media in the country, specifically the English based British Broadcasting Company (BBC).
Twenty eight percent of Welsh citizens speak, write, or read the Welsh Language. Much like discovering the large presence of the Goidelic language of Irish still in use throughout Ireland, this came as a large surprise to me, believing (ignorantly I suppose) that English would be essentially the only major spoken language throughout the British Isles. But that’s far from the case. Like in Ireland, the Welsh are very accommodating to their historic language, and it can be found throughout the country, with most public buildings having both languages posted, and again to my surprise, usually placing the Welsh version first.
This can be compared to the United States where in certain regions you may find Spanish (or in some northeastern locations, French), posted alongside an English message, but where the comparison stops is the reasoning behind the bilingual signage. In the United States, these signs are usually placed to help those with poor English skills navigate an area, whether they be immigrants from Spanish speaking countries such as Mexico, or just those who grew up speaking Spanish as their primary language, which is very common in the southwestern United States. Whereas in Wales and Ireland, the government’s aren’t so much trying to make the lives of those who speak Welsh or Irish easier (though still true), as much as they are trying to preserve one of the last bits of cultural and national identity that sets them apart from the English and rest of the British Isles. Very, very few actually speak Welsh or Irish as their primary language, but its presence on signs and throughout the countries would never lead you to believe that.
Another main difference between Wales (and the United Kingdom as a whole) and the United States and Ireland is the presence of the British Broadcasting Company. The BBC is a state-sponsored, public service broadcaster and the largest broadcast company (by employees) in the world. Angela Graham, a documentary filmmaker, faculty member at Cardiff University, and all around awesome person, told me in our short conversation that she believes the presence of the BBC is the biggest difference in mass media between Wales and Ireland. And that while Ireland does have large public broadcasters such as RTÉ and TG4, they don’t have the international reputation and trust that is found with the BBC.
This same thought applies to the United States as far as I’m concerned. Yes, we have the government supported Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which helps coordinate and run the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR), including Michigan State University’s very own WKAR, but these media entities don’t come anywhere close to comparing to the size, scope, and reputation of that of the BBC. What would that provide? A media presence that by law has to try its best to stay unbiased on certain issues, is able to support and subsidize new media that may not survive in a commercial aspect, and educate the public. Commercial television in the United States is and can be great, but a PBS and WKAR that could compete against commercial television would certainly have an interesting effect throughout the nation.
At last, and I’m sure much to the delight of many of my peers, today we travelled to our home for the next 16 days, London, England. London is an Alpha World City, a designation that is shared with only Paris, Tokyo, and New York City. It is England and the United Kingdom’s capital city, and the epicenter of media in the UK. To say I’m excited to be here and experience all that is around me is a gross understatement. Attempting to ignore the political undertones within, I’ll let The Clash take it from here.