The controversial Editor of Wales’s only national English-language radio station is to be given overall responsibility for sport at BBC Cymru Wales (BBC CW) despite having little experience and conducting a contentious affair with a married presenter when his officials had commissioned a programme she fronted, The Eye understand.
It is believed that headline-grabbing Colin Paterson, who runs BBC Radio Wales (BBC RW), will take control at a board level of how key Welsh sporting events are covered at the corporation.
According to our sources, Mr Paterson may already have made his presence felt by altering coverage of women’s football in Wales. BBC Cymru Wales (BBC CW) has opted to stream the content, but the decision has triggered major criticism about gender balance and diversity.
Yet in the past it appears the broadcaster has been immensely proud of the way Welsh women’s football was covered. In a media release in August last year the corporation announced: “BBC Cymru Wales will broadcast every game of the qualifying campaign live, with home games broadcast on BBC Two Wales, and every home and away leg live on BBC Radio Wales”.
This apparent row could be the first of many, as our sources have said that Mr Paterson has no qualifications for the senior sports role, but does have an interesting record in other areas.
Our journalists were alone in disclosing that he engaged in an extraordinary relationship with BBC Cymru Wales Today (WT) and radio host Lucy Owen, which caused huge disquiet among staff, as his officials had also commissioned “Sunday Morning with…” that she hosted for a period, and they believed this was a potential conflict of interest.
The slot has also been presented by a series of other ‘high-profile’ Welsh names, which have included Keeping Faith star Eve Myles, controversial celebrity Carol Vorderman, athlete Colin Jackson, actress Suzanne Packer, broadcaster Anna Ryder Richardson, as well as Gavin and Stacey star Joanna Page.
One of our sources at the corporation said about the appointment of Ms Page: “We’re very nervous about this. There is serious disquiet. Nobody wants Joanna Page to go the way of Lucy Owen and have an affair with the Editor”.
In the context of her past liaison, the ‘predictive search results’ in ‘Google’ for Mrs Owen and her husband were, perhaps, prescient. They said ‘Lucy Owen Rhodri Owen split’, and knowledge of the affair when it was underway, was widespread in media circles.
Mr Paterson had even shown his approval of a message of hers on Twitter which declared that she had taken her first commute to the new BBC CW building in Cardiff. She described how she loved it, saying: “I’ve always been a fan of X2 (a bus service) now I get to take it to work”, ‘hashtagging’ ‘publictransport’, and sending her tweet to BBC CW.
But BBC RW itself has not been without its problems either with Mr Paterson in charge, and this makes his extra board responsibility even more curious. He was brought in to halt a disastrous decline in audience figure., and described the new line up he put in place as a “creative challenge” with the figures making the scale of the challenge clear, as they showed that his station had an average weekly audience of just 317,000 listeners in one three month period. Officials have, too, given questionable responses to queries about the BBC RW listening figures. One listener was told: “We are not… obliged to supply information…”.
The comparison of BBC 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.
Among the changes that were announced in a bid to stem the tide of dismal listening statistics, was a new breakfast programme hosted by different presenters on Monday to Thursday, to Fridays and Saturdays.
But a former day time programme host, who was called on Wikipedia one of the main presenters on BBC RW at the beginning, Mike Flynn, was deeply unimpressed.
He told The Eye: “Paterson has not responded to my demands to resign or indeed had the decency to discuss where this strategy is leading. He is a public servant not some cavalier local businessman running a chip shop – £18 million in the kitty and the listeners are deserting in droves”. Mr Flynn was equally angry at revelations of the affair, and said to The Eye: “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.”
But in May 2017 Mr Paterson proudly underlined his changes saying: “I’m so happy we’ve managed to secure a strong and varied set of new voices for the station”.
Yet his new morning programme on BBC RW was described by listeners as “awful”, “abysmal“, and “one of the worst programmes I have heard in a long time”.
The Deputy Economy Minister in Wales Lee Waters MS has said publicly he is worried by what is happening and that there should be ‘serious’ and ‘challenging’ journalism, objecting to the decision to drop the Good Morning Wales (GMW) programme.
Mr Waters (himself a former producer on GMW) said the changes meant there would be “no serious news programme” broadcast at breakfast time. His comments echo statements on Twitter when he has called for more ‘challenging’ journalism.
He quoted approvingly a call for “… serious, challenging journalism and consistently high-quality radio programmes which make politicians nervous…”
He tweeted to BBC CW after the new schedule was announced: “Really concerned about this – absolutely nothing against Claire, but plenty against magazine format. We need agenda-setting news & scrutiny in this slot. You’re a national public service broadcaster. Where else are we going to get it?”. The objections of Mr Waters have now been adopted by the Welsh Government (WG).
He has expressed concern at the changes too to Ofcom, which is the external regulator of the BBC’s television, radio and on-demand programmes. He said: “We feel that as a public service broadcaster, with a duty under its latest charter to reflect the nations, that they have an obligation to provide serious news and scrutiny. Just as BBC Scotland and BBC network do”.
But Mr Paterson’s manager, BBC CW Director Rhodri Talfan Davies has been in the firing line as well.
It has been disclosed on The Eye that Mr Davies’ staff were angry they did not move into their new £100 million headquarters before the lockdown, and two and a half years passed after it was handed over before they finally transferred. An appalling mistake was made on his flagship TV news programme, his organisation refused an interview with our Editor Phil Parry 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”.
Yet even amid these miscalculations he announced another round of job cuts using the form of management-speak which is fashionable today but needs interpreting.
Mr Davies told reporters recent events were to blame for a fiscal crisis, 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“. It has emerged that 60 posts are being axed at BBC CW as officials try to save £4.5 million this financial year (representing about six per cent of the workforce), and live events (including most live sport) are to be cancelled.
But these disturbing facts are set against an extremely worrying backdrop, and among them is the fact that a remarkable political row developed with his organisation at its heart.
The former leader of the Conservatives in the Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament (SC/WP), Andrew RT Davies, MS, accused, on social media, BBC CW of a “link” with Welsh 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 issues, 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 was soon after growing concern about figures who have joined the corporation from PC, and those that have moved in the other direction.
The astonishing delay in opening the new HQ for BBC CW in Cardiff’s Central Square has also been attacked. It could cost the licence fee-payer hundreds of thousands of pounds in bills when officials ran the two buildings. This was at a time when staff costs and capital expenditure were under review right across the corporation, as well as with 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 Mr Parry after he had worked at BBC CW for 23 years. He 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 informed the interview could be conducted over the telephone. He was then instructed that an interview would not, in fact, be granted.
For the terrible mistake on BBC Cymru Wales Today (BBC CWT) Mr Davies also bears ultimate responsibility. Programme-makers used a picture of Brighton Pavilion during 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)”.
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”. Some media executives do not believe the programme should ever have been allowed to go out.
There has, too, 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 an enormous cost to the licence fee-payer, following the controversial decision to close the 53 year-old award-winning Welsh TV Current Affairs programme Week In, Week Out (WIWO), which was presented by Mr Parry 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”.
This came after the contentious resolution to get rid of WIWO despite the fact that it 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.
But it is doubtful BBC CW sports coverage will now receive the highest viewing figures with Mr Paterson in overall charge.
One of our contacts at the organisation has told us that it is now likely to cede its position as the top Welsh sports provider to S4C…
Also on The Eye – more baby talk as we look, in our typical irreverent way, at the contentious presenter of one of Wales’ most important TV news programmes.
Phil’s memories of his extraordinary 37-year award-winning career in journalism (including his years at The BBC) as he was gripped by the rare disabling neurological condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now! The picture doubles as a cut-and-paste poster!