Saturday, November 13, 2010

Could devolved broadcasting powers unlock some extra flair and imagination?

I happened to see an episode of the Gaelic documentary series Eòrpa last night for the first time in ages. It told the compelling tale of a German sailor whose body was washed up on a rocky beach in Skye in 1945, and of the lifelong effect the incident had on the 17-year-old boy who found him, Angus MacPhee. The programme placed an ad in a local newspaper in the sailor's home town in Germany, and managed to track down his youthful great-niece, who was thrilled and extremely moved to travel to Scotland on behalf of her family and meet Angus.

One question that formed in my mind as I watched the programme was - how did such an obscure piece of history, and the highly personal tale that accompanied it, ever come to be explored with such care, and in such depth, by a major broadcaster? And of course the answer was obvious enough - Angus is a Gaelic-speaker, and thus the story could be authentically told (in part) in Gaelic. With a language community merely numbering in the tens of thousands to work with, Gaelic programme-makers have no choice but to pro-actively get out there, uncover fresh stories no matter how low-key or offbeat, and try to find the imagination to bring them vividly to life.

That's not an indictment of Gaelic broadcasting in any way - we need much more of it, and it also needs a far higher profile and more investment. But I can't help thinking that there must be an even greater untapped potential for flair and imagination in English-language (and perhaps Scots-language) programming made in and for Scotland that could be released if only broadcasting powers were devolved.

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