This article considers the role and place of Gaelic television output looking at how Gaelic content was delivered prior to the creation of BBC Alba in 2008 and up to the present day. It compares the contradictory way in which it is has been viewed externally by non-Gaelic speakers and how people working in Gaelic broadcasting have responded to a perception that across Scotland the language, and therefore Gaelic programming, has little value.
The 20th century has seen seismic changes in Gaelic, moving from being spoken only within Gaelic communities to a recognised language of Scotland through the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act (2005). This change began in the 1970s with a growth of language activism and a nurturing of traditional culture, and was further supported by European legislation that protected minority languages and cultures. BBC Scotland’s Gaelic output had a significant role to play in what has been termed the ‘Gaelic Renaissance’, with Macdonald (1997) arguing for its importance within a wider movement of ‘ethno nationalism within Europe’.
The article not only considers the political importance of Gaelic language broadcasting, but it also interrogates BBC Alba’s curatorial role in mediating memory and cultural heritage. It considers the types of programmes that BBC Gaelic television has broadcast, from the influential European current affairs series ‘Eòrpa’ to documentary series that reflect back to a community its culture and history, and also open this up to a wider, global audience.
Through interviews with key personnel, the article maps the influence of Gaelic broadcasting on Scotland, its role in ‘normalising’ the language, and its contribution to halting language decline. It further discusses the more general influence of broadcasters from a Gaelic background on BBC Scotland, given the preponderance of Gaels currently in senior positions.
MACDONALD, S. 1997. Reimagining Culture: Histories, Identities and the Gaelic Renaissance. Oxford and New York: Berg.