Thursday, 13 June 2013

Radio for Help
















The BBC reports that two new community radio stations, one Irish and one Ulster-Scots, are to be granted licences.

fUSe FM in Ballymoney has promised to "reflect the traditions, language and culture of Ulster Scots in Ballymoney and surrounding areas".

Whoever those "Ulster Scots" are — some definitions would include English-speaking evangelicals like Nelson McCausland while excluding native speakers such as the SDLP's Liam Logan. Far better to talk about "speakers".

The BBC's report set the Blether Region thinking of two German words. The first, Vorfreude, refers to the happy feeling of anticipation that one gets when contemplating a coming pleasure. The second, Schadenfreude, better known in these airts an pairts, refers to a perverse feeling of satisfaction derived from the misfortune of another.

It could of course be the case that the Ballymoney venture will be a roaring success, universally acclaimed by speakers of the dialect, including the substantial Catholic minority. On the other hand, the many and well-documented problems surrounding Ulster-Scots initiatives — problems to do with chauvinism, lacking authenticity, wayward financial management and a surprising lack of interest in Scots itself as a speech variety — do not bode well. Especially when, unlike the Ulster-Scots Agency, fUSe FM is presumably to be staffed mainly or wholly by volunteers.

The great beneficiary of such embedded dilettantism is of course the BBC, which for many decades played a decisive role in suppressing the UK's indigenous languages and grinding down its traditional dialects. Nowadays the BBC provides Welsh and Scottish Gaelic radio stations and, in Scotland, even BBC Alba. But speakers of both Scots and Irish have obvious and genuine cause for complaint. To put it bluntly, there is no convincing explanation why there should not be an Irish-language radio station in Northern Ireland — except the exercise of a tacit political veto (so much for BBC independence!). Similarly, although Scots is now de jure a language, the BBC has yet to make any substantial provision, presumably because it (correctly) interprets the official recognition accorded to it as a Civil Service buy-off, a sequined wooden spoon intended not to stir up change but to help the medicine go down.

The ideal solution for Scots broadcasting would perhaps be a joint Scottish-Northern Ireland radio station funded by the licence fee and run by the BBC. Germany and France have a shared TV arts channel called ARTE, despite the fact that they are different states with different languages. Scots and Ulster Scots are the same language in the same state. Along with quality, a further advantage would be that the sectarian elements present in so much Ulster-Scots promotion could be diluted (although Scotland has its own problems with sectarianism, they are not connected with Scots). And regular broadcasting in different forms of Scots would give the lie to any orra notions of Ulster languageness.

Ironically, it may take Scottish independence or the devolution of broadcasting (another buy-off) to achieve a Scots radio station. In either case, the BBC would soon bend to the prevailing political winds.

Here's to you, ARTE.

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