Apparently the reasoning behind the decision to put S4C in to the hands of the BBC is a lack of awareness in Westminster about the difference between the position of Gaelic in Scotland and Welsh in Wales. The Gaelic channel has been quite successful under the control of the Beeb, so the Welsh Language Channel could be run the same way seems to be the rationale.
I'm a relatively regular viewer of BBC Alba, I watch two or three programs every week, the channel broadcasts a number of extremely interesting documentary, historical and musical programs which are strong in content but tend to be weak in style.
For example I watched a program last week which discussed the way in which the poor in the highlands made beds of heather because no alternative bedding was available to them; something that I hadn't heard of before. The program was an eye opener, a testament to the ingenuity of man under the gravest circumstances, a great record of folk tradition, an education and extremely interesting, but in terms of broadcasting technique and quality it was weak. A Woman visited a man and said to him I understand that you know how to make a bed of heather. He answers yes I can-this is how it is done and then he makes a heather bed - a technically poor and cheap programme.
It is the kind of interesting material I want to see on S4C but not the kind of programme quality I want to see on S4C. But will this be the programme quality that is to be expected on S4BBC in the future?
BBC Alba was launched two years ago as an experiment; there was a review of its first two years this week. For viewers of BBC Alba the news is encouraging, the channel has been a success and will continue for at least another five years.
But some of the questions that are raised in the review are of concern! For example should the channel be broadcast on the internet, rather than on the TV? (Not at the moment because the availability of the web is weak in the areas where Gaelic is strongest - but it might be a possibility in the future)! Is that a potential future for S4BBC too?
The Corporation is reluctant to secure a slot for BBC Alba on Freeview in Scotland unless some radio channels are lost to make room for it. It is almost certain that BBC Alba will not be available on Freeview thorough the UK. Apparently up to one third of the viewers of S4C are outwith the borders of Wales, will S4BBC sacrifice those viewers in order to accommodate other channels, thus diluting the numbers who use Welsh language broadcasting?
Given that there are only around 70 thousand native Gaelic speakers left, the BBC must be congratulated for the excellent provision, given the linguistic circumstances, to Gaelic viewers via BBC Alba, but we must be careful that the corporation doesn't assume that the same level of provision will be adequate for three quarters of a million Welsh speakers too!