Taking the Sheen off

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News that an Oxford University bursary to help Welsh students sponsored by a Hollywood star, and that the actor has fought coronavirus (Covid-19), shine the spotlight on how we revealed he had asked about the cost of supporting a service from a controversial website in Wales which is backed by the taxpayer and supports independence.

Jesus College has developed the Michael Sheen Bursary in collaboration with the Welsh actor, for youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Meanwhile last month Mr Sheen had written on Twitter that he had been “laid low” by coronavirus (Covid-19), and had found it “very difficult and quite scary”.

He stated: “On International Women’s Day, I want to thank all the incredible women, Anna, Mum, Lily, Joanne, my friends and all the women I am lucky enough to have support me, who’ve helped me through this”.

He saw that it was ‘fruitful’

More recently, the Newport-born actor said about the bursary: “Jesus College, Oxford has had a long and fruitful relationship with Wales since its founding in 1571 and it gives me great pleasure to use what resources I have to help young Welsh students of real potential get the opportunities for learning there that they deserve as much as anyone else”.

Earlier it had appeared that Mr Sheen’s resources had also been sought by the headline-grabbing website Nation.Cymru (NC) and its then Editor Ifan Morgan Jones.

He tweeted on Easter Day last year to Mr Sheen that any support 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”. 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”.

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”.

Some readers of NC, though, were deeply unimpressed, and one 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?”. A further critic said:  “What is this all about?  We know Nation.Cymru backs independence, but does Michael Sheen understand a lot of people are angry that taxpayer money supports it?“.

Yet Dr Jones has made the news before, and money was often at the centre of all the stories.

Dr Jones (who helped organise a Welsh independence rally in the past) said earlier:  “If just every @YesCymru (the main group endorsing independence for Wales) member donated £3 a month to @NationCymru it would raise £570,000 a year”, a message which was shared by YesCymru (YC) in a ‘retweet’.

The contentious goal of Welsh independence has been openly backed by him, yet he lectures in ‘journalism’ at Bangor University (BU), when neutrality is a fundamental tenet of news journalism.

Dr Jones also in the past, engaged in an extraordinary Twitter spat with Huw Marshall (the ‘comedian’ behind The National [TN] which was launched last month) over who had come up with the idea of a “national news website”.

Mr Marshall declared: “I somewhat foolishly in hindsight shared details of my plans with a lecturer in journalism in the apparent name of research, only for said individual launching twitter.com/radioyesymru/..”. But Dr Jones hit back with: “The suggestion that you sparked the idea is more than a bit deluded. sorry. 1/”.

The Caernarfon independence rally was postponed

The independence rally Dr Jones helped organise was in Caernarfon, but it had to be postponed because of the lockdown, and his website has published numerous ‘stories’ backing the aim. One recent piece on his website began:  “It seems the opponents of independence, now running out of arguments, are getting desperate.”.

The Eye have disclosed how NC had also accepted an advert for students on the media course at BU where Dr Jones was the leader. But one critic of NC has told The Eye:  “This crosses the line”.

Another said:  “It creates a potential conflict of interest”. A further detractor stated to us:  “How can they do anything about the university when they are advertising one of the courses their own Editor teaches on?!”.

This advert in NC stressed the importance of the “Journalism and Media Studies BA” at “PRIFYSGOL BANGOR UNIVERSITY”, while Dr Jones’ 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”.

There are more controversies Mr Sheen should consider.

The Twitter account of a YC message has announced that at one point it had 487 ‘likes’ and 187 ‘retweets’, but when these were counted the figures were actually just 45 and 70 respectively.

We also showed how a branch of this Welsh independence movement asked provocatively whether “heroes” will make a stand in carrying out an attack on a UK military base on Anglesey.

The goading comment came on Twitter from YC in Ruthin, and referred to a notorious incident in 1936 when an RAF bombing school was set ablaze at Penyberth on the Llyn peninsula, and founding members of the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru (PC) were jailed. The event has gone down in folklore for Welsh nationalists and a video on YouTube declares:  “Penyberth.  Plaid Cymru one.  RAF nil.”

The arson was celebrated on YouTube

Another branch of YC has said people in “our country” (Wales) refuse to integrate, asking menacingly what should be ‘done’ about Unionists.  This extraordinary tweet was put out by YC in the Afan Valley and announced:  “These people are in our country, yet refuse to integrate into our local community”.

A major supporter of YC also holds highly dubious views which he has publicised on social media. Mark Wells/Gareth Mark Welsby claims to be the inventor of the YC ‘app’ and has urged holding a debate about banning gay people from Wales. 

ITV Cymru Wales’ Ellie Pitt shows off her top journalism skills

He wrote in one tweet: “With all this talk about quarantine. I’m serious… Shouldn’t we be discussing banning gay people from Wales. Esp. (gay ex-Welsh rugby international) Gareth Thomas who should resign!! Hiv will spread into Wales’ blood groups inc. Rh+ and our reputation for positive blood ruined. aids infected are negative people”.

But the man behind YC was not questioned about any of these remarkable events by ITV Cymru Wales’ Ellie Pitt, or a WalesOnline reporter who covered the ‘story’. They simply gave the opinions of the man behind YC.

In the case of the ITV Cymru Wales ‘report’, it was proclaimed:  Siôn Jobbins, Chair of YesCymru (says): ‘Wales isn’t poor, there are poor people here, but the country itself isn’t poor’. 

Poverty in Wales is as bad as anywhere

However, the reality is that Wales is very poor indeed as compared with other parts of the UK.  The Welsh economy is still one of the weakest of the UK regions, and to a large extent must rely on UK Government support even after many years of devolution.

Official statistics for regional Gross Value Added (GVA–a measure of economic wealth) demonstrate that recently it had actually DROPPED 2.2 per cent in comparison with the previous year. Welsh GVA is the lowest of all the UK regions, and Wales has proportionally more public sector jobs than in most other areas, many of which, presumably, would be threatened with independence. The Welsh Government (WG) has stated:  “Over a quarter of the workforce in Wales work for the public sector. There is a significant public sector presence in Wales on a local, national and UK-wide level”

Will armed troops patrol the border with England?

Other key issues about Welsh independence were also not put to the organisation pushing for it by the reporters, and which could have affected, as well, the “fast-paced” membership growth ITV Cymru Wales alluded to.

Among these are: 1. The concept needs to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that it would make Wales more democratic and less open to rule by elites. 2. Voters must be convinced that the population would become wealthier. 3. It must be proven that it would make Wales healthier. 4. Voters need to be sure that the majority of Welsh people want it. 5. How would the border with England work?  6. How would Wales handle its share of the UK debt? 7. What currency would Wales use? 8. Most Welsh nationalists believe an independent Wales should re-join the European Union (EU). That process takes about 10 years. How would an independent Wales cope in the meantime? 9. Is there an awareness that in its current economic state, an independent Wales would fail the EU membership requirement for a functioning market economy?

This almost didn’t happen…

Devolution only just scraped through (the 1997 referendum result was 50.3 per cent in favour when 48.7 per cent were against) and independence is likely to be an even tougher sell, with a strong streak of anti-nationalism in Wales.

This has all come as a recent ‘news’ piece on the website providing the service Mr Sheen asked about (NC), stated that ‘thousands’ had signed a petition calling for an independence referendum, but the text revealed the actual number was only 2,000. This figure should be set against a population in Wales of 3.1 million, with most firmly opposed to Welsh independence.

Sion Jobbins – ‘Wales isn’t poor’

The results of surveys have had to be ‘spun’ to support the argument for independence. 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 picture this is set against could be worrying too for Mr Sheen.

Recent disclosures show that the economy of Scotland would be massively hit by independence. According to one survey it seemed that support for independence there may have reached a record level, but the same cannot be said for Wales and this could have been put to Mr Jobbins but was not.

The dancing may stop in Scotland when people realise the economic cost of independence

Research by Ipsos Mori for STV News found that with just six per cent of voters still to make up their minds, 55 per cent backed separation, with 39 per cent in favour of the union when they are included.

Despite this, even in Scotland there are major problems for those who want independence, because senior figures in the Scottish National Party (SNP) were briefed before the 2016 Scottish parliamentary election that CONSISTENT polling of about 60 per cent in favour of independence would indisputably prove that the country had changed its mind since the 2014 referendum against it. 

Iceland has a huge fishing industry but Wales does not

Yet supporters of Welsh independence can only dream of these kind of figures, and there are other enormous hurdles to clear before their goal can be achieved.

Backers of small independent countries like to point to Iceland, but this country has a huge and thriving fishing industry which Wales doesn’t have – there isn’t even a coal industry in Wales to speak of now that all the deep mines have closed.

Journalism used to involve taking notes and asking difficult questions

Journalism usually dictates that these kind of facts which apprently do not fit the independence narrative should be put to the man behind the movement that wants it in Wales, although not, it seems, for ITV Cymru Wales or WalesOnline.

Perhaps they will now report the news that an Oxford University bursary to help Welsh students and that the actor backing it has fought coronavirus (Covid-19), shines the spotlight on how The Eye revealed he had asked about the cost of supporting the service from a controversial website in Wales which is supported by the taxpayer and wants independence.

Book posterBut perhaps not…


Tomorrow – why the founder of the Welsh Nationalist website Mr Sheen wants to support, has been accused of ‘openly mocking minorities being bullied’.

The memories of Phil’s astonishing decades long award-winning career in journalism (when uncomfortable facts were always presented in interviews) as he was gripped by the incurable disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in the book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now! The picture doubles as a cut-and-paste poster!