After a 23 year career with the BBC, and 38 years in journalism, (when he was trained to use clear and simple language, avoiding jargon), our Editor Phil Parry now explores how a controversial senior executive with the corporation in Wales has moved on, when he was at the helm as his radio service secured record low listening figures, and he conducted an affair with a married presenter even though his officials had commissioned a programme she fronted.
Earlier he has described how he was assisted in breaking 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 made 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 Wales TV Current Affairs series, 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.
He has disclosed as well why investigative journalism is needed now more than ever although others have different opinions, how the current coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdownis playing havoc with media schedules, and the importance of the hugely lower average age of some political leaders compared with when he started reporting.
It always amazes me that someone who has presided over a series of disasters, should move on to (apparently) higher things.
So it is with the man in charge of Wales’s only national English-language radio service.
The Editor of BBC Cymru Radio Wales (RW) and head of BBC Wales Sport (BBC W S), Colint Paterson, who, it has just been announced, is to be the “Senior Leader for the new BBC Audio Hub for Wales and Bristol”.
Rhuanedd Richards, (a former Chief Executive of Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru) Director of BBC Wales proclaimed in a release: “The new BBC Audio Hub is such an exciting development and I’m thrilled that Colin has been appointed to lead it. I know Colin will be ambitious in ensuring that the Hub becomes a centre of excellence in producing audio for the BBC radio networks and BBC Sounds. I also know that he will continue to value the importance of ensuring strong and authentic portrayal in the content that will be produced, and will work closely with BBC Cymru Wales as we share the stories and voices of our nation across the UK and beyond.
“I am very grateful to Colin for his leadership of BBC Radio Wales and BBC Wales Sport, and for his editorial vision which has attracted new audiences to our services and ensured greater creative diversity within our content.”
These comments are, however, intriguing in the circumstances.
The listening figures, recorded by the radio research organisation RAJAR, for the quarter ending December 2021, mark RW down from 5.9 to 5.3 per cent, as a share of the available Welsh audience, and reveal that nearly 95 per cent of people in Wales ignore the station completely, yet other radio stations in the UK have attracted a far greater audience share.
BBC Radio Ulster (RU) for example, has almost 21 per cent, while BBC Radio Scotland (RS) has 7.5 per cent, while RW is consistently the poorest performing of the three nations, and past years have been almost as bad for RW.
Local radio stations in England, meanwhile, are at 5.4 per cent.
In 2020 the equivalent figures revealed a slight increase on 2019 but a substantial drop compared with two years earlier, a massive decrease on the year before that, and how more than 40,000 listeners had been lost in one three month period, despite a huge amount of money being spent on new schedules. They also showed that the total listening hours were 2,667,000, down from 3,074,000 in September 2019 (although up from 2,147,000 in December 2018) and the share was just point two digits above where it is today.
A former radio executive, said: “It’s (the audience numbers) peaking at weekdays mid mornings, with Wynne Evans the only highlight. There’s an over reliance on celebrities who have little or no substance, and the breakfast programme is a disgrace. Paterson should go”.
I presented the lunchtime RW programme, Wales at One, the drive-time show Good Evening Wales, as well as the weekly debate series People’s Assembly, for seven years until 2006, so I think I have earned the right to say that I don’t know how much longer this situation can carry on.
Other controversial issues concerning Mr Paterson have also dogged him.
Journalists on The Eye have been alone in reporting that he had an affair with the presenter Lucy Owen, and the story about it was included in a remark concerning RW on the radio comments forum Digital Spy (DS), with the message above the link declaring “…the record low listening figures at Radio Wales under it’s (sic) current management (were) amplified this year by criticism from former award winning reporters and presenters”.
For many staff at BBC CW, Mr Paterson’s romance with the married Mrs Owen represented a major potential conflict of interest, because his own officials had commissioned a RW programme hosted by her, called ‘Sunday morning with Lucy Owen’, and media executives both inside as well as outside the corporation told The Eye that they were worried about their partnership’s possible impact on the process.
In the light of all this, even before Mr Paterson’s appointment as “Senior Leader for the new BBC Audio Hub for Wales and Bristol”, former senior presenters called for his resignation (and that of his contentious boss, the Director of BBC Cymru Wales [BBC CW] Rhodri Talfan Davies).
Mike Flynn (one of the main RW presenters at its launch) told The Eye: “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 and should resign. But they are frightened to reveal the audience for the abysmal Claire Summers programme that replaced Good Morning Wales (GMW). I would like to know what the real figures are across daytimes and weekends and how they waste over £18 million. It is about time they started to answer a few questions”.
Mr Flynn was equally unimpressed by The Eye’s disclosure of Mr Paterson’s relationship with Mrs Owen. He told us: “If Paterson has been having an affair with a Wales Today and Radio Wales presenter it brings his (Mr Davies’) management skills in to question and he needs to be suspended immediately”.
When Mr Paterson’s former paramour, Mrs Owen, was newsreading on BBC Wales Today (WT), programme-makers used a picture of Brighton Pavilion during coverage of the start of the hugely important Muslim month of Ramadan instead of a mosque, and the mistake was then featured in the Brighton Argus.
Bizarrely, Mr Paterson had also retweeted details of lockdown restrictions from his own radio station which covered the Christmas period before last, even though he had apparently broken them himself, by going to Ogmore near Bridgend on Christmas day 2020.
Mr Paterson’s reliance on ‘celebrity’ in radio programmes has also come under scrutiny. After we reported several years ago that angry listeners had contacted The Eye once it emerged the programme of singing star and broadcaster Aled Jones was suddenly dropped from the airwaves with RW, came news of a very different sort.
On November 4 in 2017 we showed how new schedules were about to be published by the BBC, but the popular Sunday programme of Mr Jones did not appear. At the time the BBC told The Eye, that they did “make changes to when programmes run”.
However it transpired that the popular Songs of Praise presenter would not be on the airwaves at all at the BBC, while the broadcaster investigated alleged inappropriate behaviour more than a decade earlier. The singer and TV host from Anglesey, who found fame at the age of 12 with his top five Christmas hit Walking in the Air, said he was “deeply sorry” for any upset caused but strongly denied any “inappropriate contact”, and a spokesman for Mr Jones said that while the matter did not relate to any broadcast work, he had voluntarily agreed not to go on the BBC while it was investigated.
In a statement, the spokesman added: “Whilst he accepts that his (Mr Jones’) behaviour over a decade ago was occasionally juvenile, as was that of others, he never intended to harass or distress and he strongly denies any inappropriate contact. He is, however, deeply sorry for any upset caused and hopes this matter is resolved soon.” Mr Jones’ spokesman added that the allegations from a single female complainant of inappropriate messages and contact, reported in the Sun, did not relate to any broadcast work, and related to a matter more than 10 years before
This was an “exciting development”, as was (so we were told), Mr Paterson’s new organisation – even though his appointment to lead it came after he had conducted an affair with a presenter, and his radio service achieved record low audience figures…
Tomorrow – how further key rules for Phil were DO NOT USE OBSCURE WORDS, AND SAY WHAT YOU MEAN! But as in the announcement of Mr Paterson’s new job, there is now more evidence that the use of ‘business-speak’ is growing ever stronger.
The memories of his long career (including some of the stories he covered during 23 years at the BBC) 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!
Regrettably publication of another book, however, was refused, because it was to have included names.