Our Editor, Welshman Phil Parry, spent 23 years with the BBC (including many with Radio Wales), and 38 years in journalism, but now looks askance at the legacy left by the Editor of his old station (as well as the inheritance of the person taking over for a new age), after the latest audience figures showed ANOTHER massive drop in the number of listeners.
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 Cymru Wales TV Current Affairs series he presented for 10 years, 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.
It is always fascinating to watch when a new person takes over following a disastrous period.
It could be argued, for example, that it is enormously difficult for the leader of Labour, Sir Keir Starmer, who is now in charge after years in which the party was in the grip of the hard left Jeremy Corbyn, and his followers. He is facing accusations that he should have done more to root out the extreme left wingers in his party (as Neil Kinnock did in the 1980s), and that Labour should be further ahead in the polls given the problems now engulfing the Conservatives, as well as the perceived ineptitude of Boris Johnson.
Even last year the far left group Momentum still seemed to be firmly entrenched in parts of Labour, saying: “The organisation is now aiming to rebuild itself “from the ground up” through constitutional reform that will directly involve all its members. After devoting more resources than ever before to its network of local groups, Momentum will launch a deliberative process that will ultimately go to an all-member ballot on the final proposals in December. These policies could include reshaping the make-up of the national coordinating group, changes to candidate endorsement processes or member input”.
I reported on (now LORD) Kinnock’s courage and tenacity as he took on Militant (they even start with the same first letter!), so I remember what happened very clearly.
In his 1985 conference speech, he attacked them, without actually referring to the movement by name, by talking principally about Liverpool City Council (which was run at the time by Militant), for causing “grotesque chaos”, and went on to emphasise that this was “a Labour council — a Labour council”.
So it is useful to view with excitement what happens now at the failing BBC Cymru Radio Wales (RW), after years in which audiences have plummeted, and when a new person is about to be put in charge.
The Tiggerish Colin Paterson, is on the point of leaving as Head of BBC Radio Wales and BBC Wales Sport, to become Head of BBC Audio for Wales and the West of England. Mr Paterson will run (among many other programmes), Any Questions?, Farming Today and Composer Of The Week.
But this promotion seems bizarre in the context of the wreckage that he leaves behind, and the pieces his replacement (the favourite for which is known to me) will be forced to pick up, for Mr Paterson has presided over record-breaking low listening figures at RW.
The latest audience RAJAR figures reveal just how appalling the situation has now become. In the first quarter of 2022, there was a 10 per cent plunge in the number of hours people tuned in, and his station had a weekly ‘reach’ of just 314,000, which was a drop of seven points. In December the total weekly audience figure was 371,000, but now it is only 345,000.
These dreadful statistics compare with a weekly ‘reach’ in the same quarter for BBC Radio Scotland (RS) of 877,000, while the equivalent figures for BBC Radio Ulster (RU) were of NO DROP WHATSOEVER in listening hours, and a ‘reach’ of 34,000, which was an INCREASE of three per cent!
However these AWFUL figures come hard on the heels of other recent controversies. The quarter ending December 2021, marked RW down from 5.9 to 5.3 per cent, as a share of the available Welsh audience, and showed that nearly 95 per cent of people in Wales ignore the station ALTOGETHER, yet other radio stations in the UK (as with the latest RAJARs) attracted a far greater audience share.
Past years have been almost as bad for RW too. In 2020 the figures revealed a slight increase on 2019 but a substantial drop compared with two years earlier, a massive decrease on the year before that, and how more than 40,000 listeners had been lost in one three month period, despite a huge amount of money being spent on new schedules. They also showed that the total listening hours were 2,667,000, down from 3,074,000 in September 2019.
One of the main presenters at RW during its launch, re-stated his call for Mr Paterson, and his superior, Rhodri Talfan Davies, to resign (not be promoted). Mike Flynn told The Eye: “Both of these so called media executives (Mr Davies and Mr Paterson) are answerable to the public who pay their salaries via the licence fee and should resign. But they are frightened to reveal the audience for the abysmal Claire Summers programme that replaced Good Morning Wales (GMW). I would like to know what the real figures are across daytimes and weekends and how they waste over £18 million. It is about time they started to answer a few questions.”
A former radio executive, said at the time the previous quarter’s terrible listening figures were released: “It’s (the audience numbers are) peaking at weekdays mid mornings, with Wynne Evans the only highlight. There’s an over reliance on celebrities who have little or no substance, and the breakfast programme is a disgrace. Paterson and Davies should go”.
I presented the lunchtime programme, Wales at One, the drive-time show Good Evening Wales, as well as the weekly debate series People’s Assembly, for seven years until 2006, and have said publicly that this CANNOT go on. Those in charge need to take responsibility for how PUBLIC money is being spent.
But RW (as well as Mr Paterson and Mr Davies), has often hit the headlines for unfortunate reasons. Our journalists have been alone in reporting that Mr Paterson had an affair with the presenter Lucy Owen, and the story about it was included in a Digital Spy (DS) comment concerning RW with the message above the link saying “…the record low listening figures at Radio Wales under it’s (sic) current management (were) amplified this year by criticism from former award winning reporters and presenters”.
For many staff at BBC CW, Mr Paterson’s romance with the married Mrs Owen represented a major potential conflict of interest, because officials had commissioned a RW programme hosted by Mrs Owen, called ‘Sunday morning with Lucy Owen’, and media executives both inside as well as outside the corporation have told me that they were worried about their partnership’s possible impact on the process.
Mr Flynn was equally unimpressed by The Eye’s disclosure of this relationship. He said: “If Paterson has been having an affair with a Wales Today and Radio Wales presenter it brings his management skills in to question and he needs to be suspended immediately”.
When Mr Paterson’s former paramour, Mrs Owen, was newsreading on BBC Wales Today (WT), programme-makers used a picture of Brighton Pavilion during coverage of the start of the hugely important Muslim month of Ramadan instead of a mosque, and the mistake 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)”.
Mrs Owen had also tweeted over Christmas 2020 about how she had taken a trip to the beach at Southerndown in the Vale of Glamorgan, when others were governed by lockdown regulations. She treated us, too, to a video of how she had suffered a “turkey drama” (presumably at her South Wales home) by leaving plastic on the roast, but it cannot compare to the crisis endured by the families to whom she broadcasted every night with the latest lockdown rules. She announced online, as she showed us what had happened: “I left a bit of the plastic on it…”
In the past, Mrs Owen has also described as a ‘crisis’ wearing odd shoes into the office to broadcast the lunchtime bulletin, and asked whether anyone would notice. She even included for us a shocked face emoji after that comment, and following it Mrs Owen published on Twitter: “Crisis over!”.
Yet she could, perhaps, have focused on the BBC CW website saying the same day that coronavirus/Covid-19 was the biggest cause of death in Wales that month, which many might see as a real drama. This was what she would have read instead of complaining about wearing odd shoes: “The mortality rate rose “significantly” for a second month, to 260 deaths per 100,000 people in Wales. It was also more than twice the rate in the most deprived areas compared with the least deprived area”.
Mr Davies’ appointee who she had an affair with, Mr Paterson, has also been in the news for the wrong reasons. He posted a video on Facebook (FB) about how he too went to the beach over Christmas 2020 – this time at nearby Ogmore, which he said was “Balmy”. Yet the Welsh Government (WG) rules at the time appeared clear enough: “If you are travelling away from home, you should travel to meet your Christmas bubble and return home in the course of 25 December...You should keep taking steps to reduce the spread of the virus, and this will help ensure that you enjoy Christmas Day as safely as possible.” Travel advice from South Wales Police (SWP) warned people then about going to beaches “you shouldn’t be driving to these places”.
Mr Paterson’s reliance on ‘celebrity’ in radio programmes has also come under scrutiny. After we reported several years ago that angry listeners had contacted The Eye once it emerged the programme of singing star and broadcaster Aled Jones was suddenly dropped from the airwaves with RW, came news of a very different sort.
On November 4 in 2017 we showed how new schedules were about to be published by the BBC, but the popular Sunday programme of Mr Jones did not appear. At the time the BBC told The Eye, that they did “make changes to when programmes run”.
However it transpired that the Songs of Praise presenter would not be on the airwaves at all at the BBC, while the broadcaster investigated alleged inappropriate behaviour more than a decade earlier. The singer and TV host from Anglesey, who found fame at the age of 12 with his top five Christmas hit Walking in the Air, said he was “deeply sorry” for any upset caused but strongly denied any “inappropriate contact”, and a spokesman for Mr Jones said that while the matter did not relate to any broadcast work, he had voluntarily agreed not to go on the BBC while it was investigated.
In a statement, the spokesman added: “Whilst he accepts that his (Mr Jones’) behaviour over a decade ago was occasionally juvenile, as was that of others, he never intended to harass or distress and he strongly denies any inappropriate contact. He is, however, deeply sorry for any upset caused and hopes this matter is resolved soon.” Mr Jones’ spokesman said that the allegations from a single female complainant of inappropriate messages and contact, reported in the Sun, did not relate to any broadcast work, and related to a matter more than 10 years before
It’s a pity that past performance does NOT appear to be related to securing a new more senior job, and that the successor has to repair shocking damage…
The memories of Phil’s astonishing lengthy award-winning career in journalism (including some of the stories he covered during his years at the BBC) as he was gripped by the rare neurological disabling condition, Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now!
Regrettably publication of another book, however, was refused, because it was to have included names.