On the bias again…

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During 23 years with BBC Cymru Wales (BBC CW), and 38 years in journalism (when he was trained to use clear and simple language, avoiding jargon), impartiality has always been central, but here our Editor Phil Parry looks again at how this concept is now being eroded, after a Welsh nationalist website which is supported by the taxpayer, was condemned on Wikipedia for providing “subjective journalism”, and accused on its own Facebook site of ‘stirring up hatred’.

‘I must make sure I am impartial in this story’

In the past he has 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 made 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 CW 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

‘COME OUT AND TELL ME HOW YOU’RE USING PUBLIC MONEY TO SUPPORT NATIONALISM!’

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 pandemic played havoc with media schedules, and the importance of the hugely lower average age of some political leaders compared with when he started reporting.

 

It is a shame to have to bang on about IMPARTIALITY again, but unfortunately, it has to be done.

Phil was always told in his newsrooms to be neutral

Over almost four decades in journalism, successive News Editors (now known as ‘Content Editors’), have emphasised the importance of this concept.

It has always seemed pretty straightforward to me, but is still apparently confusing for some people, so allow me, once more, to spell out the reason why:

UNLESS YOU ARE SEEN AS NEUTRAL, THOSE WITH OPPOSING VIEWS WILL NOT COME TO YOU WITH THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY.

This is even more important when the taxes of EVERYBODY are used to support one particular agenda, yet the website which appears to flout this basic rule, claims it is “A NEWS SERVICE BY THE PEOPLE OF WALES, FOR THE PEOPLE OF WALES”.

It seems fairly obvious that it is perfectly acceptable to possess your own views and propagate them in a blog (whether left-wing, right-wing, nationalist, or anti-nationalist), but it is NOT acceptable to push a certain agenda, when you are supposedly an independent ‘news service’.

This fact has been thrown into sharp relief for me by a description on Wikipedia of the website Nation.Cymru (NC) that: “There is a wider feeling on social media sites where Nation articles are referenced that the website provides very narrow and subjective journalism. Many stories lack factual evidence and are regularly based on stretched concepts that seek to excite a perception of injustice to be directed at the wider UK Government and people of England”.

Perhaps for that “perception of injustice“, NC could look to its own Facebook (FB) page, where it was accused of “… becoming a battering ram for extreme misguided information (and included) articles (which were designed) to stir up hatred in all….. instead of making us proud to be welsh”. Etc.

That’s not all either. Another FB comment was: “It only takes a brief scan of this site to discover that it’s not what it claims to be . It’s Not a Welsh News outlet. This site is a biased Propaganda Outlet for Left Wing Independence activists and supporters.  It’s not impartial or balanced in any way and it targets only a limited section of the Welsh public. An intolerant ‘Echo Chamber’ for Like minded people would be a far more accurate description”. A further one was: “Nation.Cymru claims to be some sort of independent & impartial news service for the people of Wales.  It is clearly nothing of the sort. Judging by the articles it has published to date it is nothing more that (sic) another “echo chamber” for those on the left of Welsh politics who dream of an independent Wales. It clearly ticks all the boxes for Chairman Drakeford (the First Minister of WalesIs that why NC has received public money from the Sennedd (sic) ????”.

These remarks follow earlier criticism of NC on its FB site, with one detractor saying the site is “biased”. It does, though, appear to attract support in extremist circles, with comments about burning down holiday homes, and it has been revealed that key workers property was targeted. One critical observation on NC’s FB platform 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”.

Critics said it was ‘appalling’ to publish this piece using public money

The point about the public money NC receives is correct, although it comes from the Welsh Government (WG) and not the Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru (WP/SC). NC is awarded a substantial grant of £20,000 a year from the Books Council of Wales (BCW), which is itself funded by the WG, so the money NC gets comes from the public purse.

The taxpayer hands over a LOT of money to Nation.Cymru

This means that MY cash is backing a nationalist website, and I object to that MASSIVELY.

It is totally justified to use taxpayers’ money to support books in the Welsh language, but it is NOT permissible to employ this cash in helping a POLITICAL website.  Apart from anything else a LARGE proportion of the people supplying this money may be OPPOSED to the views it holds!

Yet NC seems to be expanding.

It has proclaimed on Twitter: “We have some excellent news for @NationCymru coming later on! Thanks to all our brilliant supporters who are supporting us financially to create a national, not-for-profit, independent news service we’re taking another big step forward and expanding yet further…”.

This incredible situation is underlined by the fact the founder and former ‘Editor’ of NC, Ifan Morgan Jones, TEACHES journalism at Bangor University (BU)! I have been a journalist since 1983, but I have never seen anything like it!

Critics (among them myself) fear this ‘expansion’ may involve MORE public money. Dr Jones tweeted on Easter Day in 2020 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 said 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”.

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”.

But some readers of NC were deeply unimpressed by the request for more money from Mr Sheen, as well as the news that it is supposedly getting bigger. One critic told me: “Why should Michael Sheen be interested in something like this anyway?”. Another stated:  “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?“.

For journalism students at Bangor University neutrality is vital

Apart from tapping a Hollywood star for money to supplement their public cash, Dr Jones’ journalism students could be uneasy, as well, about their teacher’s background. 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. Dr Jones may be quizzed too by his students about one of the basic planks of good news journalism being neutrality, especially when his website claims it serves all “the people of Wales” and is backed by the taxpayer.

It might be clear to his students, that Dr Jones’ website supports PC, which is in opposition to the larger governing Welsh Labour party (although in ‘partnership’ with them) in the WP/SC, and that NC has also boosted the Welsh independence movement by saying, for example, “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

NC’s lack of journalistic neutrality is also shown by the fact that it failed to cover the astonishing 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 prominent item saying “Conservative AM has accepted more free international rugby tickets than any other UK politician”.

One NC ‘news’ piece said 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”, while another attacked the whole idea of second homes, which is a policy plank of PC.

Comments were made on the Nation.Cymru Facebook site about burning down holiday homes

Yet 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.””

The article on NC criticising second homes, also appeared to have Covid-19 in its sights, and began:  “If it’s ‘coronavirus holiday’ season in rural Wales, the forecast is frosty for second home owners”, adding:  “From spreading the virus and skipping lockdown to unfairly claiming business relief, second home owners have had bad pandemic press”.

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”. However 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 has attacked facts about him that have been raised on The Eye, but he should know as a lecturer in ‘journalism’, 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 as well as rules concerning accuracy, that all stories are governed by them, and that reporters have a large amount of evidence to back up each line.

On The Eye, journalists have many years of experience in journalism – I have more than 38 – and are very aware of what can and cannot be published.

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

Dr Jones himself put on FB 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”.

Nation.Cymru reaches for more than just public Welsh Books Council funding

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.”

Golwg was a previous employer for Ifan Morgan Jones

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 that is shown, now, by its apparent ‘expansion’. He wrote earlier on the site: “… the success Nation.Cymru has enjoyed… was beyond my wildest dreams…” 

Even so Dr Jones has said in the past that he is keen to receive more money for NC than just public cash, as his tweet to Mr Sheen makes transparent, 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”.

The Books Council of Wales funds authors and Nation.Cymru

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 was £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 leading 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 posterThere may be less delight, however, that a website the taxpayer supports through the BCW, has been condemned on Wikipedia for providing “subjective journalism”, and accused on its own FB site of ‘stirring up hatred’, when, as I know only too well, impartiality is crucial in news…

 

Details of Phil’s astonishing award-winning journalistic career (when neutrality was essential) as he was gripped by the rare neurological condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order it now!

Regrettably publication of another book, however, was refused, because it was to have included names.