An extraordinary storm erupted on social media when the contentious Editor of a nationalist website which receives a huge grant indirectly from the Welsh Government (WG) and who supports independence revealed that he was giving evidence to politicians about how the media in Wales was coping with the Covid-19 crisis, with one commentator declaring there was “potential bias”, it has emerged.
The commentator, Edward Sumner, asked provocatively about Ifan Morgan Jones, Editor of Nation.Cymru (NC): “Is it right that a man that runs a ‘media outlet’ that is indirectly funded by the @WelshGovernment should give evidence to a @SeneddWales committee on media in Wales? A slight whiff of potential bias?”
But Dr Jones replied: “As you know we provide a platform for a wide variety of perspectives”, with a link to one of the critic’s own articles on NC.
Mr Sumner is Chief Operations Officer for the Centre for Welsh Studies and during the unbelievable spat, Dr Jones said: “The Senedd and the Welsh Government aren’t the same institution. As the Centre for Welsh Studies I would expect you to know this?”.
Yet this is not the first time that NC, or Dr Jones himself, have made headlines for the wrong reasons, with social media platforms at the centre of a heated debate. Our journalists have shown exclusively how key workers fighting for people during the lockdown have been threatened and their property damaged, following comments on the social media site of NC which were likened to politics in Nazi Berlin.
This disturbing news came hard on the heels of The Eye’s disclosure that other incendiary remarks have included in the past that holiday homes should “burn to the ground”, and will put further pressure on its support by the publicly-funded Books Council of Wales (BCW), which was referred to by the critic.
Extremist comments were posted after a link was published to an NC ‘news’ piece, which proclaimed 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.””
A different contentious article on NC also appeared to have the Covid-19 lockdown in its sights, and began: “If it’s ‘coronavirus holiday’ season in rural Wales, the forecast is frosty for second home owners”. It added: “From spreading the virus and skipping lockdown to unfairly claiming business relief, second home owners have had bad pandemic press”.
Yet these inflammatory statements prompted a string of other extreme observations. Apart from comments about burning second homes, another said: “I remember the sixties” which is a reference to a time when the paramilitary organisation Free Wales Army (FWA) was prevalent.
It is obvious though that NC attracts strong support on social media. Recently a supporter of the website tweeted that one critic could not now gain a platform on a radio station in Wales which is about to close. He said: “One positive is the filthy bigot Marcus Stead will not have a flatform (sic) on there!”.
Twitter has been used extensively in order to try to raise more than just public money.
Dr Jones 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 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”.
It was evident that Dr Jones was nervous about NC being reliant on the public purse, when NC gets a huge grant from the BCW which is itself funded by the WG.
Dr Jones had 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”.
Some readers of NC, though, were deeply unimpressed, and one told The Eye earlier: “If this new 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?“.
The concept of journalism too seems to be something of a mystery to Dr Jones even though he was giving evidence on the state of the media in Wales. 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.
His website clearly supports Plaid Cymru (PC), which is in opposition to the larger governing Welsh Labour party in the Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru (WP), yet it is a fundamental tenet of good journalism to be neutral, especially for a website which claims it serves all “the people of Wales” and is backed by the taxpayer.
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 last year it was seven per cent. In one tweet in the last few months NC proclaimed: “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 UK 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 the site 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 Facebook (FB) platform other comments, apart from the ‘burn’ remark as well as that key workers have been 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 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 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.
On The Eye we have many years of experience in journalist law – our Editor Phil Parry has more than 36 – 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”.
Last September an opinion piece was published in which he said: “In an independent Wales, 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”.
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”.
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 last 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).
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 announced £750,000 of additional funding for the BCW to invest in a new digital system to manage the sale, supply and distribution of books. The BCW will also receive additional capital funding of £145,000 during the current financial year.
Emergency funding worth £150,000 to help the Welsh books sector to weather the coronavirus crisis was saluted 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.
This may be a ‘significant boost’, but when the Editor of a website which receives the money gives evidence on the media to politicians at the WP, social media critics say it also smacks of “potential bias”.
The memories of our Editor Phil Parry’s astonishing 36-year award-winning career in journalism (when neutrality played a major part) as he was gripped by the rare neurological disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in the significant book ‘A GOOD STORY’ which was NOT funded by the Books Council of Wales. Order the book now!