A listener to Wales’ only national English-language radio service has been told by The BBC ‘there is no breach of conflicts of interest policy’ over revelations on The Eye that the Editor who has presided over record-breaking low audience figures was having an affair with a married presenter even though his officials commissioned a programme she fronted, we can exclusively disclose.
The complaint from the listener about BBC Cymru Wales Radio Wales (BBC CW RW) Editor Colin Paterson and presenter Lucy Owen, was made on March 1 but after 17 days he had only received his ‘case’ number, and the response: “We aim to reply at this stage within 10 working days (two weeks), but will let you know if it may take us longer”.
He had demanded of BBC officials: “I understand from the Welsh website, The Eye , that the Editor of BBC Radio Wales Colin Paterson is having an affair with the presenter of BBC Wales Today and X-Ray, Lucy Owen. Yet Paterson’s officials have also commissioned a Sunday Radio Wales programme from Lucy Owen and I believe senior management at BBC Wales have been made aware of this situation and have chosen to ignore it.”
But yesterday the listener finally received a full reply saying: “Your message relates to individuals employed by the BBC, on which we wouldn’t comment directly. However… the BBC has strict policies for managing any potential or perceived conflicts of interest and we are satisfied there has been no breach of policy in this instance”.
But Mr Paterson’s station has been at the centre of a storm of controversy for other reasons too.
A different complaint has also gone to leading Welsh Government (WG) ministers alleging that it has “declined dramatically” and is “dumbing down”.
This complaint, over a month ago, from a licence fee-payer about BBC CW RW says that it is “littered with presenter led record programmes and chat”, and it was sent initially to the First Minister of Wales (FMW) Mark Drakeford then passed to the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism (DMCST) Dafydd Elis-Thomas.
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 lover Ms Owen proclaimed the importance of travelling by bus to work in a tweet he has ‘liked’.
Despite the 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 ‘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 performance at BBC CW RW has also been open to question, with the most recent RAJAR listening figures making grim reading for him.
They reveal a slight increase on this time last year but a drop on two 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 figures also show that the total listening hours are now 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 as one of the main presenters on BBC CW RW at its launch, renewed his call for Mr Paterson and his superior, the Director, Rhodri Talfan 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”.
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 the 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 AM 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, Mr Paterson’s lover, Ms Owen, also hosts the BBC One Wales (BBCW) consumer affairs programme ‘X-Ray’ with her husband, Rhodri.
She 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”.
Evidently the story of a BBC executive having an affair with one of his presenters is also a good fit with their ‘conflicts of interest’ policy.
Even if his officials have commissioned a programme fronted by her…
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