Tipping the balance

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A Welsh nationalist website which is supported by the taxpayer has come under heavy attack for the “naive and unbalanced” way it has ‘reported’ an independence poll, The Eye can reveal.

Nation.Cymru (NC) proclaimed in the first paragraph of its ‘report’: “An ITV poll has shown the highest support for independence ever recorded with 39% of Welsh people saying they would now vote ‘yes’ in a referendum”.

Sion Jobbins – ‘a major step forward’?

The ‘report’ included comments by figures who support independence for Wales, but none from any who oppose it.

Siôn Jobbins of YesCymru (the main group pushing for it) was quoted by NC and said the poll was “a major step forward”.

His remarks were included verbatim: “If countries like Ireland and Denmark can be independent, then why not Wales?”.

Adam Price – ‘the union is failing’?

Comments by the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru’s leader Adam Price were also in the piece, who said: “This confirms the growing view that the Union is failing all parts of the UK beyond the Westminster bubble”.

Observations by a spokesperson for Labour for IndyWales were also in the item, with the quote: “That nearly 2 in 5 people would vote for independence tomorrow demonstrates both the growing discontent in the way the state is organised, and the increasing belief that there is a better way to build the Wales we want to see”.

Labour for IndyWales – ‘growing discontent’?

But one highly experienced Welsh journalist told us:  “This lacks basic balance.  There is no political response from the Tories or anti-independence movements.  It is naive and unbalanced”.

Another, who supplies stories in Wales for UK publications, said to The Eye:  “This is disgraceful.  Where is the balanced reporting? This is meant to be a news piece but it’s just an advert for Welsh independence. The fact that public money pays for it only makes it worse!”.

Yet NC, as well as the ‘journalism’ of its Editor Ifan Morgan Jones have been no strangers to controversies after disclosures on The Eye.

Dr Jones helped organise an independence rally 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 began:  “It seems the opponents of independence, now running out of arguments, are getting desperate.”.

The Eye have disclosed how NC has also accepted an advert for students on the media course at BU where Dr Jones is 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:  “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”.

Yet it is obvious that Dr Jones is uneasy about the reliance of NC on taxpayers’ money, and Twitter has been used extensively in order to try to raise more than just public funds.

He tweeted on Easter Day 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 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?“.

The taxpayer support for NC comes through the Books Council of Wales (BCW), which provides a substantial grant, and has placed an advert with the website.

The taxpayer hands over a lot of cash for Nation.Cymru through the Books Council of Wales

Bizarrely a full colour advert was also taken out on NC by the Labour-controlled Welsh Government (WG), and Labour opposes Welsh independence.

Key problems about independence were also not included in the NC ‘report’ about the poll, which might appear strange when the Editor teaches journalism, and this kind of balance is fundamental in news.

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?

Will armed troops patrol the border with England?!

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 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.

This almost didn’t happen…

Apart from the poll this week, the results of other 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 last year.

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

Despite the disclosures over how the economy of Scotland would be massively hit by independence, according to one recent 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.

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.

Polls apart from the way this one was ‘reported’ by Nation.Cymru have not supported independence

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. 

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.

Book posterBackers of small independent countries (like Mr Jobbins) also 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.

But these sort of facts are unlikely to be published on NC, even if it is in the firing line for being “naive and unbalanced” in the way it has ‘reported’ an independence poll…

 

Our Editor Phil Parry’s memories of his astonishing decades long award-winning career in journalism (when balanced reporting was crucial) 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!