The latest audience figures for Wales’ only national English language radio service, where the Editor has already come under fire after The Eye exclusively revealed that he had an affair with one of his presenters, show that fewer people are tuning in than this time last year, and only slightly more in the monthly quarter despite massive investment, it has emerged.
One listener has described them to us as “abysmal”.
The ‘RAJAR’ statistics for BBC Cymru Wales Radio Wales (BBC CW RW) reveal a year-on-year drop of more than four per cent and come hard on the heels of the Editor Colin Paterson presiding over other record-breaking low listening figures.
We have disclosed how a different listener to BBC CW RW has in the past formally complained about Mr Paterson having been in a relationship with presenter Lucy Owen, and that his officials had commissioned a programme which she presented. These latest ‘abysmal’ RAJAR figures will only compound his problems.
But Mr Paterson and his radio station have been no strangers to other difficult headlines, with the affair among them. A complaint went to leading Welsh Government (WG) ministers alleging that BBC CW RW has “declined dramatically” and is “dumbing down” under his stewardship.
This complaint, earlier this year, from a licence fee-payer about the service says that it is “littered with presenter led record programmes and chat”, and was sent initially to the First Minister of Wales (FMW) Mark Drakeford MS then passed to the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism (DMCST) Dafydd Elis-Thomas MS.
The emailed protest on February 8 declared: “In recent years news and current affairs has declined dramatically to the point where the station is now littered with presenter led record programmes and chat… The station has lost 47,000 listeners in the last three months and has reached the point where 95% of the country never tune in”.
Even amid growing concerns about listening figures, Mr Paterson’s then lover Ms Owen proclaimed the importance of travelling by bus to work in a tweet he has ‘liked’.
Despite an official denial, to the angry listener the affair represented a huge potential conflict of interest because his officials had commissioned the BBC CW RW programme hosted by Ms Owen called ‘Sunday morning with Lucy Owen’, and media executives both inside and outside the corporation have told us that they are worried about their partnership’s possible impact on the process.
Mr Paterson’s employer BBC Cymru Wales (BBC CW) has also hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The Eye divulged how an extraordinary political row developed when the former leader of the Conservatives in the Welsh Parliament/Senedd (WP) accused on social media, BBC CW of a “link” with nationalist party Plaid Cymru (PC) and said that it was “unhealthy”. In a highly unusual move the Director of BBC CW, Rhodri Talfan Davies, used Twitter to defend the decision to ask the PC leader on to a programme discussing major events, saying the Welsh Conservatives had not accepted the invitation. Yet in another tweet former Welsh Conservative leader in the WP Andrew RT Davies MS said he stood by his original point.
The astounding spat over alleged links between PC and BBC CW came after growing concern about figures who have joined the corporation from PC, and those that have moved in the other direction.
The political journalist at BBC CW Aled ap Dafydd became PC’s Director of Political Strategy and External Relations, and other top level journalists have also joined PC in the past, with politicians on the left and right in Wales accusing the corporation of being a hotbed of Welsh nationalism.
Mr ap Dafydd’s move followed the appointment of another senior executive who travelled the other way.
The former PC Chief Executive Rhuanedd Richards was named as the Editor of BBC Radio Cymru and the Welsh language online service, Cymru Fyw, despite the fact that she had also been for four years, a special adviser to former deputy first minister and PC leader at the time Ieuan Wyn Jones. The PC MS for Ynys Mon Rhun ap Iorwerth was also formerly a leading political journalist at BBC CW, joining the corporation in 1994.
There has too been mounting concern, as disclosed on The Eye, that the staff of Mr Davies have still not moved into their new £100 million headquarters, and may not now do so until at least late Summer or even the Autumn (more than two and a half years following it being handed over), and that his organisation refused an interview with our Editor Phil Parry, even though he said BBC CW would be “more accessible”.
He has also faced enormous anger that popular programmes were axed while another which WAS commissioned, was described as “embarrassingly unfunny”, and the unbelievable sequence of events have become a target of our satirical writer Edwin Phillips.
Mr Davies’ flagship evening television news programme showed an awful mistake which made headlines in England. BBC Wales Today (WT) used a picture of Brighton Pavilion during its coverage of the start of the hugely important Muslim month of Ramadan mistaking it for a mosque, and the error was then featured in the Brighton Argus.
The performance of Mr Davies’ junior, Mr Paterson, at BBC CW RW has also been open to question, with these latest RAJAR listening figures making grim reading for him.
Previous ones have revealed a drop on three years ago, a massive decline on the year before that, and how more than 40,000 listeners have been lost in the previous three months, despite the huge amount of money which has been spent on new schedules.
The earlier figures also showed that the total listening hours were 2,667,000, down from 3,074,000 in September, but up from 2,147,000 in December 2018. The listener average per week was 8.2 hours, down from 8.4 hours in September, but up from 6.8 hours in December 2018, and the market share was just 5.5 per cent, down from 6.0 per cent in September.
After these numbers were published, a prominent figure described on Wikipedia as one of the main presenters on BBC CW RW at its launch, renewed his call for Mr Paterson and his superior, the Director, Mr Davies, to resign, and that they should be more responsive to their audience.
Mike Flynn told The Eye exclusively: “Both of these so called media executives (Mr Davies and Mr Paterson) are answerable to the public who pay their salaries via the licence fee”.
With the terrible inaccuracy on WT, for which Mr Davies must take ultimate responsibility, programme-makers used a picture of the pavilion during its coverage of the start of Ramadan, and the fault was then featured in the Brighton newspaper.
One Twitter user complained: “BBC Wales showing a picture of the Brighton Pavilion and getting it confused for a mosque when talking about Ramadan is kind of f****d?”.
Mr Flynn was equally unimpressed by our revelation of Mr Paterson’s affair with Ms Owen. He told us: “If Paterson has been having an affair with a Wales Today and Radio Wales presenter it brings his management skills in to question and he needs to be suspended immediately”.
But there has been a huge shake up in the line up at BBC CW RW as Mr Paterson has struggled to combat the low audience figures. He has described the new line up as a “creative challenge” and the RAJARs have made the scale of the challenge clear, revealing that his station had an average weekly audience of just 317,000 listeners in one three month period.
Among the changes that were announced in a bid to stem the tide of disastrous listening statistics was the new breakfast programme hosted by different presenters on Monday to Thursday, to Fridays and Saturdays.
Yet one contributor to the Digital Spy online forum has said in the past that ‘Breakfast with Claire Summers‘ (which replaced Good Morning Wales [GMW]): “… sounds like a community radio station bloody awful. Woman presenter has a grating voice and is fluffing her lines. Morning news programme should contain news”.
Other BBC CW RW listeners who contributed to the forum were equally scathing about recent RAJARs. One said: “I do get the impression that Ulster and Scotland do a good job of being part of their country’s internal conversation. I’m not sure that Radio Wales has the same status.”
The Deputy Economy Minister in Wales Lee Waters MS has said publicly he is worried by what is happening and that there should be ‘serious’ and ‘challenging’ journalism, as well as objecting to the decision to drop the GMW programme.
Mr Waters (himself a former producer on GMW) said the changes meant there would be “no serious news programme” broadcast at breakfast time. His comments echo statements on Twitter when he has called for more ‘challenging’ journalism.
He quoted approvingly a call for “… serious, challenging journalism and consistently high-quality radio programmes which make politicians nervous…” He has tweeted to BBC CW after the new schedule was announced: “Really concerned about this – absolutely nothing against Claire, but plenty against magazine format. We need agenda-setting news & scrutiny in this slot. You’re a national public service broadcaster. Where else are we going to get it?”.
The objections of Mr Waters have now been adopted by the Welsh Government.
He has expressed concern at the changes to Ofcom, which is the external regulator of the BBC’s television, radio and on-demand programmes. He said: “We feel that as a public service broadcaster, with a duty under its latest charter to reflect the nations, that they have an obligation to provide serious news and scrutiny. Just as BBC Scotland and BBC network do”.
But BBC CW remains fully behind the controversial changes to the RW schedule, saying it was “committed to delivering news to the widest audience”.
Apart from presenting BBC Wales Today and the RW programme, Ms Owen, also hosts the BBC One Wales (BBCW) consumer affairs programme ‘X-Ray’ with her husband, Rhodri, and has published a book which raises funds for the Noah’s Ark Charity for the Children’s Hospital of Wales called ‘Boo-a-bog In The Park’.
She proclaimed: “The story is about how a little boy gets though a situation that is challenging for him with the help of an imaginary friend. But it’s all about finding any way through a difficult time or situation. It’s been a real family affair, with Rhod translating, and Gabs (eight year old son) came (sic) up with idea for Boo-a-bog fun and games at the end of the book. And the link to the charity as well makes it extra special for us. The theme of the story feels a good fit with the charity”.
A theme of falling audience figures at BBC CW RW also ‘feels a good fit’.
It’s not ‘extra special’ though…
Our Editor Phil Parry’s memories of his extraordinary 36-year award-winning career in journalism as he was gripped by the incurable disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major new book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now!
If you need something to keep the children entertained during these uncertain times (in Welsh) try Ffwlbart Ffred about the amusing stories of Ffred and his pet.