After a journalistic career of many years, here our Editor Phil Parry examines how controversial events inside a small Welsh nationalist group, would have been reported differently in the UK media, if they had concerned another party.
Earlier he 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 making 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 coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown played havoc with media schedules, and the importance of the hugely lower average age of some political leaders compared with when he started reporting.
Let me tell you a story.
Imagine for a moment that the Conservative (C) or Labour (L) parties had decided to readmit an MP who had been cautioned by the police for assaulting his wife.
Imagine it had also emerged that a former leader of the same party had earlier described this person as “fantastic”, yet now said publicly the group was “better than this”, and the present boss called on the man to leave.
Imagine as well, that this controversial decision had then caused huge splits among senior members and supporters of that party.
Try to imagine now, how this might all have played out in the Daily Mail or the BBC at network level!
None of this happened of course, yet EXACTLY this has occurred in Wales, with the small Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru (PC), and the disgraced MP Jonathan Edwards.
After attacking his wife and receiving the official warning for it, Mr Edwards said he was “deeply sorry”, adding it was “the biggest regret of my life”, yet this is unlikely to be much consolation to the woman he assaulted, Emma Edwards.
When I started in Welsh journalism in 1983, there was an unwritten law, that we were expected to treat PC differently – but this all seems to push it to a new height, for there has been barely a peep out of the mainstream media in Wales, beyond reporting the facts of the case, and a little of the blowback.
This, for example, was the BBC Cymru Wales (BBC CW) report: “An MP cautioned for assaulting his wife will be allowed to represent his party again at Westminster.
“Plaid Cymru has returned the whip to Jonathan Edwards, who had been sitting as an independent, despite having been given his party membership back. The decision comes despite a ruling body of the party having earlier recommended to not re-admit Mr Edwards to the group.”
There were, apparently, legal ramifications in blocking Mr Edwards, and later the same website reported that, in fact, he said he will NOT be rejoining the PC group of MPs at Westminster, presumably because of the backlash (in Wales) that his ‘readmission’ had caused. A year-long suspension from PC imposed last year ended on July 15.
This whole business looks like amateur hour, and will do nothing to establish PC in the minds of the electorate as a party to vote for!
Following reporting Mr Edwards’ ‘readmission’, BBC CW said the leader of PC, Adam Price, (who was replaced as an MP by Mr Edwards) wanted him to stand down altogether.
WalesOnline (WO) went a little further, and I salute the journalists who were responsible.
Under the headline: “Anger at Plaid Cymru for allowing MP Jonathan Edwards who assaulted his wife to rejoin the party”, they published: “Plaid Cymru is facing a backlash for allowing Jonathan Edwards MP to rejoin the party”.
Soon afterwards, it was discovered that the former leader of PC who had described Mr Edwards in such glowing terms was Leanne Wood. Writing on Twitter before the May 2015 General Election (GE), as the party’s head, she had said: “… Re-elect the fantastic Jonathan Edwards in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr.”.
IMAGINE the fuss there would have been for WEEKS in the London-based media if it had been revealed that Ed Miliband or David Cameron had said this about one of his OWN MPS, before a GE who was then cautioned by the police for domestic abuse!
Ms Wood appears to have changed her tune now, though, about Mr Edwards, following the recent revelations, and this too would have been highlighted incessantly, by the UK media.
She tweeted last month: “This sends the message that women don’t matter and that survivors of domestic abuse don’t matter. I always believed Plaid Cymru to be better than this.”, and: “Disappointed, yes. Disillusioned, never. The fight against the scourge of misogyny in Welsh politics continues.”.
Later she added: “Jonathan Edwards can’t remain as a Plaid Cymru MP”.
The demand by her successor, Mr Price, that Mr Edwards should quit, must be set in a UK context. Think, say, of how this would have been received by the media in London, if Sir Keir Starmer had called on one of his own MPs to resign!
Mr Price controversially proclaimed: “His (Mr Edwards’) actions do not represent our values and his position as an MP sends the wrong message out to domestic abuse survivors in Wales and beyond”.
The woman Mr Edwards assaulted is also deeply unimpressed that PC had restored the whip to the man who attacked her (albeit he has decided not to take it).
Ms Edwards has said: “I am appalled and disappointed that the party I was until recently a member of has accepted a domestic abuser to represent them as an MP. Until now, I have maintained silence. I am not a political person and I do not seek publicity… (but) I cannot stand by and watch the truth being distorted as it has been”, and in another article, WO focussed on these comments.
The decision by PC has caused splits as well, within the party, and among its supporters.
This too would have been seized on by the mainstream media in the UK if it had concerned the C or L parties, as any divisions in political organisations are always gleefully exposed.
It is another aspect of this astonishing saga that would also have been the focus of attention by journalists based in London, had it been about those other parties. They will have been shocked to see, as well, that there appears to be no love lost between Mr Edwards and (unnamed) senior figures in PC.
Mr Edwards has declared self-pityingly, that he was the subject of “vindictive and vengeful coordinated political attacks”, and he was left feeling suicidal.
Ruptures like this in PC have now been laid bare, and they were encapsulated by the Member of the Senedd, Sian Gwenllian, Communications Director on PC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) who said: “If an elected politician has severely damaged the integrity, the credibility and the reputation of our party by contravening one of its core values, then that person should no longer represent the collective, democratic voice of our members.
“So now as a party, we must review our standing orders to reflect the views of our democratically-elected body in the future. We must also build upon recommendations I made in a report before the pandemic to tackle misogyny within our party.”
A previous party chairman, Alun Ffred Jones, resigned after disagreeing with the NEC’s actions.
Chief Executive of the gender equality organisation Chwarae Teg, Cerys Furlong, said PC should think again about its decision and the message it sent to all women.
“Our politics must be an environment in which women are safe and where violence, harassment and abuse are stamped out”, she declared.
The environment should also be one where contentious incidents like this one, with at their centre the Welsh nationalist party, are looked at by the Welsh media, in precisely the same way that they would have been, by UK journalists if they involved the C or L parties.
If PC politicians want to sit at the top table, and be taken seriously (which they do), as well as appear as equals in television election debates (which they do), then there are certain rules they must adhere to. Chief among them is accepting being the subject of the SAME level of media scrutiny as the London-based press do when it comes to what is happening within C or L.
The awful Jonathan Edwards incident could only happen in Wales because there is no proper press accountability, and PC KNEW they could get away with it. The three key elements of a fully functioning society, are: 1. Democracy. 2. An independent judiciary. 3. A free and inquiring media, but LOTS of countries around the world don’t have these foundation stones.
The mainstream Welsh media are certainly free, but they are NOT inquiring – otherwise this would never have happened!
ONE SIZE FITS ALL…
The memories of Phil’s astonishing 39-year award-winning career in journalism (including political stories which attracted different attention from the London media), as he was gripped by the rare neurological 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.
Tomorrow – how more outrage has been revealed on social media sites, with news that dozens of bags went missing on a flight landing at Cardiff Airport (CA), which was bought using millions of pounds worth of taxpayers’ money when a Scottish equivalent was purchased for only £1.