This is an adaptation of an article which originally appeared in Welsh in the magazine O’r Pedwar Gwynt. Thank you to the author and the magazine for giving Undod permission to republish it.

Before we start, let us accept a basic truth: there is nothing inherently Welsh about the Welsh media, and there is no such thing as a Welsh public sphere. The extent and consequences of this have been ably documented and analysed countless times, but to summarise: the average Welsh resident goes through their day learning almost nothing of the political machinations that govern their lives, be that their local council, the Welsh Assembly, or the UK government in Westminster. This is, evidently, a gravely unhealthy situation for the rump democracy that is the devolved Welsh state.

Thankfully, many Welsh residents have recognised the dire consequences of this degradation, and are seeking to germinate a grassroots public sphere through their own journalistic endeavours, which largely exist outside of what is usually called the ‘mainstream media’. This presents a genuine opportunity for something radically different: a Wales in which citizens are empowered to represent themselves, conduct their own affairs, and control their own discourse.

Perhaps understandably, given the shortcomings of our current mainstream media institutions, the immediate, primary concern of much of these new ‘alternative’ media outlets is to help create a public sphere that is Wales-focused and truly nationwide.

Unfortunately, despite these bold and noble aims, this nation-building runs the risk of prematurely homogenising what is still, for better or worse, a fairly nebulous, fragmented conception of ‘Welshness’, which can often lead to the erasure of class antagonisms and marginalised groups, with already-dominant voices largely retaining the privilege, platform and power they enjoy in the UK political sphere.

Despite this burgeoning alternative public sphere of the ‘New Wales’, the questions we should be asking of our longstanding institutions still remain. Namely, who has a voice in the Welsh media? Are these voices equal? What ‘truths to power’ are being spoken? And most crucially of all, perhaps: are these new media platforms building a positive vision of our proposed future society, capable of keeping out right-wing, bigoted, ethno-nationalist tendencies that tend to get inadvertently swept along in fervent, fractured times such as these?

This focus on ‘the national sphere’ above all else belies the key flaw with the Welsh alternative media as it currently stands: it simply platforms a sense of national Welshness, without making coherent gestures towards what a reformed Welsh state and society could and should look like. The concept of Wales and Welshness thus becomes a master-signifier with no fixed meaning, which allows already-dominant politics to fill this ideological void and maintain their existing power. If we wish to free Wales of the stultifying effect of its current public sphere, our new platforms will be grossly inadequate if they merely replicate its extant power dynamics.

To radically reimagine Welsh society so it serves to improve the lives of all who live here, we need to radically rethink how our media and public sphere function, and ensure that these new platforms help achieve such an overhaul. A key first step in this is ensuring we address the balance of power with regards to who is given a voice, and which ideas we agitate to give primacy in Welsh society.

To truly create something new, to forge a different path, it will be essential to create a public sphere that is not just an alternative to the existing order and all its structural inequalities, but is radically opposed to everything that constitutes this status quo, be it capitalism, British imperialism, patriarchy, white supremacy, and so forth. This current hegemony, which governs the common sense of all social and economic relations, is, as Raymond Williams tells us, a totality:

‘which is not merely secondary or superstructural, like the weak sense of ideology, but which is lived at such a depth, which saturates the society to such an extent, and which…even constitutes the substance and limit of common sense for most people under its sway’1

This is what our new public sphere is up against. It is therefore wholly inadequate to merely reproduce the structures and false civilities of the British hegemonic media and drape a Welsh flag over it. Nor is it simply a case of ensuring that the people of Wales have access to Welsh information’, as

‘hegemony has the advantage over general notions of totality, that it at the same time emphasizes the facts of domination.’2

Thus the power of hegemony is that its totality allows it to easily incorporate any dissent that merely presents itself as an alternative mediator of the same old common sense. And so, to a certain extent, the current Welsh media — both mainstream and alternative — is simply British capitalism recuperating itself.

Thus what we really need is not an alternative media, but an oppositional one. As Williams writes:

‘There is a simple theoretical distinction between alternative and oppositional, that is to say between someone who simply finds a different way to live and wishes to be left alone with it, and someone who finds a different way to live and wants to change the society in its light. This is usually the difference between individual and small-group solutions to social crisis and those solutions which properly belong to political and ultimately revolutionary practice.’3

So what is our alternative media really creating an alternative to? Eviscerating signifiers of Britishness from our ‘national’ culture, but retaining almost everything that makes it so destructive?

The Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo

This evisceration of Britishness and the desired ascendency of Welshness is often presented inside a Trojan horse of democratisation, but this pretence remains a husk. A true democratisation of our media should mirror Williams’ conception of a transformation of wider society into a:

‘genuine democracy, in which the human needs of all the people in the society are taken as the central purpose of all social activity, so that politics is not a system of government but of self-government, and the systems of production and communication are rooted in the satisfaction of human needs and the development of human capacity.’4

This democratisation isn’t achieved just by redressing what subject matters (or ‘niche issues’, as some might say) are worthy of discussion, but thinking hard about who has a voice and who owns the means of discursive production.

Ultimately, a truly alternative radical Welsh media should exist to platform voices that correctly diagnose our current crises, and set out the frameworks we need to overcome them. Until we achieve this, we are doomed to calcify our problems and repeat the same mistakes we have always made, only now we can call them Welsh problems, Welsh mistakes. While that may be satisfactory for reactionary voices who already have power, it does nothing for the Welsh citizens whose voices need to be heard and empowered the most, and is therefore not yet fit for purpose.

[1] Raymond Williams, ‘Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory’ in Culture and Materialism (London: Verso, 2005), pp. 31–49 (p.37).

[2] Ibid, p.37.

[3] Ibid, p.41–42.

[4] Williams, ‘Advertising: The Magic System’ in Culture and Materialism, pp.170–195 (p187).

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