Here our Editor Phil Parry looks at why questions may be raised about the taxpayer supporting a controversial website which promotes Welsh independence, in the light of opinion polls which indicate political parties opposed to nationalism in Wales could triumph at the next Welsh Parliament Senedd Cymru (WP/SC) elections.
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 current coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown is playing havoc with media schedules, and the importance of the hugely lower average age of some political leaders compared with when he started reporting.
As one analysis of voting intentions shows that a majority may be secured by a party at the next Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru (WP/SC) elections which is opposed to Welsh independence, voters could ask why tens of thousands of pounds of their money goes to a website which supports it.
A St David’s Day poll for BBC Cymru Wales (BBC CW) suggests Labour (L) will win 30 seats, Plaid Cymru (PC) 15, Conservatives (C) 13 with the Liberal Democrats (LD) and UKIP picking up one seat each.
But another survey in the same week was ‘reported’ by the controversial website backed by public money, which supports Welsh independence, Nation.Cymru (NC), with the words: “An ITV poll has shown the highest support for independence ever recorded with 39% of Welsh people saying they would now vote ‘yes’ in a referendum”. To ‘report’ this sort of news, NC has a huge grant via the Books Council of Wales (BCW), and Welsh taxpayers are not the only ones to have questioned this situation. The UK website Guido Fawkes has declared: “Guido questions how Nation.Cymru can continue to label itself ‘a news service by the people for the people of Wales’. Welsh taxpayers should not be forking out £40,000 for a partisan website..”.
However it has not simply been public money subsidising a ‘partisan’ website, which has made NC contentious. It has hit the headlines for other reasons too. A full colour advert has been taken out on it by the Labour-controlled Welsh Government (WG) (and another was placed by the BCW), yet in the past L has been firmly opposed to independence.
But in previous published comments, it was clear that NC was no friend to L. In one ‘opinion’ piece it stated: “Welsh Labour needs to stop denying and start embracing the debate over Welsh independence”, and neither NC nor its Editor Ifan Morgan Jones, have been strangers to controversies exposed by The Eye recently.
Journalists there have been alone in reporting the anger about key workers fighting for people during the Covid-19 lockdown being threatened, which followed remarks on the social media site of NC that were likened to life in Nazi Berlin.
The revelations about the Facebook (FB) site of NC come hard on the heels of The Eye’s exclusive disclosure that other headline-grabbing observations have included ones that holiday homes should “burn to the ground”, and will put further pressure on the website’s funding by the 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.”.
Yet the provocative statements from NC have continued, and they have prompted a string of other extreme remarks on the FB site. Apart from those about burning down holiday homes, another said: “I remember the sixties” which refers to a time when the paramilitary organisation Free Wales Army (FWA) was prevalent.
Meanwhile, the contentious aim of Welsh independence has been openly backed by Dr Jones, who lectures in ‘journalism’ at Bangor University (BU), yet neutrality is a fundamental tenet of reporting news. Dr Jones helped organise an independence rally in Caernarfon, however it had to be postponed because of the lockdown, and his website has published numerous ‘stories’ backing it. One recent piece on his website began: “It seems the opponents of independence, now running out of arguments, are getting desperate.”.
The Eye have revealed how NC has also accepted adverts for students on the media course at BU where Dr Jones is the leader. But one critic of NC has 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?!”. This advert in NC stressed the importance of the “Journalism and Media Studies BA” at “PRIFYSGOL BANGOR UNIVERSITY”, while 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”.
It is obvious, though, that Dr Jones is uneasy about the reliance of NC on taxpayers’ money, and Twitter has been used extensively in order to try to raise more than just public funds. He 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 proclaims it is “The official trade union section of Plaid Cymru”.
Some readers of NC, though, were deeply unimpressed, and one told The Eye earlier: “If this 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 independence, but does Michael Sheen understand a lot of people are angry that taxpayer money supports it?“.
Mr Sheen also spoke at a recent ‘Virtual Town Hall’ event organised by the Welsh training arm of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) announcing “A NEWS RECOVERY PLAN FOR WALES”. Dr Jones was another speaker at the event, along with Lee Waters MS, who was briefly a producer on the former BBC Cymru Wales (BBC CW) programme Good Morning Wales (GMW), which has now been axed.
Dr Jones clearly supports Plaid Cymru (PC) as well as Welsh independence, and his website has 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 NC announced: “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 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 as Guido Fawkes has highlighted, it 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 FB platform other comments than the ‘burn’ remark, as well as the observation 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 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.
I have almost 38 years experience in journalist law so I am 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”. He has said that Wales: “faced being part of a state which (is) being politically neglected”.
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 triumph, 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’. Another 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 said that £750,000 of additional funding will be made available for the BCW to invest in a new digital system in order to manage the sale, along with the 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 Wales but also the whole publishing industry in Wales,” he said.
But pressure may grow on the ‘significant boost’ by taxpayers money for a website which promotes Welsh independence, and is accused of provoking attacks on key workers, if polls are correct that a party opposed to self-rule will win the WP/SC election…
The memories of Phil’s astonishing decades long award-winning career in journalism 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 (BCW). Order the book now!