A highly significant figure at Wales’ biggest broadcaster in the beginning has repeated his demand for the organisation’s head to resign after a series of horrific mistakes, The Eye can reveal.
Mike Flynn has been described on Wikipedia as one of the most important presenters on BBC Cymru Wales Radio Wales (BBC CW RW) when it started and told us: “Rhodri Talfan Davies (the Director) needs to go.
“There is no decent Current Affairs output on BBC Wales now and we have had a debacle with Wales Today. It all smacks of poor leadership. Vast sums of money have been spent on low quality output. The buck stops with the poor management who are public servants.”
The author Dic Mortimer has written: “Can it get worse? You bet! Enter Jason Mohammad, who has risen without a trace within the BBC in the last decade.
“Apart from presenting this shockingly wretched ‘phone-in’, he’s the all-purpose garrulous host on a range of BBC England programmes, both radio and TV.”
Mr Davies’ appointment skills have also been queried. The performance of his Editor at BBC CW Radio Wales (BBC CW RW), Colin Paterson, has been open to question, with appallingly-low RAJAR listening figures making grim reading for him as well as for Mr Davies.
At one point the statistics showed a major drop in audiences on three years ago, a massive decline on the year before that, and how more than 40,000 listeners have been lost over a three month period, despite the huge amount of money which has been spent on new schedules.
Figures last year also revealed that the total listening hours were 2,667,000, down from 3,074,000 in September, although up from just 2,147,000 in December 2018. The listener average per week was 8.2 hours, down from 8.4 hours in September of that year, 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 three months earlier.
But there has been a huge shake up in the line up at BBC CW RW as Mr Paterson has struggled to combat the plunging 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 numbers, was a 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 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 Minister for Economy and Transport in Wales Lee Waters MS has said publicly he is worried by what is happening and that there should be ‘serious’ and ‘challenging’ journalism. He strongly objected 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.
Apart from Mr Davies facing damning assessments of his output, Mr Flynn’s call for him to quit means renewed pressure for him.
It comes hard on the heels of revelations about other catastrophic errors at BBC Cymru Wales (BBC CW) Broadcasting House (BH) in Llandaff on The Eye.
It has been disclosed Mr Davies’ staff are angry that they did not move into their new £100 million headquarters before the lockdown, and, our journalists understand, may not now do so until at least late Summer or even the Autumn (more than two and a half years following it being handed over), one of his senior executives had an affair with a married presenter after his officials had commissioned a programme she fronted, a disastrous mistake was made on his flagship TV news programme Wales Today (WT), his organisation refused an interview with our Editor Phil Parry even though he said BBC CW would be “more accessible”, and popular programmes have been axed while another which WAS commissioned, has been described as “embarrassingly unfunny”.
Yet even amid these miscalculations he has announced another round of job cuts using the form of management-speak which is fashionable today but needs interpreting.
Mr Davies told reporters recent events were to blame for a fiscal crisis, saying: “Managing these new financial challenges inevitably requires some hard choices but we will work closely with colleagues across BBC Wales to try to minimise the impact of the changes“.
It has emerged that 60 posts are being axed at BBC CW as officials try to save £4.5 million this financial year (representing about six per cent of the workforce), and live events (including most live sport) are to be cancelled.
Yet these disturbing facts are set against an extremely worrying backdrop, and among them is the fact that an extraordinary political row developed with his organisation at its heart.
The former leader of the Conservatives in the Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru (WP), Andrew RT Davies, MS, accused, on social media, BBC CW of a “link” with nationalist party Plaid Cymru (PC) and that it was “unhealthy”.
But in a highly unusual move, Mr Davies defended on Twitter a controversial decision to ask the PC leader on to a programme discussing major issues, saying the Welsh Conservatives had not accepted the invitation. Yet in another tweet Mr Davies said he stood by his original point.
The unbelievable spat over alleged links between PC and BBC CW was soon after growing concern about figures who have joined the corporation from PC, and those that have moved in the other direction.
Meanwhile a senior former BBC CW producer has also become involved in the mounting number of attacks on the corporation in Wales.
Marc Edwards wrote in the Welsh language magazine ‘Barn’ (Welsh for ‘opinion’) heavily criticising BBC CW. His judgement was described as “salty” on Facebook which said there was a “lack of service”.
The extraordinary delay in opening the new HQ for BBC CW in Cardiff’s Central Square has also come under fire. It could cost the licence fee-payer hundreds of thousands of pounds in bills running two buildings, as the hugely expensive new one stands largely-empty. This is at a time when staff costs and capital expenditure are under review right across the corporation, as well as with, now, jobs going.
After the keys to the new building were formally handed over in April 2018, Mr Davies said: “Central Square is all about opening up… the fantastic location means that we’ll be more accessible”.
But he was not ‘accessible’ to Mr Parry after working at BBC CW for 23 years. He was told initially by the Press Office in a lengthy email exchange over more than six months, that Mr Davies would be available for interview. Question areas were provided, and the official was informed the interview could be conducted over the telephone.
He was then instructed that an interview would not, in fact, be granted.
Mr Davies has also been at the centre of exclusive revelations on The Eye that one of his most senior executives, Mr Paterson, had an affair with the television and radio presenter Lucy Owen, and that it raised serious questions over a potential conflict of interest because officials have commissioned a programme she fronted called ‘Sunday morning with Lucy Owen’.
His officials have, too, given questionable responses to queries about the BBC CW RW listening figures. One listener was told: “We are not… obliged to supply information…”.
The comparison of BBC CW RW with the services in other areas is stark. BBC Radio Ulster/Foyle (BBC RU/F) remains the most popular radio station in Northern Ireland.
Mr Davies’ evening television news programme has also committed an awful mistake which made headlines in England, and for that he bears ultimate responsibility.
BBC Wales Today used a picture of Brighton Pavilion during its coverage of the start of the hugely important Muslim month of Ramadan mistaking it for a mosque, and the error was then featured in the Brighton Argus. One Twitter user complained: “BBC Wales showing a picture of the Brighton Pavilion and getting it confused for a mosque when talking about Ramadan is kind of f****d?”. Another wrote furiously: “Not happy they’ve used a shot of Brighton Pavilion as though it’s a mosque (presumably)”.
The commissioning skills of his senior executives have been no less alarming.
One programme called ‘Pitching In’, was described by viewers in the Western Mail as “unforgivable” and an “insult to Wales”. A reviewer said it was “so embarrassingly unfunny I felt my toes curling”.
Some do not believe the programme should ever have been allowed to go out.
There has, too, been a failure in the scrapping of popular existing programmes made by BBC CW.
The TV debate series The Hour was axed after a year, and at an enormous cost to the licence fee-payer, following the controversial decision to close the 53 year-old award-winning Welsh TV Current Affairs programme Week In, Week Out (WIWO), which Mr Parry presented for 10 years. Yet viewers had described The Hour on the internet, as “necessary” and even BBC CW officials had admitted to The Eye it “capture(d) the mood of the nation”.
This came after the contentious resolution to get rid of WIWO despite the fact that it had won a clutch of awards, including at the Royal Television Society, BAFTA Cymru, and BT Wales. It even secured an award after it had been formally closed. The programme had also been used as a springboard for Panorama episodes, and one of the journalists’ investigations still features near the top of an internal BBC CW document recording the highest viewing figures.
It is perhaps no surprise after all these faults at BBC CW that there is now a growing chorus for the man in charge to stand down, including from former senior members of staff at BH…
Tomorrow our political correspondent The Rebel looks at the uncanny parallels for Labour with the 1980s, as anger on the left mounts over the sacking from the shadow cabinet of one of the leading lights.
Phil’s memories of his astonishing 36-year award-winning career in journalism (including at BBC CW) as he was gripped by the rare disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now!