A controversial nationalist website funded by the taxpayer has been publicly condemned for publishing a piece promoting an open ‘debate’ on Welsh independence when comments are barred from its own stories, it has emerged.
The deputy director of a leading free market think tank declared yesterday on Twitter: “If you want there to be a debate you might want to look at the fact that every single one of your stories has ‘comments closed’ on it. It’s only a debate if you let people have views other than your own”.
The tweet from Matt Kilcoyne was labelled for the nationalist website Nation.Cymru (NC), and included a link to an ‘opinion’ piece it published on Sunday which proclaimed: “Welsh Labour needs to stop denying and start embracing the debate over Welsh independence”.
Mr Kilcoyne is an executive with The Adam Smith Institute and moved to Cardiff as part of the Welsh Financial Services graduate scheme.
But this is not the first time that NC has made news for all the wrong reasons. The Eye have been alone in reporting the anger about key workers fighting for people during the Covid-19 lockdown being threatened, following comments on the social media site of NC which have been likened to life in Nazi Berlin.
The revelations about the Facebook (FB) site of NC come hard on the heels of our exclusive disclosure that other headline-grabbing observations have included in the past that holiday homes should “burn to the ground”, and will put further pressure on the website’s funding by the publicly-supported Books Council of Wales (BCW).
The extremist comments were posted after a link was published to an NC ‘news’ piece, which declared that: “The county of Gwynedd in the north-west has seen the largest collapse in consumer spending as a result of Covid-19 in both Wales and England, according to business data”.
But one aggrieved writer hit back and said: “I am genuinely concerned by the amount of vitriol that comes out in the comments on the Nation.Cymru posts, and it makes me feel that we are uncomfortably close to the political posturing of 1930s Berlin.
“We have had property damage (mostly to key workers cars) and threats and insults made to people (again, often keyworkers going about their legitimate business) because “they’re not from round here.””
A different contentious article on NC also appeared to have the Covid-19 lockdown in its sights, and began: “If it’s ‘coronavirus holiday’ season in rural Wales, the forecast is frosty for second home owners”, adding: “From spreading the virus and skipping lockdown to unfairly claiming business relief, second home owners have had bad pandemic press”.
Yet these provocative statements prompted a string of other extreme comments. Apart from those about burning holiday homes, another said: “I remember the sixties” which refers to a time when the paramilitary organisation Free Wales Army (FWA) was prevalent.
The contentious aim of Welsh independence has been openly supported by the Editor of NC Ifan Morgan Jones, who ‘lectures’ in ‘journalism’ at Bangor University (BU).
Dr Jones helped organise an independence rally in Caernarfon but it had to be postponed because of the lockdown, and his website has published numerous ‘stories’ backing it.
One recent ‘opinion’ piece on his website began: “It seems the opponents of independence, now running out of arguments, are getting desperate.”.
The Eye has revealed how NC is advertising for students on the media course at BU where Dr Jones is the leader.
One critic of NC told The Eye: “This crosses the line”. Another said: “It creates a potential conflict of interest”. A further detractor stated: “How can they do anything about the university when they are advertising one of the courses their own Editor teaches on?!”.
The advert in NC stressed the importance of the “Journalism and Media Studies BA” at “PRIFYSGOL BANGOR UNIVERSITY”. But Dr Jones’ 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”.
But it is obvious that Dr Jones is uneasy about the reliance of NC on taxpayers’ money when the website gets a huge grant from the BCW which is itself funded by the Welsh Government (WG), and Twitter has been used extensively in order to try to raise more than just public funds.
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”.
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”.
Some readers of NC, though, were deeply unimpressed, and 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?“.
Dr Jones’ clearly supports Plaid Cymru (PC) as well as Welsh independence. NC has also boosted the 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. In one tweet in the last few months NC proclaimed: “Welsh indy movement YesCymru sees membership surge as 500 join in five days”.
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, along with 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 (FB) platform other comments, apart from the ‘burn’ remark, as well as that key workers were threatened and their property damaged, 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’ 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 The Eye’s disclosures of strong links to PC were “just nonsense”, and told a critic: “I set it up myself off my own bat.”.
But Dr Jones 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 National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) although does advertise on his website, 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 37) and are very aware of what can and cannot be published.
Dr Jones himself put on FB 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”.
Meanwhile Dr Jones’ website has been been put centre stage by earlier interesting news. 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.”
As well as being a ‘journalism’ lecturer, Dr Jones has also 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 that from the public purse, 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”.
Opinion polls have not been good news for him, as the results have had to be ‘spun’. A St David’s Day poll 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. Yet the population of Wales is three million, and the vast majority reject Welsh independence.
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 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 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 was also to receive additional capital funding of £145,000.
Emergency funding worth £150,000 to help the Welsh books sector weather the Covid-19 crisis was applauded 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 MS, 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 Walesbut also the whole publishing industry in Wales,” he said.
Presumably politicians and senior officials like this are all in favour of a debate on key issues, but perhaps not when comments are ‘closed’ on a controversial website the public funds and the situation has been highlighted on Twitter.
Tomorrow – more alarming information about a South Wales conman exclusively exposed by The Eye.
The memories of our Editor Phil Parry’s astonishing 37-year award-winning career in journalism (when alleged conflicts of interest were exposed) as he was gripped by the rare neurological disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in the major book ‘A GOOD STORY’ which was NOT funded by the Books Council of Wales. Order the book now!