After decades in the media and as the row grows over the correct title of Snowdown/Yr Wyddfa in the Snowdonia National Park/Eryri, here our Editor Phil Parry talks about why using accurate names has always been paramount.
Earlier he has described how he was helped to break into the South Wales Echo office car when he was a cub reporter, recalled his early career as a journalist, the importance of experience in the job, and making clear that the ‘calls’ to emergency services as well as court cases are central to any media operation.
He has also explored how poorly paid most journalism is when trainee reporters had to live in squalid flats, the vital role of expenses, and about one of his most important stories on the now-scrapped 53 year-old BBC Cymru Wales TV Current Affairs series he presented for 10 years, Week In Week Out (WIWO), which won an award even after it was axed, long after his career really took off.
Phil has explained too how crucial it is actually to speak to people, the virtue of speed as well as accuracy, why knowledge of ‘history’ is vital, how certain material was removed from TV Current Affairs programmes when secret cameras had to be used, and some of those he has interviewed.
‘Names Make News’ was the mantra I lived by, and was drummed into my head by successive News Editors (now known as ‘Content’ Editors).
Perhaps that should actually be ‘CORRECT Names Make News’.
This fundamental fact of journalism has been emphasised for me by the current row over ‘Snowdon’, and whether it should now be known by its Welsh language name of ‘Yr Wyddfa’.
It follows a motion brought by a Gwynedd councillor to the Snowdonia National Park Authority (SNPA) that they should be asked to refer to Snowdon as Yr Wyddfa, and Snowdonia as Eryri.
The SNPA has said the motion was not discussed at a recent meeting because the contentious proposal would be considered by a special task group, set up to adapt guidelines on the use of Welsh place names.
The plan was greeted with much mirth in the UK media and beyond.
It was even the butt of jokes on the satirical BBC TV programme ‘Have I Got News For You’.
There are, however, any number of historical precedents for such a change:
- Abyssinia, an ancient African kingdom, became Ethiopia.
- Angora, the home of angora goats, became Ankara, the capital of Turkey.
- Bohemia was a European kingdom, but after World War I, the Czech people of Bohemia and Moravia joined the Slovaks of Slovakia to form the country of Czechoslovakia (which was divided in 1993 into the Czech Republic and Slovakia).
- Burma, was renamed Myanmar in 1989 by the military government.
- Ceylon changed its name to Sri Lanka, which means ‘splendid thing’.
- Constantinople was named after the Roman emperor Constantine, but when the Turks captured the city, they renamed it Istanbul – its official name from 1930.
- Cambodia is now Kampuchea.
- Mesopotamia, the fertile plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, became Iraq.
- Peking is now known as Beijing.
- Persia changed to Iran.
- Prussia no longer exists, and after World War II, it was divided among Poland, East Germany, and the USSR.
- Southern Rhodesia is now Zimbabwe, while Northern Rhodesia is Zambia.
- Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, became Ho Chi Minh City when the communists took over the country.
- St. Petersburg changed to Petrograd and then to Leningrad, but in 1991 it was changed back to St. Petersburg.
- Siam is now Thailand.
- Tanganyika and Zanzibar, united to become one country, Tanzania.
- Zaire, the name of one of the largest countries in Africa, changed its name to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
There are many others.
For example Bombay became Mumbai, and Calcutta became Kolkata.
The argument in favour of many (although not all) of these changes is that the ‘new’ names aren’t new at all – they are what local people have called them all along, and the previous names were an imperialist imposition (as is the case, some say, with the names in Gwynedd).
In Wales what is or what is not, the ‘correct’ name for a place is a political minefield, which I am wary of entering.
Maybe Snowdonia should be re-named the Democratic Republic of Eryri!
Tomorrow – more disturbing revelations about Wales’ new ‘national’ newspaper, and the men behind it.
Phil’s memories of his astonishing decades long award-winning career in journalism (when using correct names was crucial) as he was gripped by the rare neurological disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now!