A political debate about the future of Welsh government organised by a contentious publication (behind which is a ‘comedian’ who had made sick jokes about a murdering gunman and was under police investigation) and has been condemned as ‘totally…unbalanced’, shines a light on previous controversies The Eye have revealed.
The online discussion promoted by the headline-grabbing newspaper and website The National (TN) proclaims the importance of key contributors in the debate but they come only from one side of the argument.
“This is totally one sided and unbalanced”, one political commentator in Wales told us. “I’d hardly describe this as a ‘balanced’ discussion – these people being advertised already have certain views which have been widely-publicised”.
This disturbing news, puts centre stage earlier issues disclosed by The Eye.
A reader of the paper’s first edition (on St David’s Day) said: “It looks like the Wrexham Leader from the 1970s”, and those in authority took a dim view as well. The Welsh Government (WG) minister Lee Waters (a former producer on the BBC Cymru Wales [BBC CW] radio programme Good Morning Wales (GMW)) stated on Facebook (FB): “Well I’ve just bought a copy and think its pretty dull”, which was ironic as he had wished an earlier ‘pilot’ “Best of luck”.
Indeed the reviews generally for TN have not been positive, and the neutrality of its output has been questioned, when this is an important tenet of news journalism. This was the published comment by one writer online: “It (TN) starts with worthy statements about how we deserve better fearless, independent and unintimidated media in Wales and should be happy to pay for it then gives us a timid, third rate product filled mainly with political comment from compromised sources who wouldn’t know a truth if it whacked them over the head with a cricket bat. The dreadful headlines persist throughout (try “Uncertainty follows end of overseas study scheme” for size! If I ever wrote that headline I think I would have decapitated myself immediately)…”
The latest front page on Saturday which pictured the First Minister of Wales (FMW) Mark Drakeford, with the headline “The new radical?”, was described as “uninspiring” by another reader.
The company providing the financial muscle for TN is the Newsquest Media Group (NMG), which is the UK arm of the American media giant Gannett, which also owns a number of Welsh newspapers including The Leader in Wrexham, and the South Wales Argus in Newport.
Following an in-depth investigation by our journalists over several months, we disclosed that the media baron Henry K. Faure Walker is Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of New Media Wales (NMW), an early precursor of TN, and in August 2018 it was reported that he owned more than 337 units of Gannett stock. In 2015 his total renumeration was nearly one million pounds. He has 157 appointments as director listed in the UK’s Companies House, with many now redundant, and the correspondence address for NMG is given as Loudwater Mill, Station Road, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, along with all of his other companies, such as Cumbrian Newspapers Limited, which has been dissolved.
The Buckinghamshire address appeared to be an industrial estate which was a possible mail drop. Mr Walker’s big break seems to have been joining Johnston Press in Scotland, and he looks to have huge holes in his published career which are unexplained.
Yet even before this worrying information was made public by The Eye, there had been growing unease about TN linking up with Gannett. One critic said on Twitter “for me it’s important to be owned and run in Wales”. Another declared: “He’s (the ‘comedian’ responsible for TN, Huw Marshall) been saying for a while that there is a “Partner” on board……I assumed that it was a local, welsh business……but it does indeed look like it is News quest! !”.
The association with NMG/Gannett has also come in for furious criticism on social media more recently. Another detractor said on Twitter: “Why are we having to use a London based company?”. A different grievance was: “Gotta be honest, a London-headquarterd media outlet is not at all what I thought I was supporting, purported editorial freedom or nay. I have some reasonably major reservations”.
The treatment of staff, too, has been controversial. Last November it was reported that the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) were celebrating union recognition of local democracy reporters with the organisation, and this came hard on the heels of other alarming headlines. In July it was published that the NMG furlough scheme was a “waiting room for redundancy” with at least 38 journalism jobs at risk, and in March of the previous year the NUJ criticised plans to cut staff in Brighton, South London and North Wales, which was to lead to an overall headcount reduction of six. The worrying nature of this ‘partnership’ has also been highlighted by David Nicholson on Twitter. He is the NUJ’s National Executive Council (NEC) member for Wales.
The firm has often made news for all the wrong reasons. In May 2019 under the headline “NUJ speaks up for Newsquest journalists at Gannett AGM” details were released that “…the union remains seriously concerned by Gannett’s stewardship of Newsquest, its relentless job cutting programme, a looming hostile takeover bid and the dire conditions facing journalists who work for the UK company”.
But it is not just this background which has worried many people. One journalist said to The Eye about TN asking for help from readers to subscribe in order to hire another key member of staff: “This is a complete nonsense. We all know how difficult it is starting a new newspaper, but asking for money from your readers to hire a reporter?! I ask you!”. Another told us: “I give it six months. It’s like the Daily News or Today (two defunct newspapers) all over again”.
The Eye have shown how as well as being investigated by the police for alleged harassment, the man behind TN, Mr Marshall, had made sick ‘jokes’ about the gunman Raoul Moat, used bad language to abuse prominent politicians, and our Editor Phil Parry online. He had also been reprimanded by a social media company, and was responsible for such ‘pranks’ as having unwanted takeaways delivered to critics’ homes.
He attempted to have The Eye closed down, alleging “violent threats and harassment” when there have been no threats of violence from our journalists, and the only harassment has come from Mr Marshall after he used social media to dub senior Welsh politicians “twats”, and Mr Parry a “liar”.
In response to the demand that we should be closed down, the reply was made that: “Huw Marshall has: 1. Been investigated by the police for harassment. 2. Made sick ‘jokes’ on Facebook about the murdering gunman Raoul Moat. 3. Called senior politicians Ken Skates and Peter Black ‘twats’ online. 4. Been reprimanded by Twitter. 5. Sent unwanted takeaways to people’s houses”.
This attempt to gag our journalists, mirrors the efforts of a campaign against ‘GB News’ by a group calling itself ‘Stop Funding Hate’, yet none of the three people pictured in a recent Twitter announcement by the group will have actually worked for ‘GB News’, as it has not broadcast a single second of content.
Meanwhile it is evident that Mr Marshall’s past IS worthy of a campaign to be stopped, however, and effective journalism has brought this out.
Two people died and a police officer lost the sight in both eyes when rampaging gunman Moat shot them, yet despite this on July 8, 2010 – with him trying to escape from armed police – Mr Marshall published a message on his Facebook (FB) site, reading: “Hi I’m a sexy 19 year old blond (sic) from the North East of England looking for some fun. My Mr Right should be a big strong ginger man with a fiery temper and a jealous nature, who also enjoys camping and writing long letters. Another post read: “Moat reward… if he isn’t caught by next Wednesday, the rewards (sic) being doubled. It’s going to be a Raul (sic) over”.
Even in the last few months, he has been called a “chancer” on social media, and his ‘stories’ have been accused of being “cut and pasted” from other publications by the UK satirical and investigative magazine Private Eye, and the major questions he, as well as TN, are facing have even become the subject of satire.
Evidently Mr Marshall does not know his journalist libel law (which is strange for someone involved in a new media service), because, as well as saying on Twitter that Mr Parry is a ‘liar’, Mr Marshall has also described him as an “obsessive coward”, linking the insults to an earlier piece he had written about his ‘venture’. Yet publishing these phrases to a third person (as he has done) is highly libellous – but Mr Parry’s libel lawyer knows the rules.
Mr Marshall has, too, called Mr Parry a “self proclaimed journalist”, which may not be libellous but is provably wrong as he trained to be a journalist in 1983 on the best newspaper course in the UK before moving into television, and has won an enormous number of awards. His long career has mostly been in other organisations (including 23 years with The BBC), and he has taken a large number of National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) exams – ones in libel among them. After Mr Parry published an earlier factual story about his antics, Mr Marshall said on Twitter, it was “now in the hands of the police” when the facts (unlike Mr Marshall himself) were NOT, actually, a police matter.
Mr Parry seems to have become something of a thorn in the side of Mr Marshall, because he has declared that he has a number of different Twitter accounts, but says he reserves one for items which may bother him, stating: “@marshallmedia is where I post Everton related stuff and things that upsets Phil Parry”.
Yet it has not only been Mr Parry to have irritated Mr Marshall in the past.
In 2013, it was disclosed that he had made extremely offensive remarks to senior politicians on Twitter, and complaints after further comments led to reprimands by the social media company.
One insult eight years ago, was directed at the Labour MS and minister Ken Skates, with another hurled at the former Liberal Democrat AM Peter Black. After Mr Skates tweeted in celebration of a one-vote council by-election victory over Plaid Cymru (PC) in Ruabon, Mr Marshall referred to him in his own tweet as a “gloating t**t”, and he described Mr Black as a “humourless (sic) t..t”as well as a “dull, tedious t..t”.
It seems the police have loomed large in Mr Marshall’s life, because on Twitter he has said he told them that he intended to make a complaint, however officers responded by informing him that they have a “responsibility to investigate any reports”.
Meanwhile, the basic plank of news journalism to be entirely neutral (because many potential readers may vote for parties other than the one you support), could be difficult for Mr Marshall, as he has been a candidate for one particular political party in the past.
In 1992, he was the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru’s (PC) parliamentary candidate in Cardiff Central, coming fourth with just 748 votes, however his plans to stand for election as a councillor were scuppered when it emerged that he had posted the so-called ‘jokes’ about Moat , and published the abusive remarks to senior politicians on social media.
But the problems facing TN are no joke – and this ‘comedian’ behind it who made sick ‘jokes’ about a murdering gunman, as well as foully abusing senior politicians, will be very familiar with them.
Mr Marshall has complained on social media, of the number of times The Eye are ‘targeting’ him, that Mr Parry is a (wrongly spelt) “harraser (sic)” when it is actually Mr Marshall who has harassed people, he has claimed the police became involved when they have not, and that it is affecting his mental health, while Mr Parry is extremely knowledgeable about this issue and the importance of it being avoided.
A further tweet about ‘padlocking’ his account was ‘liked’ by the former Welsh Government (WG) minister (now plain ‘MS for Blaenau Gwent’) Alun Davies, who has himself been no stranger to controversy.
It is understood he, with others, consumed wine during a meeting in the ‘tea room’ area of the Ty Hywel building, which is attached to the Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament (SC/WP), following a full plenary meeting on December 8 – four days after drinking alcohol in hospitality venues was banned in Wales.
In 2005, while Labour’s candidate for Ceredigion, he clashed with Welsh actor Rhys Ifans at a Cardiff hotel over backing the Iraq War. The police were called, but no charges were brought, and Mr Davies subsequently apologised.
After becoming a member of (what was then) the National Assembly for Wales in 2007, Mr Davies was criticised for claiming back mortgage interest payments for a home he bought in Cardiff five years before he became an Assembly Member.
In 2013 he was criticised by the cross-party Environment and Sustainability Committee for being evasive during a question session and giving contradictory answers. In the Spring of 2014 he confessed to entering into a relationship with his own special adviser, Anna McMorrin (now MP for Cardiff North), and confirmed that as a result both had left their long term partners. Ms McMorrin was moved from her role.
In June 2014, the First Minister of Wales (FMW) at the time, Carwyn Jones, announced an investigation into a letter Mr Davies had written to Natural Resources Wales (NRW) regarding environmental worries over the proposed development of the Circuit of Wales race track in his own constituency. NRW had expressed concerns about the race track. On July 8 2014 he was summarily sacked by Mr Jones following repeated written requests to his civil servants for the private details of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments made to opposition politicians. Mr Davies toured television studios with a prepared statement, but refused to take questions.
In a further tweet by the person whose comments he approved of (Mr Marshall), we have also been accused of publishing “false information”, when The Eye have only ever provided facts.
However, it may be that Mr Marshall comes to regret his attempt to gag us, as Mr Parry is well known to possess an excellent memory, as his lengthy career and awards testify, and, as an investigative journalist, he never lets go of a subject.
Mr Parry is likely to return to stories about him forever.
Meanwhile, one of the ‘experts’ advertised in the ‘political discussion’ promoted by TN, is Theo Davies-Lewis, who, The Eye revealed, also has an interesting background.
Mr Davies-Lewis had earlier ‘interviewed’ Mr Marshall on his podcast as an ‘expert’ on the Welsh media, but did not put to him challenging questions about the huge controversies which have engulfed him, or how he may not be the best placed figure to change the landscape.
In the radio podcast ‘What Next For Wales’ Mr Marshall was asked a string of anodyne questions by Mr Davies-Lewis, and allowed to portray himself as an ‘expert’ on the Welsh media. He was introduced as being “instrumental in some very exciting developments in this sector (the Welsh media)“. Mr Marshall was given extensive air time, to talk at length about his role as Head of Digital in the Welsh fourth channel (S4C) where he put together “a successful strategy” on digital development.
Mr Davies-Lewis is also a contributor to TN, perhaps undermining his credentials to contribute in a political discussion organised by the publication.
An article published by TN last week in his name, was headlined: “An independent Welsh Labour party is inevitable – and perfectly logical”. However several key points were ignored.
- The Welsh Labour Party is largely dependent on UK Labour for its funding, and would have far less to spend on elections if it was not part of it.
2. UK Labour would find it far harder to have a parliamentary majority without Welsh Labour MPs.
3. Every single Labour member of the SC/WP was elected on a unionist manifesto.
But the ‘manifesto’ of having a political discussion about the future of Welsh government is unlikely to win votes, if it has been condemned as “totally one sided”, and the ‘debate’ was organised by a contentious publication started by a ‘comedian’ who made sick jokes about a murdering gunman and was under police investigation…
Tomorrow – why major questions have been raised about the WG’s ownership of Cardiff Airport (CA) when the First Minister (FM) has declared: “The climate change emergency has not gone away”.
The memories of Phil’s astonishing decades long award-winning career in journalism (before the advents of TN or NMW) as he was gripped by the rare disabling neurological condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now!