by Gemma Annwyn
Tweet Follow @Butterfly_Reb
Theresa May’s surprise announcement of a snap general election has reinvigorated those opposed to Tory domination, the various nationalists and the anti-Brexiters heading back out to make their voices heard. In response, the BBC quickly kicked into election mode: reporters popped up across the United Kingdom to give an insight on how the election would play out in each nation. Calls for independence will dominate debates in Scotland, while questions over a post-Brexit border in Northern Ireland is stirring up an already tumultuous political landscape.
Both Scotland and Northern Ireland are posing serious threats to the Westminster political system. And with the looming Brexit fanning the flames, the two nations are now throwing the United Kingdom into an existential crisis.
But what about Wales?
The BBC’s coverage of Wales and the implications of the election was tame in comparison to the other Celtic nations. We were downgraded to a shorter time slot and there was less to say, a passing thought that didn’t stray too far from England’s own interests. Placid Wales, is what they seemed to say, the best behaved of the Celtic nations. But is there really nothing happening in our small nation that is worth reporting?
Wales is currently in a state of political contradiction – One of the most striking paradoxes of last year’s referendum was that the people of Wales voted to leave the European Union, despite being one of the largest beneficiaries of EU funding across the entire continent. This seemingly self-destructive act has been repeatedly brought up in debate, as if to demonstrate the ignorance and naivety of the Welsh people.
However, while many have been quick to deride the Welsh electorate for voting against their own interests, far fewer have stopped to consider the reasons behind their decision. Yes, Wales did vote to leave the EU, but why? What compelled us to spite our own face?
The truth is that we didn’t have all the facts. And this is not another tirade against the fake news campaign, abhorrent though it was during the referendum. Rather, the point here is the complete absence of Welsh information for Welsh voters: not only during the EU referendum but also in the upcoming snap election, and more generally in the day-to-day.
The crux of the issue is the lack of a Welsh-centric media presence. A recent report by the Institute of Welsh Affairs warned that “the sources of information for debate and scrutiny about our government, culture and identity are drying up”. In the last decade, funding for Welsh TV and radio broadcasting has plummeted: between the BBC and ITV spending has decreased from £39m to £27m. The number of journalists employed in Wales has fallen and many regional newspapers have closed down. And more worryingly, last year a study revealed that less than 5% of Welsh inhabitants read Welsh newspapers. We simply don’t know about Welsh issues.
A strong media presence is at the heart of any advanced civil society. It is the medium through which ideas travel, discussions sparked, and national identities fostered. In a sense, the media embodies the very spirit of a nation.
Although in Wales we enjoy developed devolved institutions which serve our country, what happens in Cardiff remains a mystery to the majority of the public – talking to the locals on the streets of any Welsh town would likely reveal that very few inhabitants know who represents them in the National Assembly for Wales, or even the name of the First Minister. But this is not their fault, nor can we blame poor Carwyn – he and his Ministers rarely feature in the news.
The lack of Welsh media, both in the Welsh and English languages, represents a huge democratic deficit in our society. Without a strong Welsh alternative to English media, Wales becomes merely an extension of England, with a continually weakened identity. As Scotland and Northern Ireland continue to be strengthened by their robust media outlets, Wales without Welsh media will begin to fade evermore into the background. This is the issue that we should be addressing in Wales, as a matter of urgency.
Theresa May has called this election because she believes that she can win an even larger majority across the United Kingdom and secure a strong mandate for her vision of a hard Brexit. But it also gives those of us opposed to a Conservative government an opportunity to speak out about the destructive path that she seems bent on following. In the context of Wales, we must seize upon this opportunity to stir our small nation, and open up our own discussion about our needs and interests. From the clamour of today’s British politics, Wales needs to awaken from its political inertia and rediscover its voice.
Gemma Annwyn is a recent MPhil graduate in Race Ethnicity Conflict from North Wales. She is passionate about Wales and her national identity. She is currently working to set up a collaborative blog on Welsh politics, and the Butterfly Rebellion is truly honoured to host her debut article.
The Butterfly Rebellion