Leaning into a nationalist wind

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A candidate for a major political party in Welsh elections has publicly urged a boycott of an online nationalist website, and accused its controversial founder of “openly mocking minorities getting bullied”, it has emerged.

Leena Farhat who was the Liberal Democrats (LD) candidate for Clwyd South in the Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament (SC/WP) elections, used Twitter to attack furiously Nation.Cymru (NC), the originator and one time Editor of which, Ifan Morgan Jones, has urged voters to opt for the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru (PC) and is supported by the taxoayer.

Leena Farhat was never stopped for a valid reason

Ms Farhat (who possesses an overseas background) has said she’s been stopped by the police in Wales three times in four years – but “never for a valid reason”, and believes cultural problems need to be overcome to encourage more people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities to join the force.

But NC (the Editor of which has been Gareth Ceidiog Hughes since February), as well as Dr Jones, have long been contentious, and The Eye have shown how in one post on the Facebook (FB) site of the website, a reader revealed that key workers fighting for people’s lives during the lockdown had been threatened and had their property damaged. It has also been likened to someone promoting the politics of Nazi Berlin.

One incendiary comment on the FB page of NC was: “A burned down holiday home is uninhabitable” and another read: “fuck all the business and their families that rely on tourism.  they can all go to hell the bloody traitors”.

The extremist remarks came below a FB link to an NC article with the tendentious opening paragraph:  “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”.

Nation.Cymru reaches for more than just public Welsh books council funding

NC receives a substantial grant in public money from the Books Council of Wales (BCW), but clearly wants more cash.

Dr Jones tweeted on Easter Day last year 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”.

BCW is itself funded by the Welsh Government (WG) meaning the money NC receives comes from the public purse.

Dr Jones has 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”.

Yet some readers of NC were deeply unimpressed by the request for more money from Mr Sheen. One critic 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 Plaid Cymru, but does Michael Sheen understand a lot of people are angry that taxpayer money supports it?“.

Ifan Morgan Jones posted a picture of his ballot paper with pen pointing towards the Plaid Cymru candidate

The concept of journalism too seems to be something of a mystery to Dr Jones. His 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”. However nowhere in the details is mentioned qualifications by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), the accepted body for formally accrediting journalists. It is also a fundamental tenet of good news journalism to be neutral, especially for a website which claims it serves all “the people of Wales” and is backed by the taxpayer.

But Dr Jones’ website clearly supports PC, which is in opposition to the larger governing Welsh Labour party in the SC/WP, and NC has also boosted the Welsh independence movement by saying, for example, that “Support for Welsh independence has risen again”, because it was at 11 per cent whereas the previous year it was seven per cent.

Serving all ‘the people of Wales’ – except Tories

Its lack of journalistic neutrality is also shown by the fact that NC failed to cover the disturbing 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, and another leading item saying “Conservative AM has accepted more free international rugby tickets than any other UK politician”.

Several readers of NC have said the site is “biased”. On the NC Facebook platform other comments apart from the ‘burn’ remark and the revelation that key workers property was targeted, have appeared in the past, including huge criticism. One remark was:  “It’s a biased online site for some of the people of Wales”. A further outraged announcement was: “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 on the website 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.”

If the book doesn’t sell…

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 our 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 NCTJ, that everything published is supported by a raft of unseen evidence. In his ‘journalist’ lectures he 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.

Phil Parry as judge
Phil knows his law…

On The Eye we have many years of experience in journalist law – our Editor Phil Parry has more than 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”.

An opinion piece was published on NC in which he said:  “In an independent Wales (which the leader of PC Adam Price has described as a “necessity”), 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”.

The Books Council of Wales funds authors and Nation.Cymru

Meanwhile Dr Jones’ website has been been put centre stage by earlier interesting headlines. 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.”

Dr Jones has 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 just public money, 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”.

A ‘rise’ to 11 per cent?

Recent 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 the previous year.

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).

A lot of public money is handed over to Nation.Cymru

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.”

Former senior Plaid Cymru figure Dafydd Elis-Thomas was ‘delighted’

Meanwhile the WG divulged that £750,000 of additional funding for the BCW would be invested in a new digital system to manage the sale, supply and distribution of books, and the BCW was also to receive additional capital funding of £145,000.

The then Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism (formerly a leading figure in PC), Dafydd Elis-Thomas, said that he was “delighted” to support the BCW to invest in the publishing 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.

Book posterBut it may also have inadvertently helped to boost a nationalist website whose founder has been accused of “openly mocking minorities getting bullied”.

 

Tomorrow – how the recruitment of a new executive to charge up a controversial battery company, puts centre stage The Eye revealing that the company was established by a man convicted of tax fraud, and which ditched a planned site in South Wales, despite the fact its proposals had been greeted with huge fanfare by politicians and reporters in the mainstream media.

The memories of our Editor Phil Parry’s remarkable decades-long award-winning career in journalism (when when he was never accused of “openly mocking minorities getting bullied”) as he was gripped by the rare disabling neurological condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now!