TG4 has put language back in Ireland’s cultural life

Farrel Corcoran was involved with TG4, or TnaG as it was on the day it launched ten years ago. In a debate around language that has often become distracted on politics and an often disabling obsession with tokenism, TG4, he believes is a perfect example of how utility has succeeded when given its head:

It was never going to be easy, not just because of severe resource limitations but because of the hostile ideological environment, policed by a small number of newspaper pundits trying to shout down the message from opinion polls showing broad support for public funding of broadcasting in Irish.

It was clear by the 1980s that the old polarised ways in which we thought about Irish were changing. Insistence on a highly prescriptive sense of Irish identity, based on claustrophobic policies that held sway since Independence, began to wane, as did its opposite, the post-colonial shame that associated the Irish language with backwardness.

Deepening contact with the EEC fostered the novel idea that linguistic minorities in all parts of Europe should have a “right to communicate”. This new self-confidence was put to the test in the campaigns of the 1980s to establish a Gaeltacht television service, a reaction to the arrival of S4C in Wales and to the perceived marginalisation of Irish language programming in RTÉ, where commercial pressure to maximise audience size was getting intense. Those campaigns were a direct riposte to what Gaeltacht activists rightly saw as political dithering and posturing in Dublin.

What has changed in the 10 years since the launch of TG4 and how do we evaluate its current role in Irish society?

For media critics working totally within a market ideology, with no interest in TG4’s actual output, the only question has been its audience share. In fact, TG4 has managed to increase its audience each year, to the point where its share is now five times greater than when it started.

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  • Oillibhear Chromaill

    No doubt Farrel is correct in that TG4 is succeeding – it’s too early to say whether it’s succeeded just yet.

    The reason TG4 came about however was because of RTé’s failure to engage with the Irish language in a meaningful way – in fact it’s disengagement was the main reason. And that was at a time when Farrel Corcoran was Chairman of the RTE authority.

    Since the advent of TG4, there’s been less and less Irish language on RTE and more and more Americana – is there any channel in the world that broadcasts as many repeats of The Simpsons and Friends as RTE2?

    Typical of this disengagement is RTE’s refusal to cover any of the events associated with Oireachtas na Gaeilge (in its mainstream programmes)which is ongoing in Derry – only the second time the annual Conradh na Gaeilge fest with Sean Nós singing and dancing, agallaimh beirte and luibíní and a whole host of other activities are ongoing over this weekend. Also not up to the mark are our local media – the Irish News, which presumed to enter a competition for the contract for an Irish language daily newspaper recently (and was roundly rejected), BBC NI, UTV etc – they have all failed miserably to cover the event.

    Not so, naturellement, Lá.

  • páid

    Ceapaim go bhfuil tú beagánín crua ar Farrel, OC. Is cuimhin liom go maith an-litir a scríobh sé ar son TnaG asan Irish Times nuair a bhí an díospóireacht faoi lán-seol, agus am nach raibh TG4 chomh faisiúnta is atá sé inniu.

    Maidit leis an Oireachtas, buel, tá a sianel féin againn anois agus chlúdaidh siad an Oireachtas aréir, is beidh tuilleadh ann. Tá an rogha ann, ma tá fáil agat ar TG4. Ó thaobh an teanga de, is cuma liomn anois faoi RTÉ BBC is uile, fad is atá TG4 ann.

  • Nathan

    “What has changed in the 10 years since the launch of TG4 and how do we evaluate its current role in Irish society? ”

    Continuity – remains a channel which serves a miniscule section of the population on a full time basis i.e. the Irish language audience of around 3%.

    Change – Offers a variety of programmes to suit different tastes e.g. travel, music, drama, comedy etc. Thus, more deserving of a wider audience and better appreciation than 10 years ago.

    TG4 needs to get Millward Brown IMS on the case if it wants an impartial evaluation of its current role in Irish society.