Here our Editor Phil Parry looks at the astonishingly bad recent record of the largest broadcaster in Wales.
Earlier he has described how he was helped to break 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, and how the current coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown is playing havoc with media schedules.
After looking at the poor record of newspapers in Wales, where I started my career in 1983, it seems appropriate to examine the extraordinary mess at BBC Cymru Wales (BBC CW) under the leadership of its director Rhodri Talfan Davies, where I spent 23 years.
It is remarkable to me that here we have the most important media organisation in the country, when a series of appalling mistakes have been made, yet now Mr Davies says cancelling a number of high-profile events – including most live sport – would contribute to this year’s savings. It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion!
In the usual business-speak which needs interpreting, and appears to be de rigueur among senior management types, he told reporters recent events were to blame, 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“.
Let’s unpack this a bit.
“Managing these new financial challenges”, means ‘blame it on other things – they’ll never know’. “Hard choices”, means ‘cutting jobs’. “Work closely with colleagues blah, blah, blah”, means ‘ask for voluntary redundancies’. “Minimise the impact of the changes”, means ‘let’s try and get away with the job cuts without attracting too many awful headlines’.
So let’s put this in plain English – 60 posts are being axed at BBC CW as the suits try to save £4.5 million this financial year. The job cuts represent about six per cent of the workforce.
Yet this is set against a very disturbing backdrop.
It has been revealed on The Eye, that Mr Davies’ staff have still not moved into their new £100 million headquarters, 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 news programme, his organisation refused an interview with me 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”.
These incredible events came as an extraordinary political row developed. 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 events, 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 hard on the heels of 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 joined in the growing 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 at a time when staff costs and capital expenditure are under review right across the corporation, and 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 me after working at BBC CW for all those years. I 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 told the interview could be conducted over the telephone.
I was then informed 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, the Editor of BBC CW RW Colin 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 also given questionable responses to queries about the listening figures for BBC CW Radio Wales (BBC CW RW). 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 must bear ultimate responsibility.
BBC Wales Today (which admittedly is not renowned for its accuracy) 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)”.
A prominent figure who has been described on Wikipedia as one of the most important presenters on BBC Cymru Wales Radio Wales (BBC CW RW) at the beginning, Mike Flynn, said: “There is no decent Current Affairs output on BBC Wales and now we have this 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 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”.
I do not believe the programme should ever have been allowed to go out.
There has also 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 a cost to the licence fee-payer of about a million pounds, following the controversial decision to close the 53 year-old award-winning Welsh TV Current Affairs programme Week In, Week Out (WIWO), which I 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”.
Meanwhile WIWO 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.
These catastrophic errors at BBC CW under the stewardship of Mr Davies have become a target of our satirical writer.
Now, though he says ‘financial challenges must be managed’ – in other words jobs will be cut.
How Mr Davies can have the cheek to do this after all that has happened is beyond me…
Phil’s memories of his astonishing 36-year award-winning career in journalism 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!
If you need something to keep the children entertained during these uncertain times (in Welsh) try Ffwlbart Ffred about the amusing stories of Ffred and his pet