An incendiary piece about second homes in a Welsh nationalist website which prompted public comments on its social media platform such as “burn to the ground” and “cant holiday in a home that’s ash” has thrown the spotlight on the fact that it was publicly funded, The Eye can reveal.
The polarising article published on the contentious website Nation.Cymru (NC) began: “If it’s ‘coronavirus holiday’ season in rural Wales, the forecast is frosty for second home owners”. And added: “From spreading the virus and skipping lockdown to unfairly claiming business relief, second home owners have had bad pandemic press”.
But these contentious remarks provoked a string of extreme comments on the NC Facebook site. Apart from statements about burning second homes, another said: “I remember the sixties” which is a reference to a time when the paramilitary organisation Free Wales Army (FWA) was prevalent.
But the website, as well as its ‘Editor’ Ifan Morgan Jones have long been controversial.
Dr Jones tweeted on Easter Day to Hollywood superstar Michael Sheen that any support for a ‘new service’ would be “gratefully received and the better the service will be”. In another tweet Dr Jones proclaimed that they had “already reached an audience of some 2m readers digitally”. The tweets asking for money were also sent to UndebPlaidCymru which declares it is “The official trade union section of Plaid Cymru”. In an earlier tweet, Mr Sheen asked about the cost and Dr Jones replied: “it’s very elastic – the more subscribers we have the more content we can produce”.
It was evident that Dr Jones wanted more money than any he might have received from the public purse – NC gets a huge grant from the Books Council of Wales (BCW) which is itself funded by the Welsh Government (WG)
Dr Jones had also tweeted the ‘Donate’ section of NC which states: “We are now close to realise (sic) our dream of creating a lasting Welsh national media, by the people of Wales and for the people of Wales”.
Yet some readers of NC were deeply unimpressed. One told The Eye earlier: “If this new service involves more public money it will be outrageous. And why should Michael Sheen be interested in something like this anyway?”. Another said: “What is this all about? We know Nation.Cymru backs Plaid Cymru, but does Michael Sheen understand a lot of people are angry that taxpayer money supports it?“.
The concept of journalism too seems to be something of a mystery to Dr Jones.
His CV states: “I am the BA Journalism Course Leader at the School of Creative Studies and Media at Bangor University, and lecture on the subject of practical journalism”. However nowhere in the details is mentioned qualifications by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), the accepted body for formally accrediting journalists.
His website clearly supports Plaid Cymru (PC) which is in opposition to the larger governing Welsh Labour party in the National Assembly for Wales, yet it is a fundamental tenet of good journalism to be neutral, especially for a website which claims it serves all “the people of Wales” and is backed by the taxpayer.
NC has also boosted the Welsh independence movement by saying, for example, that “Support for Welsh independence has risen again”, because it was at 11 per cent whereas last year it was seven per cent.
Its lack of journalistic neutrality is also shown by the fact that NC failed to cover the news that PC did not declare large amounts of money, but DID publish a piece about the UK Tory party showing it in an extremely bad light and another tendentious item saying “Conservative AM has accepted more free international rugby tickets than any other UK politician”, yet the site claims it is a “News service by the people of Wales, for the people of Wales”.
Several readers of NC have said the site is “biased”. On the NC Facebook platform other comments apart from the ‘burn’ remarks have appeared in the past, including some from critics. One said: “It’s a biased online site for some of the people of Wales”. A further one stated: “If people are going to criticise one group they need to consider the actions of others, otherwise its called hypocrisy… we need to ensure all sides play by the rules”.
A lengthy ‘report’ on controversial NC about the Conservative Party said: “More than half of donations received by new Conservative MPs in Wales came from secretive fundraising clubs based in the south-east of England”. Yet the story that NC omitted to cover, but received huge media attention in other outlets, was that PC had been fined tens of thousands of pounds after not declaring money from public coffers.
This was The BBC report: “Plaid Cymru has been fined £29,000 for failing to report cash it received from taxpayers’ funds worth nearly £500,000. The Electoral Commission said over a two-year period Plaid had omitted 36 separate sums from quarterly reports. Plaid had failed to declare cash from the House of Commons authorities, and some cash from the Electoral Commission.”
Dr Jones himself has also been in the news for all the wrong reasons
At least one of his books has been ‘relisted’ on ebay which says: “If your item doesn’t sell the first time you list it”
He has said on Twitter our disclosures of strong links to PC were “just nonsense”. He told a critic: “I set it up myself off my own bat.”.
But Dr should know as a lecturer in ‘journalism’ at Bangor University’s Department of Creative Studies and Media, on a course which is not accredited by the NCTJ, that everything published is supported by a raft of unseen evidence. In his ‘journalist’ lectures Dr Jones presumably tells his students about the laws of libel, that all stories are governed by them, and that reporters have a large amount of evidence to back up each line.
On The Eye we have many years of experience in journalist law – our Editor Phil Parry has more than 36 – and are very aware of what can and cannot be published.
Dr Jones himself put on Facebook last December a picture of a postal ballot paper, with his pen pointing at the PC candidate, and has posted a photograph of himself and his partner above the slogan “I’m voting Plaid Cymru”. In July 2016 he helped promote a rally for Welsh independence in Caernarfon and said that Wales: “faced being part of a state which (is) being politically neglected”.
Last September an opinion piece was published in which he said: “In an independent Wales, the future of our nation wouldn’t be decided by politicians completely removed from our concerns, like gods playing dice with our fate on the summit of Mount Olympus”.
He has stated about NC: “Much of the current money we do have to spend is due to support through the kindness of the Welsh Books Council. But such public money is thin on the ground, and ideally, no news site should be dependent on grants that, in the current financial climate, may not last forever.” The BCW declares: “The Books Council of Wales is a national body, funded by the Welsh Government, which provides a focus for the publishing industry in Wales.”
Dr Jones has worked as Deputy Editor for the Welsh-language magazine Golwg, and as an Editor of the news website Golwg 360. It is evident that he sees NC as a great success, and wrote on the site in January: “… the success Nation.Cymru has enjoyed… was beyond my wildest dreams…”
Even so Dr Jones says that NC is keen to receive more cash than just public money, as his recent tweet to Mr Sheen makes obvious, and on his website he has urged readers: “If just everyone who had attended the Yes Cymru march (in support of Welsh independence) over the last year gave us £5 a month we would be raising over half a million pounds a year”.
Recent opinion polls have not been good news for him, as the results have had to be ‘spun’. A St David’s Day poll last month giving the figure of 11 per cent of people in Wales supporting independence, was ‘reported’ in NC as a rise because it represented a four per cent increase on last year.
The BCW too has made headlines. In 2013 it was published in the UK media, that over the five years before, the BCW had received £39 million of taxpayers’ money, with another £3.85 million going to Literature Wales (LW).
In the same year a spokesman for the Welsh Government (WG) said funding for the BCW had been cut to £4.1 million and added: “This funding is channelled towards supporting the publishing industry in both Welsh and English languages. Detailed monitoring arrangements are in place to ensure that this funding is spent appropriately. Book sales through the Welsh Books Council distribution centre saw an increase in the last financial year which is very encouraging given the current financial climate.”
Meanwhile the Welsh Government (WG) has announced £750,000 of additional funding for the BCW to invest in a new digital system to manage the sale, supply and distribution of books. The BCW will also receive additional capital funding of £145,000 during the current financial year.
Emergency funding worth £150,000 to help the Welsh books sector to weather the coronavirus crisis was saluted by the BCW. Helgard Krause, Chief Executive of the BCW said it “warmly welcomed” the extra money.
The Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism (formerly a leading figure in PC), Dafydd Elis-Thomas, said that he was “delighted” to support the BCW to invest in this sector of the Welsh economy. “This (the original additional funding) will be a significant boost to the Books Council of Wales but also the whole publishing industry in Wales,” he said.
But the whole publishing industry in Wales did not publish a piece which prompted readers to say second homes should be ‘burned to the ground’.
Only taxpayer-funded NC did.
Tomorrow – the huge problems this lockdown is presenting for local papers including Wales’ only national English-language title.
Our Editor Phil Parry’s memories of his astonishing 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 book which was not supported by the BCW ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now! The picture doubles as a cut-and-paste poster.
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.