THE END OF THE MR & MRS WILLIAMS SHOW

June 27, 2018

rebecca_logo_04

BROADCASTING WATCHDOG Ofcom has appointed a new Director of its Wales office.

Eleanor Marks, a senior career servant in the Welsh government, takes up the post in September.

A Welsh-speaker, Marks was previously the government’s Director of Communities and Tackling Poverty and also worked for HM Revenue & Customs.

The appointment means Ofcom Wales will not become a family affair.

When Rhodri Williams stepped down in March as Director, there was speculation he would be replaced by his wife, Elinor.

As Regulatory Affairs Manager, she was the effective number 2 — and had stepped into Rhodri Williams shoes when he was seconded to Ofcom London in 2012.

The couple were married in 2017 but for an unknown number of years before that had been conducting a secret affair.

Rhodri Williams

MR WILLIAMS …
MYSTERY SURROUNDS the sudden departure of Rhodri Williams as Ofcom’s £120,000-a-year Wales Director. The 62-year-old had been in the post for 14 years. Controversy has dogged his career in the media. He was gaoled in the 1970s for his part in the campaign for a Welsh language television channel. He was one of the founders of the independent production company Tinopolis but was dramatically dismissed in 2001. It was during this period that he earned his nickname “Billions”. A full account of his early career can be found in the articles A Man Of Conviction? and A Licence To Censor. In the latter piece Rebecca editor Paddy French makes a declaration of interest.
Photo: Ofcom

The appointment of a career civil servant marks an attempt by Ofcom to bring to a close a turbulent period in its Welsh operations.

♦♦♦

IT BEGAN in March 2017 when it was revealed that a valuable contract had been awarded to the lobbying firm Deryn without going out to contract.

Initially, Ofcom defended the contract.

But when Assembly AM Neil McEvoy intervened and demanded a formal investigation, Ofcom backtracked.

In October 2017 the watchdog admitted that its tendering procedures had been broken.

It added that several unnamed staff members would be given “further training”.

Ofcom would not say if Mr and Mrs Williams were the staff members involved.

Nor would Ofcom confirm or deny that Rhodri Williams’ decision to leave the organisation had anything to do with the scandal.

Then, in March this year, Rebecca published The Mistress Of The Man From Ofcom revealing for the first time that Rhodri Williams and his wife had been involved in a long-standing relationship.

The affair raised the issue of patronage at Ofcom Wales.

It is not known when their liaison actually began but Rebecca discovered they first met back in the 1990s.

Her career path has partly followed his.

She joined the Welsh Language Board in 2003 when he was chairman.

She joined Ofcom in 2007 as Communications Manager when he was Director.

Ofcom declined to say if Rhodri Williams had been involved in her initial appointment or her later promotion to Regulatory Affairs Manager in 2011.

On May 9 Rebecca published another article — Update: The Mistress Of The Man From Ofcom — on the search for a new Director.

ElinorWilliams

… MRS WILLIAMS
OFCOM’S DECISION to appoint a civil servant marks the end of the Mr and Mrs Williams show. In normal circumstances, Elinor Williams would have been a favoured candidate: a reorganisation in 2011 saw her become the No 2 at Ofcom Wales and the following year she stepped in as Director while Rhodri Williams worked in London. The departure of her husband and the scandal surrounding the Deryn contract appear to have persuaded Ofcom to choose an outside candidate.
Photo: Ofcom

We asked why Ofcom’s Welsh page still showed Rhodri Williams as Director when the watchdog had said he would leave at the end of March.

Ofcom then amended the page.

Northern Ireland Director Jonathan Rose was now shown to be also acting as temporary head of the Welsh operation.

But the entry for Elinor Williams had been changed: her photo had disappeared and her title had been altered.

Instead of Regulatory Affairs Manager, she was now described as Principal, Regulatory Affairs.

Ofcom declined to explain why her title had changed — or if it involved a pay rise.

The watchdog also altered the entry for a new member of staff, Lloyd Watkins.

Rebecca had asked if  Rhodri Williams had been involved in his  appointment to the apparently new position of Regulatory Affairs Advisor in January.

Ofcom declined to answer.

Watkins’ web page entry originally made it clear he had  worked for various Labour organisations and Assembly Members.

The new entry saw all his Labour Party connections removed.

♦♦♦

IT IS NOT known if Elinor Williams applied for the job of Director.

The decision to appoint someone else has headed off another potential embarrassment for Ofcom.

The Welsh Assembly AM Neil McEvoy has been keeping a close eye on the appointment process.

He told Rebecca:

“I’m pleased that Ofcom Wales is now moving forward after a very embarrassing situation.”

“Ofcom is a competition regulator, so to be exposed awarding contracts without any competition was bringing the organisation into disrepute.”

“It looked worse still when the contract was awarded to a controversial lobbying firm who had two of its directors sitting on Ofcom’s Advisory Board for Wales.”

“Unfortunately, there’s a real jobs for the boys and girls culture in Cardiff Bay that means too often the best people don’t get the best jobs.”

“We need competition regulators like Ofcom to work to end that practice, not take part in it.”

“I hope with a new Director in place they can have a fresh start and fight for equal opportunity in Wales, where every person and company has a fair go.”

“I’ll be watching very closely.”

♦♦♦ 

Published: 27 June 2018

© Rebecca

♦♦♦ 

COMING
THE DEATH OF CARL SARGEANT
LAST NOVEMBER Labour Cabinet minister Carl Sargeant hanged himself. His suicide followed allegations that he had sexually harassed women. Rebecca investigates these allegations and charts the attempts by Carwyn Jones and the Welsh Labour establishment to cover up their role in the affair.

♦♦♦

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BBC FORCED TO CORRECT OWEN SMITH PROFILE

August 13, 2016

Note: this article was originally published on the Press Gang website. 

Owen_Smith_head_BBC

THE BBC has been forced to correct an inaccurate profile of Owen Smith following a complaint by Press Gang.

In July the Corporation published an online article which included details about Smith’s career at BBC Wales.

Press Gang complained to Director General Lord Hall.

We said the article gave the false impression that Owen Smith was already at the BBC before his father, the historian Dai Smith, became involved.

In fact, the evidence suggests it was Smith the father who introduced Smith the son to the Corporation.

Press Gang also cited several errors of fact — and criticised the fact that the BBC has not provided a detailed CV of Smith’s broadcasting career.

Yesterday the BBC corrected the article but didn’t admit the original errors.

The Corporation also acknowledged the complaint.

Smith has declined to provide a full CV of his career as a journalist, lobbyist and politician.

The Press Gang investigation continues.

We have now asked Smith:

if he’s ever been a member of the National Union of Journalists

if he’s been a member of the Labour Party continuously since he joined at the age of 16 and

if he will, as Jeremy Corbyn has done, make his tax returns public.

There was no reply by the time this article went to press.

♦♦♦

JUST TWO days after he became the sole challenger to Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership, BBC online published an article called “Profile: The Owen Smith story”.

It contained the following statement about Owen Smith’s early career:

“After studying history and French at the University of Sussex, he joined BBC Wales as a radio producer. His father, Dai, was appointed editor of BBC Wales and head of programmes in the same year.”

Press Gang complained about this paragraph to BBC Director General Lord Hall.

First, we said it gave the impression that Owen Smith was at BBC Wales before his father.

Press Gang was concerned that the paragraph was a “red herring” designed to avoid the question of nepotism and patronage in Owen Smith’s career.

rhodri-talfan-davies
TAFFIA TELLY 
RHODRI TALFAN DAVIES, BBC Wales Director, controls an organisation which has been dogged by allegations of nepotism and patronage for more than a quarter of a century. There was controversy when he was appointed in 2011 at the age of 40 because he’s the son of former BBC Wales boss, Geraint Talfan Davies. It was Geraint Talfan Davies who appointed Owen Smith’s father, Dai Smith, to the second most powerful post in BBC Wales in the 1990s …
Photo: BBC Wales

The evidence is that his father was already an established broadcaster at BBC Radio Wales and that it was he who introduced his son to a senior producer at the station.

Second, the paragraph is inaccurate: there’s no such role as editor of BBC Wales (the post is Editor, Radio Wales) and Dai Smith was not appointed head of programmes until much later.

Finally, Press Gang complained that BBC Wales is refusing to release a full CV of Owen Smith’s broadcasting career.

Yesterday, the BBC corrected the errors — but didn’t admit the original mistakes.

The BBC journalist who wrote the piece, Brian Wheeler, told Press Gang he talked to BBC Wales political journalists at Westminster before filing the article.

He said he wasn’t aware there were allegations of nepotism and patronage at BBC Wales.

The Director General’s office also acknowledged our complaint.

But the Corporation has still not provided Smith’s broadcasting CV.

Owen Smith denies that nepotism or patronage played any part in his broadcasting career.

We asked him for a full CV of his career as a journalist, a lobbyist and a politician.

So far, he’s not provided one …

♦♦♦

FOR EIGHT days we’ve been waiting for Owen Smith to answer questions about other aspects of his career.

On August 4 his press team apologised “for the delay in getting back to you — as you’ll be aware it’s an incredibly busy campaign and we have a lot of competing demands … … please do bear with us as we try to reply to everyone.”

One of the questions we put to him was his salary as a lobbyist for Pfizer.

In June 2014, when Smith was shadow Welsh Secretary, he told the Sunday Telegraph his salary was £80,000.

Press Gang found a Times article of 2006, when he was the candidate for the Blaenau Gwent by-election, which said he was a “… £200,000-a-year lobbyist for Pfizer.”

We asked him which figure was correct.

There was no reply by the time this article went to press.

We also asked him to expand on his statement:

“I want to be a force for good in the world. Therefore, you need to achieve power. Nye Bevan, my great hero, said it’s all about achieving and exercising power. I’ve devoted my life to that.”

We asked him for proof of this devotion.

The available evidence suggests that, until he was in his early thirties, his interest in politics was virtually nil.

We’ve now asked him if he’s been a Labour Party member continuously since he first joined at the age of 16.

He says Nye Bevan, one of the founders of the NHS, is his great hero.

A think tank in Bevan’s memory — the Bevan Foundation — was established in 2001.

Smith said he did not become a trustee until 2007 — after he was selected as Labour candidate for the Blaenau Gwent by-election in 2006.

Blaenau Gwent includes Tredegar which was Bevan’s constituency.

And Smith didn’t stay long  — he resigned in 2009.

Yesterday we asked him if he’d been involved in the Foundation before joining as a trustee in 2007.

We have also asked Smith if he was a member of the National Union of Journalists during his career as a broadcaster.

There’s no evidence in the public record of any membership.

Finally, we have also also asked him if he will make his tax returns public, as Jeremy Corbyn has done.

He did not answer any of these questions before this article went to press.

♦♦♦
Published: 13 August 2016
© Press Gang
♦♦♦

Notes

1. This the third instalment of this investigation:  the first, Owen Smith: Forged By Patronage and Nepotism?, was published on August 3. The second, Owen Smith: A Man For All Seasons, was published on August 8.  Click on a title to read it.
2. Press Gang editor Paddy French declares personal interests in this story.
— in the 1980s he was the editor of Rebecca magazine which was in competition for a substantial Welsh Arts Council grant. One of the competitors was Arcade magazine and Dai Smith was one of its supporters. The council’s literature committee chose Rebecca but the full council overturned the decision — and gave the grant to Arcade.
— French is one of the thousands of traditional Labour voters who have joined the party following Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Leader. He will be voting for Corbyn in the Leadership election.
3. The Rebecca investigation into nepotism and patronage at BBC Wales is explored in the articles The Son Of The Man From Uncle and In The Name Of The Father?
4. The cover block pic is by Gareth Fuller / PA.

♦♦♦

DONATIONS Investigative stories like this one are expensive and time-consuming to produce. You can help by making a contribution to the coffers. Just click on the logo …

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CORRECTIONS Please let us know if there are any mistakes in this article — they’ll be corrected as soon as possible.

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OWEN SMITH: A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS

August 8, 2016

 THIS ARTICLE first appeared on the Press Gang website. 

Owen_Smith_head_seasons

THE BATTLE for the Labour leadership is in full swing.

But so far the personal integrity of Owen Smith has not been an issue in the campaign.

The mainstream media have accepted his own sanitized version of his career.

The result is that it has largely been left to Press Gang to ask the searching questions about Owen Smith.

He still declines to provide the detailed CV we’ve asked for.

But, after some delay, he’s finally started to answer some of our questions.

He denies that nepotism and patronage in South Wales played any part in his rise to become a possible future Prime Minister.

But some of his answers are unconvincing.

And more questions are emerging …

♦♦♦

SEVEN HOURS after Press Gang published the article “Owen Smith: Forged by Patronage and Nepotism?” the Labour leadership candidate finally answered some of our questions.

His press team told us on Wednesday:

“The suggestion that Owen received any of his roles through patronage are (sic) completely false.”

A spokesperson said Owen Smith had forwarded our questions to Nick Evans, the senior BBC Wales radio producer who first hired him.

Nick Evans then sent us two emails.

Labour leadership challenge
LEFT — AND LEFT AGAIN?
JEREMY CORBYN and Owen Smith at the first public hustings of the leadership campaign in Cardiff on Thursday night. The British media have concentrated most of its forensic firepower on Jeremy Corbyn and have largely taken the challenger at face value. Press Gang is one of the few investigative outlets examining Owen Smith’s career in detail.
Photo: PA

In the first, Evans said it was Owen Smith who first approached him for work.

In his second, he gave a different version: Owen Smith had come into BBC Wales with his father and it was Evans who offered him work.

We asked Owen Smith about this contradiction.

His press team replied:

“Owen’s appointment followed casual work he had gained at BBC Wales, after contacting Nick directly, … without any input from his father.”

The press team also forwarded our questions to the man who was BBC Wales’ head of human relations at the time, Keith Rawlings, adding:

” … he would be able to confirm all of your allegations are completely false.”

“Keith sat on the interview panel alongside Nick [Evans] when Owen was originally interviewed.”

Press Gang rang Keith Rawlings.

He told us he wasn’t on the interview panel when Owen Smith was originally appointed.

He said the first he knew of Owen Smith was much later, after Dai Smith had been appointed Editor, Radio Wales.

In other words, Rawlings knew nothing about how Owen Smith was first introduced to Radio Wales …

♦♦♦

HAVE THE BBC been complicit in Owen Smith’s attempts to avoid questions about nepotism and patronage?

Two days after Owen Smith became the sole challenger to Jeremy Corbyn, the BBC political reporter Brian Wheeler posted a profile of the candidate headed “The Owen Smith story”.

This article set the tone for much of the general media treatment of Owen Smith’s early BBC career.

It contained this paragraph:

“After studying history and French at the University of Sussex, he joined BBC Wales as a radio producer. His father, Dai, was appointed editor of BBC Wales and head of programmes in the same year.”

By focusing on the actual appointments of Owen Smith to a post on Radio Wales and Dai Smith as Editor of Radio Wales, it gave the impression that Owen was already at the BBC when his father was picked to be the next Editor of Radio Wales.

It failed to say that Dai Smith had already introduced Owen before either appointment took place.

DaiSmith_35
DAI SMITH
OWEN SMITH’S father has been an important figure in Welsh public life for decades. He was the second most powerful man at BBC in the late 1990s and close to the clique that controlled broadcasting at that time. As one of the main historians of the south Wales miners, he’s also close to some of the key political figures in Welsh Labour. Owen Smith insists his father played no part in his career …
Photo: Parthian Books 

Given that the information in this article could only have come from one of two places — the BBC itself or Owen Smith — it raises the question of bias.

On Thursday Press Gang editor Paddy French wrote to BBC Director General Lord (Tony) Hall.

The email said there were several errors in the paragraph’s second sentence:

“His father, Dai, was appointed editor of BBC Wales and head of programmes in the same year.”

French noted:

” — there has never been an Editor of BBC Wales. The post being referred to here is Editor, Radio Wales.”

” — there is an issue about the date of [Dai’s] appointment: former BBC Wales contacts tell me this was actually 1993, not 1992.”

” — Dai Smith was not appointed head of programmes in the same year: that actually happened, as I understand it, in 1994.”

The Press Gang editor added:

“I am also concerned at the possibility that this paragraph was a deliberate red herring, designed to deflect attention away from the question about how Owen Smith was introduced to BBC Wales in the first place.”

“Given the sensitivity that surrounds the Corbyn-Smith contest for the Labour leadership, this article also raises questions about BBC impartiality.”

A spokeswoman for Tony Hall acknowledged receipt of the email but, at the time this article went to press, there was no reply.

♦♦♦

OTHER SERIOUS challenges to Owen Smith’s reputation for honesty are beginning to emerge.

In 2002 he left BBC Wales and took a post as special adviser to Labour Cabinet Minister Paul Murphy, the MP for the Welsh constituency of Torfaen.

Owen Smith insists his family connections played no part in this appointment.

His press team told us:

“With regards to Owen’s appointment with Paul Murphy — again Dai [Smith] had absolutely no involvement.”

“Dai did not even know Paul Murphy at all, until after Owen began working for him.”

Paul Murphy also denied that Dai was involved in the appointment but wouldn’t explain how Owen Smith came to be selected.

Murphy told us:

“He came from BBC Wales, although I knew his father through Welsh Labour history circles.”

In 2005 Owen Smith joined the controversial US pharmaceutical company Pfizer.

His exact role is not clear — one press report said he was Head of Policy and Government Relations.

We asked Pfizer for more information.

The company told us:

“We are unable to discuss the details of individuals’ roles; however, we can confirm that Owen Smith was employed by Pfizer UK in our Corporate Affairs Department between January 2005 and September 2008.”

The job involved a substantial increase in salary.

Owen Smith moved his family from London down to a £489,000 house in the Surrey village of Westcott near Dorking.

In 2006 Pfizer allowed him time off work to contest the Blaenau Gwent by-election.

Owen Smith said the company had been “extremely supportive” of his aspirations to public office.

But the fact that Labour had selected a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical giant was not popular in a seat which included Nye Bevan’s old powerbase.

Labour party annual conference 2015
“DRUG PUSHER”
WHEN OWEN SMITH was selected as the candidate for the by-election in Blaenau Gwent in 2006, there was concern that he was a lobbyist for a pharmaceutical company — Labour MP Paul Flynn called him a “drug pusher”.  In the general election of 2005 local politician Peter Law had left the party in protest at the imposition of an all-woman shortlist and captured the seat as an independent. He died of a brain tumour a year later and Labour, dropping its all-woman shortlist, selected Owen Smith. The party confidently expected to regain the seat and spent more than £56,000 on the campaign, including holiday accommodation outside the constituency for party activists drawn in from all over Britain. Dai Davies, Law’s agent, spent less than £7,000 on his campaign but still managed to beat Smith with a majority of 2,484 votes.
Photo: PA 

Newport Labour MP Paul Flynn said:

“I wasn’t too pleased that we had a drug pusher as a candidate.

He added:

“The lobbyists are a curse, a cancer in the system. It’s insidious. One of my main interests in politics is areas in which lobbyists used their wicked wiles to get access to government. One example is the pharmaceutical industry, who are the most greedy and deceitful organisations we have to deal with.”

♦♦♦ 

OWEN SMITH’S time as a lobbyist with Pfizer haunts his political career.

In June 2014, when Owen Smith was shadow Welsh Secretary, there was a major controversy involving Pfizer.

The American company made a £69 billion bid for AstraZeneca, the Anglo-Swedish company, which would have made Pfizer the world’s largest drug business.

It was opposed by then Labour Leader Ed Miliband who didn’t want a flagship UK company falling into US hands.

The fact that Labour were attacking a company when one of its own shadow Cabinet members had worked for the company as a lobbyist attracted media attention.

Owen Smith told the Sunday Telegraph:

“… obviously having worked there I’m probably a little more understanding than some of those other members …”

The paper added:

“Mr Smith said he was paid £80,000 a year to lobby for Pfizer.”

Pfizer eventually dropped the bid.

There have been suspicions that Owen Smith was paid far more than £80,000, so Press Gang did some digging.

Back in 2006, when he was working for Pfizer and contesting the 2006 Blaenau Gwent by-election, The Times sent two reporters to the constituency.

Their report contained the following statement:

“The Labour Party’s candidate for Westminster, Owen Smith, a … £200,000-a-year lobbyist for Pfizer ….””

We asked Owen Smith which was true: the £80,000 a year he told the Sunday Telegraph or The Times which said it was £200,000?

At the time we went to press, he had not replied.

♦♦♦

OWEN SMITH left Pfizer in 2008 and went to work in a similar role for the pharmaceutical company Amgen.

In 2010 he was selected as the Labour candidate for the safe Pontypridd constituency.

Again, he insists that his family and friends played no part in his selection.

One of these friends is Kim Howells, the MP who held the seat for Labour and had decided to step down at the 2010 election.

Howells is an old friend of Dai Smith and knows his son well.

Kim Howells MP
KIM HOWELLS
THE LABOUR politician held the safe Labour seat of Pontypridd for 21 years. Although he’s a friend of Dai Smith, and knows his son well, Owen Smith insists Howells played no part in his selection for one of the safest Labour seats in the UK.
Photo: PA

Owen Smith’s press team told us:

“The suggestion Kim helped Owen in his selection as the candidate for Pontypridd is also entirely false.”

“Whilst it is correct that Kim knew Dai, at no stage did Kim support or endorse Owen’s candidature.”

Once again Press Gang went back to the newspaper cuttings.

In a Western Mail report on Owen Smith’s selection in March 2010, the paper reported that he’d been selected after a second round of voting, winning by 104 votes to 74.

The article then states:

“Mr Smith … was supported by Kim Howells …”

Press Gang asked Owen Smith to clear up the contradiction.

There had been no reply by the time this article was published.

When Owen Smith was elected Labour MP for Pontypridd, he sold his Surrey home for £745,000.

♦♦♦ 

THE PROBLEM with Owen Smith is no-one knows what he really stands for.

In 2006 The Independent called him a “dyed-in-the-wool” New Labourite.

Now he’s the man to carry out the old Labour policies Jeremy Corbyn has revived.

Which of these two Owen Smiths is the real one?

Or is he just a political chameleon?

The manner in which he and his team have dealt with his past career is disturbing.

Take his political commitment.

“I grew up in South Wales during the miners’ strike, he says, “That’s when I came alive politically.”

He adds that he then joined the Labour Party in 1986.

Yet between 1986 and his selection as Labour candidate in the 2006 Blaenau Gwent by-election — two entire decades — there’s no evidence at all of any involvement in labour Party politics.

He doesn’t seem to have served a political apprenticeship at all.

Jeremy Corbyn, in contrast, was active in politics while at school, became a trade union official at 21 and a London councillor at 24.

In fact, Owen Smith’s career is much closer to David Cameron’s — a spell as a special adviser and years working in the corporate affairs of a major company.

When Smith says —

“I want to be a force for good in the world. Therefore, you need to achieve power. Nye Bevan, my great hero, said it’s all about achieving and exercising power. I’ve devoted my life to that.”

 — it’s the last sentence that rings false.

He’s been an active politician for just six years.

His attempt to push back from suggestions that his father helped his career is unconvincing.

He seems to believe any hint of nepotism and patronage is toxic to his reputation.

He doesn’t seem to understand that it’s not so much the fact that his father helped him — it’s the fact that he seeks to deny it.

He doesn’t seem to understand that it’s not so much what his salary was at Pfizer —  a huge salary is inevitable when working for a global combine — it’s the fact that he seeks to minimise it.

It’s a question of personal integrity.

If he can’t be trusted to give a true account of his own career, how can he be trusted to be the custodian of the values which Jeremy Corbyn has brought back into mainstream politics?

♦♦♦

THIS INVESTIGATION continues.

A crowdfunding project has been launched on the By-line site here.

♦♦♦
Published: 8 August 2016
© Press Gang
♦♦♦

Notes
1. The first part of this investigation was published on August 3 — Owen Smith: Forged By Patronage and Nepotism? Click on the title to read it.
2. Press Gang editor Paddy French declares personal interests in this story.
— in the 1980s he was the editor of Rebecca magazine which was in competition for a substantial Welsh Arts Council grant. One of the competitors was Arcade magazine and Dai Smith was one of its supporters. The council’s literature committee chose Rebecca but the full council overturned the decision — and gave the grant to Arcade.
— he’s one of the thousands of traditional Labour voters who have joined the party following Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Leader. He will be voting for Corbyn in the Leadership election.
3. The Rebecca investigation into nepotism and patronage at BBC Wales is explored in the articles The Son Of The Man From Uncle and In The Name Of The Father?
4. The cover block pic is by Gareth Fuller / PA.

♦♦♦

DONATIONS Investigative stories like this one are expensive and time-consuming to produce. You can help by making a contribution to the coffers. Just click on the logo …

Donate Button with Credit Cards

CORRECTIONS Please let us know if there are any mistakes in this article — they’ll be corrected as soon as possible.

RIGHT OF REPLY If you have been mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let us have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory we’ll add it to the article.


OWEN SMITH: FORGED BY PATRONAGE & NEPOTISM?

August 3, 2016

Note: this article was originally published on the Press Gang website.

Owen_Smith_head_400c

WHY HAS there been so little examination of Owen Smith’s career by the British press?

In the two weeks since Smith became Jeremy Corbyn’s sole challenger for the Labour leadership, journalists have largely accepted his CV at face value.

For national newspapers he’s a credible candidate.

Smith says:

“I want to be a force for good in the world. Therefore, you need to achieve power. Nye Bevan, my great hero, said it’s all about achieving and exercising power. I’ve devoted my life to that.”

No-one has drilled down into this statement.

Press Gang investigation into Owen Smith’s 24 year career shows little dedication to politics — or any other profession:

he displayed no appetite for a political career — until he walked into a plum job for Cabinet Minister Paul Murphy.

he had no experience of lobbying — until he was appointed to handle “government affairs” for the UK branch of global pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

he had absolutely no journalistic experience — until he was appointed a producer at BBC Radio Wales.

The only constant in his working life is his father Dai Smith, historian-turned-broadcasting mandarin and a key figure in the Welsh establishment.

Dai Smith was a senior manager at BBC Wales for most of his son’s ten-year stint there — and he and his friends have been influential figures in his political career.

So is Owen Smith’s current high-profile the result of nepotism and patronage?

♦♦♦

TWO DAYS after Owen Smith became the sole challenger to Jeremy Corbyn, the BBC published an article called “The Owen Smith Story”.

There’s a fascinating paragraph about his early career:

“After studying history and French at the University of Sussex, he joined BBC Wales as a radio producer. His father, Dai, was appointed editor of BBC Wales and head of programmes in the same year.”

DaiSmith_35
NEVER SAY DAI
DAI SMITH, Owen Smith’s father, insists he’s played no part in his son’s career. Smith the father was born in the Rhondda valley, educated at Oxford and is a well-known Welsh left-wing historian with several landmark books to his name. By the early 1980s he was also presenting TV programmes for BBC Wales and gradually became an important figure at its HQ in Cardiff. In 1992 he became editor of Radio Wales and, in 1994, was appointed head of English language programmes — becoming the second most powerful BBC man in Wales.
Photo: Parthian Books 

Ignoring the inaccuracies — there has never been an editor of BBC Wales and Dai Smith didn’t become head of programmes until 1994 — it’s worth noting the order of these two sentences.

The first sentence says Owen Smith joined Radio Wales as a radio producer.

The second says his father was appointed editor of BBC Wales “in the same year”.

The impression being conveyed is that Owen was appointed first and his father Dai Smith second.

In other words, the egg (Owen) got his job before the chicken (Dai).

But, if that’s the case, why didn’t the BBC just say so?

Press Gang has been trying to solve this riddle.

We spoke to Dai Smith — he insisted that Owen was already working at BBC Wales when he arrived.

We asked BBC Wales boss Rhodri Talfan Davies which came first: Owen Egg or Chicken Dai?

There was no answer.

We also asked Owen Smith about this.

He never came back to us.

But then, out of the blue, we received an extraordinary email from the man who claims to have first employed him at BBC Wales …

♦♦♦

AT FIVE o’clock on Monday night Nick Evans, a former senior producer on Radio Wales, wrote to us from Tenerife.

“Owen and Dai have forwarded the points you put to Dai about his role in Owen’s career,” he wrote.

“I hope I can clarify some aspects of the timeline.”

Nick Evans said that in the early 1990s he was working on the Meet For Lunch midday programme presented by Vincent Kane, BBC Wales’ leading presenter.

When Kane wasn’t able to present the programme, Dai Smith would often stand in.

On some of these occasions, in the summer and early autumn of 1992, Dai Smith brought the young Owen Smith into Broadcasting House in Cardiff and introduced him to Evans.

Evans said:

“As I did with anyone who approached me for work (it was Owen himself) and who was clearly bright, committed and possessed of proper integrity, I gave him some casual work.”

“So it is no surprise that he rose quickly — both in Wales and London.”

Press Gang asked Evans for more detail.

When he replied, there was a change of emphasis:

“When Owen started it was when he was still considering the Swansea option.

(Owen Smith had been planning to do an MA at Swansea University.)

“I liked him”, said Evans, “and knew he was considering his options and offered as I often did the chance to come in and ‘shadow’ / work as a researcher on MFL [Meet For Lunch].

After a few days unpaid work experience, Evans gave him paid freelance work.

“Then he got a contract job on the programme as a researcher through the next competitive board (which no-one other than myself had any say over, apart from HR [Human Resources].”

“He had no experience as such … but then again nor did many of the others who came through the same (yes loose) process.”

“It might not have been as rigorous a system as has became the norm but it had its merits and I can put my hand on (very self-examining) heart and say that Owen got where he got (when I had a say) absolutely because he was (often head and shoulders) the best person.”

When Dai Smith became Editor of Radio Wales, Evans said the two of them tried to avoid favouritism:

“… much of what myself and Dai attempted was to try and move away from the kind of nepotism that had pervaded the Welsh media for years … maybe didn’t work for long … but I tried.”

He made it clear that “Owen became (as Dai did) a close friend.”

Nick Evans’ comments leave many unanswered questions but it’s clear Dai Smith was already an important fixture at Radio Wales long before he was appointed Editor — and while his son was still a student at Sussex University.

It’s also clear that Dai Smith was instrumental in introducing his son to a senior producer on the Meet For Lunch programme.

The unanswered question is: would Owen Smith ever have got a foothold in the BBC if his father hadn’t been Dai Smith?

♦♦♦ 

FOR TEN years Owen Smith was a competent but undistinguished broadcaster.

Neither Owen Smith nor the BBC would provide a detailed chronology of his career.

There’s no evidence Dai Smith intervened to further his son’s prospects.

There’s no evidence Owen Smith tried to take advantage of his father’s position.

Owen Smith worked on many radio programmes before moving to television producing the BBC Wales flagship political programme Dragon’s Eye.

Insiders say his Dragon’s Eye performance ranged from “tough and uncompromising” to “heavy-handed” with some accusations of “bullying” of junior staff.

For a spell he worked on the Radio 4 Today programme in London.

Owen Smith claimed there was a culture of bullying at Today.

rhodri-talfan-davies
FATHERS’ BOYS
THERE ARE remarkable similarities between the current Director of BBC Wales, Rhodri Talfan Davies (above), and Owen Smith. They’re both in their mid 40s — Talfan Davies is 45, Owen Smith 46. Both rose to prominence when relatively young, both have powerful fathers — and both face questions about the role of nepotism and patronage in their careers. Rhodri Talfan Davies is a member of a powerful media clan which has controlled BBC Wales for a quarter of a century — his father Geraint Talfan Davies was BBC boss from 1990 to 2000. An investigation by Press Gang’s sister website Rebecca entitled The Son Of The Man From Uncle revealed that Rhodri Talfan Davies’ rise to the top was eased by the previous Director, Menna Richards, who was a close friend of Geraint Talfan Davies. Rhodri Davies was just 40 when he took over from Menna Richards in 2011 but the appointment was dogged by controversy. He was initially rejected before BBC Director General Mark Thompson stepped in to confirm the post. BBC Wales is extremely touchy about allegations of nepotism and patronage surrounding the Talfan Davies clique. In 2014 it refused to answer any further questions on the subject, telling Rebecca “… we will not be commenting in future other than in truly exceptional circumstances”.
Photo: Wales Online

Former Today editor Rod Liddle believed that charge was levelled against him because he had once criticised Smith.

Smith had been asked to arrange a police spokesman for the programme.

To the amazement of colleagues he picked up the phone and dialled 999 to arrange one.

The police complained.

Liddle said:

” … there was a culture of shouting at Owen when he did something deranged”.

Liddle added that, aside from this one mistake, he was “perfectly competent”.

But Smith never secured promotion to senior editorial roles at the BBC, either in London or Cardiff.

By the early 2000s, according to one insider, he faced a future of either moving sideways — or out.

In 2000 the boss of BBC Wales, Geraint Talfan Davies, retired.

Talfan Davies had been a strong supporter of Dai Smith.

The new broom, Menna Richards, was not.

Dai Smith left BBC Wales to become Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glamorgan.

In 2002, Owen Smith also decided to switch tack — and became a special adviser to the South Wales MP, Paul Murphy, who was Secretary of State for Wales.

♦♦♦ 

AGAIN, THERE’S no evidence of a political backstory.

Owen Smith is on record as saying the 1984 miners’ strike was his “political awakening” and that he joined the Labour Party when he was 16.

However, as far as the public record is concerned, he then seems to have lapsed into a political coma.

Press Gang asked him what other political activity he’d been involved in  — student politics, constituency activism or involvement in local politics.

He didn’t answer the question.

His appointment as a “special advisor” to Paul Murphy, a veteran Labour MP representing the South Wales seat of Torfaen, came as a surprise to many Labour Party members in Wales.

Smith’s experience as a political journalist at BBC Wales qualified him to be a special adviser at the Wales Office.

But was another family connection also involved in the appointment?

Paul Murphy is a friend of Dai Smith.

Press Gang asked Murphy if this played any part in the appointment.

He replied saying it hadn’t.

Paul Murphy
MURPHY’S LAW
PAUL MURPHY insists Owen Smith’s appointment as one of his special advisers at the Wales and Northern Ireland Office had nothing to do with his friendship with Dai Smith. But he wouldn’t explain how Owen Smith came to be chosen. Murphy was a leading figure in Welsh Labour for many decades and MP for the south-east Wales seat of Torfaen from 1987. He was made a life peer in 2015, taking the title Baron Murphy of Torfaen.
Photo: PA 

We asked how Owen Smith came to be selected.

Murphy’s reply was enigmatic:

“He came from BBC Wales, although I knew his father through Welsh Labour history circles.”

Owen Smith was a special adviser until 2005 when he left to join the controversial US pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer.

But his political connections were powerful enough for him to secure the Labour nomination for the 2006 by-election in Blaenau Gwent.

Normally this was a safe Labour seat.

But Peter Law, the dominant Labour politician in the area, had fallen out with the party — and won the 2005 general election as an independent.

His death led to the 2006 by-election — and many expected the seat to return to Labour.

But Labour remained deeply unpopular in the constituency and Owen Smith failed to turn the tide — he was convincingly beaten by an ally of Law’s.

It was another four years before another opportunity arose, this time in Pontypridd.

The sitting Labour MP, Kim Howells, is another friend of the Smith family.

Owen Smith was selected and this time was elected MP — although with a reduced majority.

But he remains an elusive character for many in Welsh Labour — a man who seems to have emerged out of the shadows.

One Labour MP, who didn’t want to be named, told Press Gang he was a deeply unimpressive character:

“I can’t believe the Parliamentary Labour Party have been taken in by him.”

Within six years of taking Pontypridd, Owen Smith is a candidate for the Leadership of the Labour Party …

♦♦♦

Notes
1. Press Gang editor Paddy French declares a personal interest in this story. In the 1980s he was the editor of Rebecca magazine which was in competition for a substantial Welsh Arts Council grant. One of the competitors was Arcade magazine and Dai Smith was one of its supporters. The council’s literature committee chose Rebecca but the full council overturned the decision — and gave the grant to Arcade.
2. The Rebecca investigation into nepotism and patronage at BBC Wales is explored in the articles The Son Of The Man From Uncle and In The Name Of The Father?
3. The cover block pic is by Gareth Fuller / PA.

♦♦♦

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THE SON OF THE MAN FROM UNCLE

October 14, 2013

rebecca_logo_04

THE SON is the £160,000 a year BBC Wales Director Rhodri Talfan Davies.

The man is Geraint Talfan Davies who held the same post for ten years.

The uncle is the late Sir Alun Talfan Davies — barrister, politician, businessman and a leading member of the Welsh establishment.

The Talfan Davies clan have been important players in Wales for half a century.

All are able people.

But eyebrows were raised when Rhodri Talfan Davies was given the job in 2011.

He was just 40 years of age.

He had never made a television programme in Wales.

He lived in England.

His appointment is shrouded in mystery.

No convincing reason has ever been given for his initial rejection — and subsequent appointment four months later.

He  declined to answer questions that nepotism and patronage may have played a part in his career development.

The BBC in London said these suggestions were absurd and did not “stand up to any form of sensible scrutiny”.

(Rebecca has made a declaration of interest in relation to this investigation — see the notes at the end of the article.)

♦♦♦

IN FEBRUARY 2011 three senior BBC executives from London convened to consider who should be the next Director of BBC Wales.

The trio — led by the Corporation’s deputy Director General Mark Byford — had interviewed seven shortlisted candidates to take over from Menna Richards, OBE.

One of them was Rhodri Talfan Davies.

He was already a member of the BBC Wales board, as Head of Strategy & Communications.

REMOTE CONTROLLER BBC Cymru Wales Director Rhodri Talfan Davies is the first-ever Director of the bi-lingual broadcaster to live in   another country. He has owned homes in Bristol for more than a decade and his children go to schools in the city. The issue of where he lived was to become an issue in the events leading up to his appointment.  Photo: BBC (supplied "in good faith, on the understanding that it will be used to illustrate a fair and balanced article" as BBC spokeswoman Kate Stokes helpfully pointed out)

REMOTE CONTROLLER
BBC CYMRU WALES Director Rhodri Talfan Davies is the first-ever head of the bi-lingual broadcaster to live in another country. He has owned homes in Bristol for more than a decade and his children go to schools in the city. The question of where he lived was to become an issue in the events leading up to his appointment.
Photo: BBC Wales (supplied “in good faith, on the understanding that it will be used to illustrate a fair and balanced article” as BBC spokeswoman Kate Stokes helpfully put it).

He had been appointed to the post four and half years earlier by a panel headed by then BBC Wales boss Menna Richards, a close friend of the Talfan Davies family.

Many insiders felt his board position combined with his membership of the Talfan Davies dynasty made him clear favourite for the job.

But Byford and the two other panel members — Journalism Group chief operating officer Dominic Coles and its human resources director Rachel Currie — stunned the Corporation’s 1,200 Welsh staff by deciding not to appoint.

On February 18, a spokeswoman announced that the search for a new Director “has been extended”.

An interim Director — the head of Welsh language programmes Keith Jones — was appointed.

His appointment was expected to last for “months”.

These events turned BBC Wales HQ in Cardiff’s Llandaff area into a ferment of gossip and speculation.

A week later a second press release was issued.

It said:

“The search for a new director of BBC Wales has been extended, after the first round of interviews failed to deliver a successful candidate.”

That search, said the BBC, “would continue until ‘the right person’ was found.”

“In light of the importance of this high-profile appointment it is clearly essential that the right person is appointed.”

“A number of strong candidates applied for the post and as we were unable to make an appointment we have extended the selection process.”

“The requirements for the role remain unchanged and we are currently finalising the approach we will take as part of this process.”

After his application failed, Talfan Davies was given the job of carrying out a strategic review of the BBC’s digital services.

The Corporation said this was a “pan BBC review which required travel between bases.”

“His main bases during this period were Cardiff and London.”

After the dramatic events of February, March passed without any new developments.

April came and went without a progress report.

May went the way of April.

Senior managers on the third floor of Broadcasting House in Llandaff were tight-lipped throughout June — and most of July.

The silence was finally broken on July 26 with the announcement that the new Director was … Rhodri Talfan Davies.

BBC Director General Mark Thompson gave him a glowing endorsement:

“His deep understanding of Wales — and the BBC’s crucial role in the nation’s life — will equip him brilliantly for the challenge of leading such a successful and ambitious part of the organisation.”

MARK THOMPSON The BBC's Director General when Rhodri Talfan Davies was appointed.  Photo: PA

MARK THOMPSON
THE BBC’s Director General when Rhodri Talfan Davies was appointed, Thompson praised the new BBC Wales Director’s “deep understanding of Wales”. Thompson left the BBC in September 2012 and is now chief executive officer of the New York Times group.
Photo: PA

Talfan Davies was “thrilled” and “sincerely honoured” to have been chosen.

“BBC Cymru Wales is of enormous importance to the creative and cultural life of the nation and is performing brilliantly on the UK networks.”

“There’s a great wealth of talent in the creative industries in Wales and I feel privileged to have the opportunity to lead the fantastic team at BBC Wales.”

Rebecca asked Kate Stokes, Head of Communications & External Affairs at BBC Wales, if there had been another round of interviews for the position in the run-up to the July announcement.

We also asked for details of the formal search for other candidates announced after the February interviews failed to come up with a successful candidate.

She said:

“As a matter of policy, the BBC does not disclose this level of detail around the recruitment of staff.”

The only hint of any problem in the selection process came in an article in the Western Mail newspaper.

“It is understood Mr Davies’ appointment was delayed because of concerns that he lives in Bristol,” chief reporter Martin Shipton noted.

“On taking up his appointment, it has been agreed that he will live in Cardiff during the week, returning to his family home at the weekends.”

Kate Stokes told us:

“It is a matter of public record that Rhodri’s family home — at the time of his appointment — was in Bristol.”

“In September 2011, in a Western Mail article, Rhodri confirmed his appointment as Director had been delayed because of concerns that his family home was in Bristol rather than Wales.”

Rebecca asked Kate Stokes to clarify this issue.

Was the “delay” a factor in the weeks leading up to the July appointment?

Or had it been the stumbling block back in February?

Was Talfan Davies rejected because deputy Director General Mark Byford wouldn’t tolerate a BBC Wales Director living in England?

In reponse, she said that “the reasons for the delay between Rhodri’s interview and appointment … is a matter of public record …”

She again cited the Western Mail interview where the Director “confirmed that his appointment … had been delayed because of concerns that his family home was in Bristol rather than Wales.”

We also asked her to confirm that the paper’s comment about him staying in Cardiff during the working week was accurate.

She told us:

“To be clear, Rhodri gave an assurance on taking up the role that he would spend his working week at the BBC Wales HQ in Cardiff (except where he was required to travel to London or other BBC centres as part of his role).”

♦♦♦

WHEN BBC Wales announced the appointment of Rhodri Talfan Davies in July 2011, there were two pieces of information that were conspicuous by their absence.

The first was his age.

He was just 40 — the youngest ever Director of BBC Wales.

The second was his journalistic experience of Wales.

It was virtually zero.

There is no doubt, however, that the new Director is an intelligent man — like his father, he attended Jesus College, Oxford.

He was born in Cardiff in 1973.

At the time his father was approaching the peak of his career as a print journalist.

Geraint Talfan Davies had started in 1966 as a graduate trainee at the Western Mail in Cardiff.

In 1971 he joined the Newcastle daily, The Journal.

By 1973, the year of his second son Rhodri’s birth, he was working for The Times in London.

The following year he returned to the Western Mail as assistant editor.

He moved into broadcasting in 1978 as head of news and current affairs at what was then HTV Wales.

At the time, his uncle Sir Alun Talfan Davies was the chairman of the Welsh board of the company which held the ITV franchise for Wales and the West Country.

THE MAN FROM UNCLE Geraint Talfan Davies acquired the nickname in 1978 when he was appointed head of news and current affairs at HTV Wales. His uncle, Sir Alun Talfan Davies, was chairman of the Welsh board. There was little criticism when he was appointed Controller of BBC Wales in 1990 — he had served a long apprenticeship in Welsh newspapers and television. He stood down in 2000 but remains active in public life — he's currently chairman of the Welsh National Opera.

THE MAN FROM UNCLE
GERAINT TALFAN DAVIES, who published his autobiography in 2008, acquired the nickname in 1978 when he was appointed head of news and current affairs at HTV Wales. His uncle, Sir Alun Talfan Davies, was chairman of the Welsh board. There was no criticism when he was appointed Controller of BBC Wales in 1990 — he had served a long apprenticeship in newspapers and television. He stood down in 2000 but remains active in public life: he’s currently chairman of the Welsh National Opera.

This is where his nickname — “The Man From Uncle” — comes from.

His son went to the Welsh-medium secondary school, Ysgol Gyfun Gymaeg Glantaf, in Llandaff — not far from the HQ of BBC Wales.

In 1987, however, the family moved to Newcastle upon Tyne when Geraint Talfan Davies was appointed Director of Programmes for Tyne Tees Television.

Rhodri Talfan Davies went to Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School before going to Oxford in 1989.

In 1992 he spent a year on the post-graduate course at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism.

Then it was time to start forging a career.

♦♦♦

IT BEGAN — as it had done for his father — on the Western Mail.

 in 1993 Rhodri Talfan Davies spent a short period on the newspaper as a sub-editor in Cardiff.

These few months are his only journalistic employment in Wales.

Later the same year, he was accepted as a news trainee at the BBC.

His father was, by this time, running BBC Wales.

His son went to work in the English regions.

For six years, between 1993 and 1999, he worked for various regional news and documentary strands in the North of England and the South East.

He started as a journalist and was promoted to producer.

Then, in 1999. he landed a major post — head of BBC West in Bristol.

His title was Head of Regional & Local Programmes.

The appointment came as a surprise to many at the BBC West headquarters in Bristol’s Whiteladies Road.

He was just 28.

He had never worked in the BBC West region.

He had no formal managerial experience.

(When his father was 28, he was still only a reporter on The Journal in Newcastle.

At 28, Menna Richards, was just a radio and television journalist at BBC Wales.)

Rhodri Talfan Davies and his wife Estelle moved to Bristol.

But in 2002  he moved on.

He went to work for the cable operator Telewest as Director of Television.

He stayed for four years and was part of the team which won a UK Bafta award in 2004 for its pioneering interactive and “catch-up” facilities.

In July 2006 he applied for the job of Head of Marketing, Communications & Audiences at BBC Wales in Cardiff.

The four-strong interviewing panel was headed by Menna Richards.

He was appointed — and joined the board — despite never having worked for BBC Wales.

Aside from a year as a student in Cardiff, he had not lived in Wales for nearly twenty years.

The son of the man from uncle was now 35.

(When Menna Richards was 35, she was still a journalist at HTV Wales.

Geraint Talfan Davies, at 35, had just been appointed to his first job in broadcasting — head of news and current affairs at HTV Wales — after twelve years as a print journalist.)

The man Talfan Davies replaced as Head of Marketing, Communications & Audiences was Huw Roberts.

Appointed in 2002, Roberts had a formidable CV.

He’d been ITN’s chief press officer for five years.

He’d spent a year as a senior special advisor to the Welsh Office in 1997-1998, working for Ron Davies

He’d spent two years as the Welsh Development Agency’s Head of Marketing.

He also had a decade of press and information experience at various government departments including the Welsh Office.

BBC communications chief Kate Stokes told Rebecca that Talfan Davies “accepted a lower salary than his predecessor had received”.

In 2009 another important string was added to his bow — only this time he didn’t have to apply for it.

Menna Richards decided to change his job description.

MENNA RICHARDS, OBE Awarded the honour in 2010, she stood down from the post of Director in February 2011. There was little criticism of her appointment back in 2000 even though she was a close friend of Geraint Talfan Davies. She had served a long apprenticeship  — all of it in Wales. Photo: PA

MENNA RICHARDS, OBE
AWARDED THE honour in 2010, she stood down from the post of Director in February 2011. There was little criticism of her appointment back in 2000 even though she was a close friend of Geraint Talfan Davies. She had served a long apprenticeship — all of it in Wales.                                                                  Photo: PA

Instead of Head of Marketing, Communications & Audiences, she dropped marketing and audiences from his portfolio — and added strategy.

The post was now Head of Strategy & Communications.

Although a head of strategy had previously existed, it was not a board level position.

Strategy is an important position because it allows the holder to be a part of the Corporation’s forward planning.

It gave Rhodri Talfan Davies an inside track on what any new Director of BBC Wales might face.

The decision to add Strategy to his portfolio was Menna Richards’ sole decision.

It was, BBC Wales’ spokeswoman Kate Stokes told us, a decision “unique to Wales.”

“The new job … incorporated a wider set of responsibilities at Board level, but the salary did not change,” she said.

But, later, she changed her position.

“By way of correction to the previous response we gave you,” she said, “the additional responsibilities were recognised via a small increase but we do not disclose individual salary levels below Director level.”

 ♦♦♦

WHEN HE was took up the post of Head of Marketing, Communications & Audiences  in July 2006, Rhodri Talfan Davies decided he wouldn’t move his family to Wales.

At that point, he had two children — the first-born between 4 and 5, the second just a toddler.

This would have been a perfect time to start educating his children in Welsh-medium schools — as he had been.

But in 2002 he had bought a house in Westbury Park, Bristol for £329,000 and he and his wife Estelle decided to stay put.

By the time he applied for the post of Director, in the early months of 2011, he had also made up his mind that his family would not move to Wales.

In fact, in the months that followed he and his wife were negotiating to buy a more expensive property in the same area of Bristol.

In June 2011 the original house was sold for £477,500 — and a new one bought for £545,000.

The following month he was appointed Director of BBC Wales.

When he took up the post in September 2011, Talfan Davies admitted the issue of where he lived had delayed his appointment.

“Clearly it wasn’t ideal that my family home was in Bristol,” he told the Western Mail in September 2011, “but certainly I’ve given assurances that I would be based in Cardiff throughout the week.”

He added that “my wife and I moved 11 times during the first eight years of my career [1993-2001] and we took a view five or six years ago that while our children — aged 10, seven and one — are school age that we would offer them as much stability as possible, wherever my career led.”

He said Director General Mark Thompson had been concerned that he lived in England.

“Mark, I suspect, thought long and hard about that.”

“He came to the view in the end that that situation wouldn’t impact on my ability to do the job and I’m very grateful for the support he’s shown.”

The new Director was 40 years old.

(When his father, Geraint, was 40 he had risen to the heights of Assistant Controller of Programmes at HTV Wales.

It was to be another six years before he took the top job at BBC Wales.

The woman Rhodri Talfan Davies replaced as Director, Menna Richards OBE, was Director of Programmes at HTV Wales on her 40th birthday.

She had to wait until she was 47 before she took the top job at BBC Wales.)

On his first day as Director at Broadcasting House, Talfan Davies also discussed what he called “sniffy” comments about a family dynasty.

“I don’t worry about it too much.”

“Inevitably people may scratch their heads and say how is it that he can be appointed.”

“The truth is you see this in a whole range of fields.”

“There are plenty of friends I have who are teachers whose parents were teachers.”

“There are Welsh rugby internationals whose parents are rugby internationals.”

“I was brought up in an environment where there was a real passion for media and broadcasting and I guess that rubbed off.”

“I think the people I work with judge me on what I do rather than what previous relatives have done.”

He took a lower salary than Menna Richards — £140,000 against her £185,000.

But his confidential contract also carried with it a commitment to increase his salary by £20,000 after 18 months if certain targets were met.

BBC Wales has never disclosed what these targets were.

He got his £20,000 increase…

♦♦♦

SO WHAT is the truth about Rhodri Talfan Davies’ appointment?

Was he simply a brilliant and precocious administrator, streets ahead of the competition?

Or was he fortunate to come from a powerful media dynasty and well-placed to join the Corporation at a time when a close friend of the family was in charge of BBC Wales?

Rebecca wrote to the Director and asked him if the influence of his father and Menna Richards played any part in the four key “booster rockets” that catapulted him to the top of BBC Wales.

Booster Rocket 1

This was his appointment to Head of Regional & Local Programmes at BBC West at the tender age of 28.

We asked him how a producer with just six years in news and no formal managerial experience could possibly have beaten candidates with a more developed CV?

Was the fact that his father was the head of BBC Wales at the time and an influential figure in the Corporation a factor?

He didn’t reply — although the BBC’s Kate Stokes claimed that he had “significant management experience in a busy news environment.”

We asked the son to put this question to his father.

Geraint Talfan Davies didn’t answer.

Booster Rocket 2

This was Rhodri Talfan Davies’ promotion to Head of Marketing, Communications & Audiences at BBC Wales in 2006.

There is no doubt that he had marketing credentials, having worked for Telewest for several years in a senior role.

But he had no work experience in Wales beyond a short stint as a sub-editor on the Western Mail back in 1993.

He had not lived in Wales for most of the previous two decades.

We asked him why Menna Richards had not declared an interest in his application on the grounds that she was a close friend of his father — and withdrawn from the interviewing panel.

He didn’t answer.

We also asked him to put this question to Menna Richards.

She didn’t respond.

Booster Rocket 3

In 2009 the key role of Strategy was added to his job title by Menna Richards.

The new role wasn’t advertised.

She also gave him an unspecified pay rise.

We asked him if the purpose of this change was to give him an inside track on the Corporation’s thinking about the way forward, both nationally and in Wales.

This was another question he wouldn’t answer.

Menna Richards was also silent on the subject.

Booster Rocket 4

Even though he was ruled out as a potential Director in the February 2011 interviews carried out by Mark Byford, he still managed to stay in the running and land the top job in July.

We asked him if deputy Director General Mark Byford, who chaired the February interview board, had decided either that he did not have enough experience or that his decision to stay in Bristol ruled him out.

We asked if the fact that Mark Byford had accepted redundancy the previous October had played a part.

MARK BYFORD Deputy Director General of the BBC when the panel he chaired rejected Rhodri Talfan Davies for the post of BBC Wales Director. He left the Corporation the month before Rhodri Talfan Davies was appointed — and later was at the centre of a storm over his £1 million redundancy package and a £163,000 a year pension. Photo: PA

NO WAY
MARK BYFORD was deputy Director General of the BBC when the panel he chaired rejected Rhodri Talfan Davies for the post of BBC Wales Director. Byford left the Corporation the month before Talfan Davies was appointed. He was later at the centre of a storm over a £1 million redundancy package and his £163,000 a year pension.  Photo: PA

Byford left in June 2011 and the appointment was sanctioned — apparently without any further interviews — by the then Director General Mark Thompson a month later.

Had Thompson been in favour all along — and told Talfan Davies to bide his time until Byford was out of the picture?

Again, Talfan Davies didn’t answer these questions.

We also wrote to Mark Byford at his Winchester home.

He didn’t reply.

We asked Mark Thompson, now in charge of the New York Times, for a comment.

He didn’t come back to us.

♦♦♦

IN THE letter to Rhodri Talfan Davies, Rebecca also tackled the issue of him living in Bristol.

We pointed out that “many observers will find it hard to accept that, on your 2006 appointment to the Head of Marketing, Communications & Audiences, you did not move your family to Wales.”
 
“Your eldest child was just four or five and at an ideal age to start primary education in a Welsh-medium school.”
 
“Your decision to stay in Bristol leaves you open to the charge that, in relation to English language programmes, you are an ‘absentee landlord’.”

“In relation to Welsh-language output, you are — by virtue of the fact that your family is growing up mainly outside the cultural life of Welsh-speaking Wales — a ‘remote controller’.”

He didn’t reply.

We also made several further attempts to clear up the central mystery in his appointment — what happened in the four months between his rejection in February 2011 and his appointment in July 2011?

We asked BBC Wales what the short-listed candidates were told in February.

We asked what Talfan Davies was told.

We asked for more information about the widening of the search for other candidates.

That search, BBC Wales said at the time, “would continue until ‘the right person’ was found.”

We asked if there was another round of interviews before Talfan Davies was appointed.

Kate Stokes, Head of Communications & External Affairs, told us “the BBC does not disclose the sort of details you have requested on staff recruitment …”

She did comment on the apparent contradiction between the rejection of  Talfan Davies in February (“after the first round of interviews failed to deliver a successful candidate”) and his appointment in July.

She insisted the “delay does not contradict the BBC statement in February 2011 that ‘the first round of interviews failed to deliver a successful candidate’.”

“The only reason Rhodri was not a successful candidate — i.e. appointed — at that time was because of concerns over his Bristol family home.”

We also asked why Talfan Davies living in Bristol was a problem in February — but no longer an issue when he was appointed in July.

There was no reply by the time this article was published.

When we sent our letter to Talfan Davies we asked for a response by close of play last Thursday.

By Friday morning it was clear that there would be no reply.

Rebecca then sent copies of the letter to Director General Lord Hall and BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten.

A spokesperson for the Trust said “this is a matter for Rhodri Talfan Davies”.

On Friday afternoon the BBC Press Office in London gave us a statement.

“The suggestion that Rhodri Talfan Davies was appointed Director for any reason other than being the best candidate for the job is absurd and doesn’t stand up to any form of sensible scrutiny.”

♦♦♦

 NOTES

1  The refusal of BBC Wales to answer questions about sensitive issues is not surprising. Across Welsh broadcasting there’s a history of censorship — for ITV Wales see A Man of Conviction? about the suppression of material damaging to Welsh Ofcom chair Rhodri Williams. A Licence To Censor tells the story of how a critical documentary on Welsh Rugby Union chairman David Pickering’s financial problems came to be shelved. Back at BBC Wales, In The Name Of The Father? examines the career of Menna Richards, a close family friend of the Talfan Davies clan. 

2  Rebecca is in dispute with BBC Wales over the Corporation’s failure to cover some of the material the website has published. In particular, we have complained about the decision to ignore major investigations into freemasonry, censorship in Welsh broadcasting and child abuse in North Wales. This led to an unsuccessful complaint to BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten. There will be more  on this in forthcoming articles.

♦♦♦ 

© Rebecca 2013

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ITV BID TO GAG REBECCA TELEVISION

September 1, 2013

rebecca_logo_04

A  MAJOR battle is taking place between the broadcasting giant ITV and Rebecca Television.

Lawyers acting for ITV have given Rebecca Television until today to remove from the website a controversial interview which the company suppressed ten years ago.

The interview was given by Ron Jones, chairman of the independent television production company Tinopolis.

Jones revealed the extraordinary background to the abrupt sacking of the company’s co-founder Rhodri Williams back in 2001.

Jones accused his former partner — now Wales Director of the broadcasting regulator Ofcom — of acting dishonestly.

The interview was first made public in our programme Hidden Agenda and the article A Man Of Conviction? published last year.

Lawyers are also insisting that even the information contained in the interview belongs to ITV and that none of it can be used.

This is censorship — and Rebecca Television will not accept it.

HIDDEN ONCE, HIDDEN TWICE, HIDDEN THREE TIMES The dramatic story behind Rhodri Williams' sudden departure from  the company he helped to found was suppressed in 2001, again in 2003 and now ITV want to hide it again.  Photo: Ofcom

HIDDEN ONCE, HIDDEN TWICE, HIDDEN THREE TIMES
The dramatic story behind Rhodri Williams’ sudden departure from the company he helped to found was kept secret in 2001, suppressed in 2003 and now ITV wants to bury it all over again…   Photo: Ofcom


ON JUNE 17 this year ITV wrote to Rebecca Television (RTV) giving the website seven days to remove all trace of a celebrated interview.

The company want the interview — with the independent producer Ron Jones — removed from the programme Hidden Agenda.

The interview took place in 2003.

It dramatically revealed how Rhodri Wiliams, the current Wales Director of the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom, came to be sacked from the production company Tinopolis in 2001.

Williams was dismissed for dishonesty after allegedly diverting business from Tinopolis — then called Agenda — to a competitor.

Williams denied acting dishonestly — he said at the time the allegation was “defamatory and libellous”.

The interview with Ron Jones was carried out by the ITV Wales current affairs programme Wales This Week in 2003.

At the time Rebecca Television editor Paddy French worked for ITV Wales and was the producer in charge of the proposed programme.

It was never broadcast.

Later in 2003 Rhodri Williams was appointed Wales Director of the broadcasting regulator Ofcom.

(The story of the suppression of the interview in 2003 is told in the article A Licence To Censor.)

In April 2012 Rebecca Television finally used the Ron Jones interview in the preparation of the programme Hidden Agenda and the article A Man Of Conviction?

More than a year later ITV lawyer John Berry said that ITV’s “attention had been drawn” to the use of the material.

“The video Hidden Agenda in particular includes and relies heavily upon previously unbroadcast footage filmed for Wales This Week and owned by ITV.”

“As you are no doubt aware, the making of a copy of a copyright work and the communication of such a work to the public without the permission of the copyright owner is contrary to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act of 1988.”

Berry demanded that ITV’s material be removed within seven days and noted “we reserve all rights, in particular our right to bring legal proceedings against you including but not limited to those relating to breach of confidence and infringement of copyright.”

The deadline was eventually extended to September 1.

On June 24 RTV editor Paddy French emailed a reply.

He pointed out that ITV Wales had never shown any interest in the Ron Jones interview.

(The tapes sat on his desk until he left the company in 2008 and took them with him.)

RON JONES ITV are goig to extraordinary efforts to remove Gave  an extraordinary interview to ITV Wales  in 2003

RON JONES
One of the founders of Tinopolis, the Llanelli-based television production company. He gave the interview in 2003 but it was nearly a decade before it entered the public domain.  Photo: Tinopolis

He stated: “there is as powerful a public interest in this material seeing the light of day today as there was when it was filmed.”

“There is an argument that this material was censored back in 2003 and that … this present attempt to remove this material leaves the company vulnerable to the accusation that it is acting as censor.”

♦♦♦ 

ITV did not respond to this email. 

On July 2 French emailed ITV again.

This time he pointed out that, although ITV was concentrating on removing the material relating to Rhodri Williams, there was other ITV copyright material on the Rebecca Television website.

This included part of another interview which had never seen the light of day until RTV included it in the programme A Touch of Frost.

This video, which was first published  in April 2011, includes part of an ITV interview with a man called Des Frost.

“A key part of his testimony was not included in a 1997 Wales This Week programme because the Waterhouse child abuse Tribunal threatened contempt proceedings if it was broadcast.”

But the Tribunal did not call Frost as a witness and never heard his claims that he reported child abuse to the police ten years before they began investigating.

Paddy French had worked on this 1997 programme as a freelance investigator.

“There was no objection to the use of this footage by ITV Wales … in 2011.”

A Touch of Frost took on a dramatic significance last November when the BBC programme Newsnight allowed Stephen Messham to falsely imply that Lord McAlpine was a paedophile.

This led to the government ordering a new police investigation and a review, headed by Mrs Justice Macur, into the way the North Wales Child Abuse Tribunal chaired by Sir Ronald Waterhouse had carried out its task.

French added: “I immediately alerted ITV Wales to the fact that the company held what was now highly significant archive material. This resulted in a new Wales This Week programme which went out last November.”

“As part of this process I was able to reveal that I had met Sir Ronald Waterhouse back in 2000 to discuss the Frost material. This gave ITV Wales several exclusive stories.”

“I say all this,” French went on, “to emphasise the mutuality of the relationship between ITV and RTV.”

“Without my knowledge, ITV Wales would have missed the fact that they held valuable archive while my long-term interest in the issue proved invaluable to the station.”

“In conclusion, I would say that this is a highly unusual position.”

“For ten years I was a conscientious employee of ITV Wales and since I have left my expertise has come in useful on several occasions …”

“I believe that an agreement whereby I am allowed to use the ITV Wales material for a nominal £1 payment would satisfy the company’s interests.”

♦♦♦ 

Again, ITV did not reply.

Instead, the company instructed the London solicitors Olswang to take up the issue.

On July 30 the firm wrote to RTV, dismissing the suggestion that ITV allow the use of the material for a nominal £1.

“ITV has not and will not in the future provide you with permission to use the ITV property …”

Olswang also dismissed the public interest argument: “there is clearly no public interest in broadcasting material which you have obtained without consent from our client and which raises no current issue of public importance.”

“In fact, it is apparent from an article featuring on the website entitled A Licence To Censor, which states that you and Rhodri Williams fell out in the 1980s, that rather than you being motivated by public interest concerns, you in fact have personal motivations for wanting the ITV property relating to Rhodri Williams to be published.”

(French denies this — see the discussion of the issue in the article A Licence To Censor.)

MYSTERY Rhodri Williams started his public career in 1996 when he was appointed a member of the Welsh Language Board. In the period 1996-2004 he would take home a total of more than £180,000 in fees and pension contributions. Photo: Rebecca

Mr REGULATOR
Rhodri Williams leads the Welsh arm of the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom. He’s a well-connected man: his wife Siân’s best friend is former Labour AM Delyth Evans who is the partner of Ofcom boss Ed Richards. Both Evans and Richards once worked for Gordon Brown.  Photo: Rebecca Television

Olwang added: “Your claims that ITV is acting as a censor are also without foundation, as ITV is simply trying to protect its rights in the unbroadcast ITV property.”

The firm has now demanded that all other ITV material be removed from the RTV site.

♦♦♦ 

THE UPSHOT of this legal wrangling is that Rebecca Television has no choice but to remove the physical ITV material from the website.

“There is, and never was, any doubt that ITV owned the copyright to the material,” says Paddy French.

“I had hoped the company would turn a blind eye because it was embarrassed that it had never broadcast some of the material.”

“For several years, this is what seems to have happened.”

“Now, for reasons that are unclear, it has decided to act.”

“It is interesting that ITV’s main interest is in the Ron Jones interview that damages the reputation of the Ofcom Wales Director Rhodri Williams.”

This means that the programmes Hidden Agenda and A Touch Of Frost have been temporarily withdrawn for re-editing.

Other material has also been removed, including the well-known doorstep where former Anglesey County Councillor John Arthur Jones called Paddy French a paedophile.

Originally, this appeared in the article The Gospel According to “Jesus” Arthur Jones.

♦♦♦ 

But that’s not the end of the matter.

Olswang also insist that “ITV is also the owner of the confidential information in the unbroadcast ITV property…”

The use of this information “is clearly a breach of confidence.”

“The article entitled A Man Of Conviction? which is based on and quotes from the Ron Jones interview should therefore also be removed from the website.”

“This is unacceptable to Rebecca Television,” said French.

“It’s a clear attempt to censor information already in the public domain — and which belongs in the public domain.”

Rebecca Television will not be complying with this condition.”

“The fact that the company is making such a determined effort to remove all trace of the Ron Jones interview suggests that other, deeper forces may be at work here,” added French.

This is not the first time RTV has faced legal demands for the withdrawal of articles.

In July three senior Welsh Rugby Union figures — chairman David Pickering, chief executive Roger Lewis and communications chief John Williams — instructed solicitors to threaten legal action if the article A Licence To Censor was not taken down.

The article told the story of the censorship of a damaging business profile of Pickering back in 2006 by ITV Wales director of programmes Elis Owen.

In the article WRU Big Guns v Rebecca Television, RTV refused to axe the article.

So far, we have heard nothing from Pickering, Lewis, Williams or their solicitors.

♦♦♦ 

© Rebecca Television 2013

CORRECTIONS  Please let us know if there are any mistakes in this article — they’ll be corrected as soon as possible.

RIGHT OF REPLY  If you have been mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let us have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory we’ll add it to the article.

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COMING UP

With two television programmes temporarily withdrawn for re-editing, Rebecca Television will shortly publish the next video — Brothers in the Shadows. It’s a dark tale of a vicious murderer in North Wales who groomed a vulnerable young girl and formed a paedophile ring to sexually exploit her. One ring member was a retired police detective who claims he was persuaded to join the gang by a fellow freemason…  


WRU BIG GUNS v REBECCA TELEVISION

July 22, 2013

rebecca_6aTWO OF Welsh rugby’s most senior figures have accused Rebecca Television of defamation.

Lawyers acting for WRU chairman David Pickering and chief executive Roger Lewis claim an investigation into censorship at ITV Wales libelled them.

They say the article accuses them of acting to prevent a documentary about Pickering’s financial affairs from being broadcast back in 2006.

They demand a retraction and an unreserved apology.

Rebecca Television rejects these allegations. There will be no apology.

DAVID PICKERING The WRU chairman instructed solicitors to take action against Rebecca television.as chairman of the WRU

DAVID PICKERING
The WRU chairman has instructed solicitors to take action against Rebecca Television. Photo: PA

MORE THAN a year after it was first published, WRU officials David Pickering and Roger Lewis have finally responded to the Rebecca Television article A Licence To Censor.

Along with the WRU’s communications chief John Williams, they have instructed solicitors to take action against the website.

In a four page letter, the Cardiff law-firm Hugh James say the three men consider the entire article to be defamatory.

The article revealed that an ITV Wales This Week programme into the personal financial affairs of WRU chairman David Pickering was axed in May 2006 on the orders of then programme controller Elis Owen.

At the time Roger Lewis was ITV Wales’ managing director and John Williams was head of news.

Lewis was appointed chief executive of the WRU in September 2006.

Williams became head of communications at the Union in December 2006.

Hugh James now claim that A Licence To Censor also means “there were strong grounds to suspect that Mr Pickering caused ITV Wales to censor the channel’s planned coverage of his financial affairs …”.

Their letter also states that the investigation also means that “there were strong grounds to suspect that Mr Lewis and Mr Williams together helped to suppress the Pickering programme on a corrupt basis” partly because “each man either had obtained or hoped to obtain senior and lucrative employment with the WRU.”

“Our clients require you to withdraw these allegations and to apologise for them unreservedly …”

In his reply, sent to Hugh James today, Rebecca Television editor Paddy French rejected the claims — and declined to offer an apology.

“The article A Licence To Censor was a forceful indictment of censorship at ITV Wales in 2006,” wrote French, “but it criticised only one individual — Elis Owen.”

“And, while it condemned him for censoring a Wales This Week programme — for which I was the producer — it was quite specific about what he’d done wrong.”

“At the time I directly accused Owen of ‘noble cause corruption’ — censoring the programme for what he thought was the morally justifiable reason of protecting the commercial interests of ITV Wales.”

“There was no question that he acted to advance his own personal interests. And there was no suggestion that he acted as a result of pressure from anyone else.”

“The article also makes it clear that Roger Lewis rang Bruce Kennedy, the executive in charge of Wales This Week, to make it clear he was not interfering in the editorial process.”

ROGER LEWIS Was the Managing Director of ITV Wales when the Pickering programme was axed. There's no evidence he was involved in the decision. Photo: PA.

ROGER LEWIS
The WRU’s chief executive has also instructed solicitors to take action against Rebecca Television. Photo: PA

“It follows that, if Elis Owen acted alone and Roger Lewis took no part in the proceedings, that David Pickering can have had no say in the fate of the programme.”

“Consequently, the article cannot carry the meaning that Pickering, Lewis and Williams suggest.”

“As a result, Rebecca Television has no need to apologise to the three men.”

♦♦♦

DAVID PICKERING also claimed that the article defamed him by saying he was in “financial disarray”.

Rebecca Television accepts the article makes this claim but believes it is factually accurate.

Pickering had two county court judgments against him and many of the companies he was involved with had gone bust owing millions of pounds in unpaid VAT and tax.

Pickering’s lawyers also dispute that Pickering misled the media over the true state of his business activities.

They seize on one passage in A Licence To Censor.

The article contains these three paragraphs:

“Thirteen months later, in July 2005, another five companies went under with debts of nearly £5 million.”  

“This time Pickering told the Western Mail that “the great majority of the money was owed to associated companies and not third parties.”   

“This was untrue. The five companies owed £2.8 million in unpaid tax and VAT.”

This summary is misleading — and conceals a more complicated picture.

Pickering’s comment was made in May 2006 in an article about the failure of a surviving company called R & R Group to submit accounts on time.

Pickering said that although the company “had a substantial deficit, the great majority of the money owed was to associated companies, and not third parties.”

However, Pickering did not acknowledge that part of R & R Group’s problems were caused by difficulties at its subsidiaries.

Two of these R & R Group subsidiaries had gone bust in June 2004 with massive losses.

They had chalked up combined debts of nearly £3 million of which close to £1.4 million was accounted for in unpaid VAT and tax.

In July 2004, in a Western Mail article about the failure of other companies to file accounts on time, Pickering  stated: “I’m involved in eight or nine companies and all of them are up and running.”

“They are all in different cycles, but there are no problems.”

A year later five of these companies went under with debts of nearly £5 million of which unpaid tax and VAT accounted for £2.8 million.

Rebecca Television will revise this passage of A Licence To Censor to make it clearer” French wrote to Pickering’s solicitors, “but we stand by the claim that he did not give an accurate picture of his financial affairs to the media.”

♦♦♦

ANOTHER extraordinary claim made by lawyers acting for the three men is that the proposed 2006 Wales This Week programme was not editorially sound.

They insist “there was a consensus that it lacked interest and importance”.

The “information about Mr Pickering’s financial affairs was largely old news …” and “there was no evidence of any wrongdoing by him”.

A Licence To Censor does not accuse Pickering of any wrongdoing,” French told the lawyers, “but the claim that the information about his financial affairs was largely old news is nonsense.

“ITV’s chief news reporter Andy Collinson and the man in charge of Wales This Week, Bruce Kennedy — as well as myself — were all convinced it was a valid programme.”

“The crashes of 2004 and 2005 were not reported by national media in Wales and Andy Collinson’s discovery of the substantial county judgments was totally unknown.”

“The poor state of the remaining companies was not generally appreciated.”

The lawyers also say that John Williams now denies that he ever changed his mind about the programme.

A Licence To Censor stated that Williams, who was head of news at the time, had been persuaded by the Wales This Week analysis of Pickering’s plight:

“At the end of the presentation, John Williams — who had not been sure there was a story up to that point — said he was convinced.”
 

“He was shocked at the amount of money Pickering’s companies had lost and he was happy to run a news item on the Friday.”

In April 2012 Rebecca Television sent John Williams an outline of the article.

It included these words: “JW [John Williams] said he was convinced now: he had no idea the debts were so great …”

He did not respond to this email.

When the article was published later that month, he did not take advantage of the Rebecca Television “right of reply” and “corrections” facilities.

Again, the original article will be amended to include his denial.

The article will also be amended to take account of other points made by the three men.

They do not affect the overall thrust of the article.

Rebecca Television stands by it.

♦♦♦ 

© Rebecca Television 2013

CORRECTIONS  Please let us know if there are any mistakes in this article — we’ll correct as soon as possible.

RIGHT OF REPLY  If you have been mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let us have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory we’ll add it to the article.

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A LICENCE TO CENSOR

June 24, 2013

rebecca_6aTHE CURRENT line-up of the top brass at the Welsh Rugby Union was decided seven years ago.

Former Welsh international David Pickering succeeded in winning a vote of no confidence in his chairmanship in 2006. He’s still chairman today.

But was his survival due to the censorship of a potentially damaging television programme?

A Rebecca investigation — much of it based on the personal experience of editor Paddy French — shows that censorship is alive and well in Welsh broadcasting.

DAVID PICKERING The former Welsh international survived as chairman of the WRU

DAVID PICKERING
Chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union. He took the chair in 2003 but by 2006 was facing a serious challenge from critics.  Photo: PA

IN APRIL 2006 ITV Wales’ chief news reporter Andy Collinson was tipped off that a senior figure in Welsh rugby was in trouble.

Collinson was told former international player and Welsh Rugby Union chairman David Pickering was in financial difficulty — judgments had been obtained against him for the recovery of debts.

It was a sensitive time for Pickering and the Union. The latest accounts painted a rosy picture of the Union’s finances but critics were claiming the books had been fixed.

A special general meeting of the Union had been scheduled.

Collinson went to see a colleague working for Wales This Week, the station’s current affairs programme. He asked producer Paddy French if there was a way to confirm that these judgments existed.

French — now Editor of Rebecca — told him that if the debts were personal, judgements would be kept by the Registry of County Court Judgments in London. For a small fee, it was possible to search for decisions against any person in England and Wales.

French also suggested that, while he was doing these searches, he should include the companies in which Pickering had an interest.

At the same time, Wales This Week would carry out a financial analysis of Pickering’s companies. Most of these were engineering companies involved in the Welsh steel industry.

By early May, the results of both searches were in.

Pickering had two judgments against him. At Northampton County Court he had been ordered to pay a debt of £1,992 in September 2004. In March 2006 Southampton County Court ordered him to repay credit card debts of £17,699 — to Lloyds Bank.

French’s analysis of the clutch of engineering businesses in which Pickering was involved found they were also in trouble.

In June 2004 two of these companies had gone bust to the tune of £3 million — with £1 million owed to the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise.

At the time Pickering told the Western Mail that the rest of his activities were sound: “I’m involved with eight or nine companies … there are no problems.”

Thirteen months later, in July 2005, another five companies went under with debts of nearly £5 million.

This time Pickering told the Western Mail that “the great majority of the money was owed to associated companies and not third parties.”

This was untrue. The five companies owed £2.8 million in unpaid tax and VAT.

Port Talbot haulier Ian Gorvett lost £50,000. He had also lost money in the crash the year before but had agreed to help the resurrected business.

Another major creditor was Barclays Bank which lost half a million pounds. Ironically, Barclays were the bankers to the WRU.

The 2005 crash left Pickering with stakes in six companies. But they were struggling — between them they had chalked up losses of £750,000.

Two of these firms had been warned by Companies House for failing to file accounts. Another two companies had been taken to court and ordered to pay debts of more than £15,000.

The position was that a group of companies in which the  chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union was involved, were teetering on the brink of insolvency.

Collinson and the Wales This Week team discussed how to handle what was fast becoming an explosive story.

The obvious “peg” for the coverage was the special general meeting of the WRU on May 14 to discuss its financial position and to vote on the motion of no-confidence in David Pickering.

It was agreed that the best plan of action was for Collinson to report on the general position on the Friday night before the meeting — with Wales This Week exploring Pickering’s finances in detail in its programme on Monday, May 16.

Bruce Kennedy, Head of Factual Programmes and in charge of Wales This Week, made it clear he would have to consult Director of Programmes Elis Owen.

ITV Wales held the exclusive contract to broadcast the forthcoming Rugby World Cup to be held in Cardiff and the planned coverage of Pickering’s business affairs would strain relations to the limit.

In the week before the special meeting of the WRU, Elis Owen called a meeting to discuss the issue.

Also present were John Williams, editor of the main evening news programme, and his chief reporter Andy Collinson. Wales This Week was represented by Bruce Kennedy and Paddy French.

ELIS OWEN  The Head of Programmes at ITV Wales refused to allow the damaging programme about David Pickering to proceed.

ELIS OWEN
The Director of Programmes at ITV Wales refused to allow the damaging programme about David Pickering to proceed. Photo: BBC Wales

French gave a brief outline of the research that had been done. He had also come up with a device to simplify the financial aspects of the story.

The Wales This Week programme would portray Pickering’s businesses as a team of fifteen players.

Some of these would be given red cards because they had gone bust. Those that were losing money would be shown as injured. Those that had been ordered to pay debts or had been warned by Companies House would be sin-binned.

At the end of the presentation, John Williams — who had not been sure there was a story up to that point — said he was convinced. He was shocked at the amount of money Pickering’s companies had lost and he was happy to run a news item on the Friday.

There was general agreement that the programme was editorially sound.

Even so, Elis Owen made it clear that if the investigation did not lead to the resignation of David Pickering, then ITV Wales’ relationship with the WRU would be severely strained.

ITV Wales, he added, needed the co-operation of the union to fully exploit the channel’s exclusive rights to the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

The Wales This Week team began preparing the programme with the editing process planned to take place over the weekend.

On Friday, 12 May Elis Owen called another meeting, this time with Bruce Kennedy, Andy Collinson and Paddy French.

He said he did not want the programme to go out as planned on May 15. Bruce Kennedy and Paddy French made it clear they did not agree. Owen would not be budged

John Williams also called off the planned item for that evening’s Wales Tonight news programme.

Bruce Kennedy said that he’d been called by ITV Wales’ managing director Roger Lewis to say that he had been contacted by David Pickering. Lewis made it clear to Kennedy that he was not interfering in how the story was to be handled.

On the Sunday David Pickering survived the vote of no confidence at the special general meeting.

Later, Bruce Kennedy tried to get the aborted Wales This Week programme back on the schedules.

On 1 June 2006 another discussion took place in Elis Owen’s office about the future of this programme. Owen said he still had editorial reservations about the story.

Bruce Kennedy pointed out that he had expressed no such reservations at the earlier meeting. Owen insisted that there were no ordinary victims of the collapse of Pickering’s companies.

Bruce Kennedy cited the example of Port Talbot haulier Ian Gorvett who had twice lost money in the collapse of companies owned by Pickering. He had already been interviewed by Wales This Week.

But Owen was adamant — there would be no programme. Paddy French was clear:

“What’s happening here is censorship.

French continued:

“I think this is noble cause corruption — you are doing the wrong thing for what you believe are the right reasons.”

Elis Owen was furious at this remark: “Are you calling me corrupt?”

French did not withdraw the remark.

The meeting ended — the Wales This Week programme was never broadcast.

On September 9 the WRU appointed a new group chief executive — Roger Lewis, the MD at ITV Wales.

The post had been vacant since the resignation of David Moffett the previous year. After Moffett’s departure, the WRU said the post was no longer needed.

ROGER LEWIS Was the Managing Director of ITV Wales when the Pickering programme was axed. There's no evidence he was involved in the decision. Photo: PA.

ROGER LEWIS
Managing Director of ITV Wales when the Pickering programme was axed. There’s no evidence he was involved in the decision. Photo: PA

The decision to appoint a new group executive had been taken just before the May 14 special general meeting.

Elis Owen stepped into Lewis’ shoes as managing director of ITV Wales.

On December 20, the WRU also appointed a new head of communications — John Williams, the former Head of News at ITV Wales.

In 2011 Roger Lewis’ remuneration package was worth £320,000 — David Pickering was paid £35,000.

Rebecca asked all the participants to comment on the allegations made in this article.

Elis Owen, who had left ITV Wales in 2009 and joined BBC Wales as Head of Commissioning, didn’t reply.

David Pickering, Roger Lewis and John Williams didn’t reply.

ITV Wales said:

“The story covers events a number of years ago and refers to individuals who no longer work for ITV. In the circumstances we don’t think it appropriate to comment.”

Bruce Kennedy was in no doubt that the programme should have gone ahead:

“Journalistically the story was sound. The WRU chairman is, at least in part, responsible for the proper running of a huge financial empire, the success of which is fundamental to Welsh life.”

“I felt therefore that an investigation into the commercial /  financial acumen of an individual who was endeavouring to hang on to that post was entirely justifiable; was a matter of considerable public interest and was absolutely in the tradition of the best of Wales This Week. It was also a highly topical programme.”

♦♦♦

THREE YEARS earlier, in 2003, another powerful programme failed to see the light of day.

It concerned Welsh Language Board chairman Rhodri Williams and the reason why he’d abruptly left the TV production company Agenda in 2001. He had been one of its founders back in 1980.

The full story of Williams’ career is told in the television programme Hidden Agenda and the article A Man of Conviction?

In September 2001 Williams was dismissed by Agenda. At the time Ron Jones, the accountant who had set up Agenda with Rhodri Williams, would not comment on the reasons for the departure.

But in May 2003 Williams went to work for the Avanti group owned by Emyr Afan and his wife Mair.

At the time Avanti was flying high. It made its money from programmes on the thriving Welsh music scene.

In September 2000 Tom Jones opened a new studio complex in an old lemonade factory at Porth in the Rhondda — called the Pop Factory. Instead of a fee, he took a one per cent stake in the business.

TOM JONES

TOM JONES
The star took a one per cent stake in Avanti when he agreed to open the group’s headquarters near Pontypridd. Photo: PA

Emyr and Mair Afan were also moving up in the world. In August 2001 they had sold their home in Cardiff’s Rhiwbina district for £215,000.

The same day they bought a new house in the Cyncoed area of the city for £550,000.

The following year Avanti was named Welsh Innovation and Entrepreneurial Company. Afan’s wife, Mair, had earlier been voted top woman in Welsh media.

All was not plain sailing, however. Avanti blamed a series of county court judgments between 1998 and 2002 on administrative problems.

But Avanti hit the headlines in 2003 over a highly controversial £4 million grant from the higher education quango ELWa.

The money was given to fund a novel training scheme called the Pop Café. Young unemployed people who would not consider further education would be enticed into media training via a specially-created café environment.

But the scheme broke rules and was criticised by the Wales Audit Office. Avanti eventually returned about half the money — but the Welsh Assembly Government got nothing for the £2 million that Avanti was allowed to keep.

A month after Williams’ decision to join Avanti, Ron Jones decided to speak out about the reasons he’d been sacked in 2001

The proposed programme was discussed at a Wales This Week editorial meeting in May 2003. Producer Paddy French declared an interest: he and Rhodri Williams had fallen out in the late 1980s.

(In 1988 a critical but inaccurate profile of French had appeared in the magazine Golwg. French believed the source of the information — and misinformation — was Rhodri Williams.

At the time French and Rhodri Williams’ wife Siân Helen worked for the co-operative Gwasg Rydd which produced the TV guide Sbec for S4C. There had been a disagreement over a redesign of the guide: French wanted an outside firm while Siân Helen thought she could do the work herself.

Williams denied he was involved in the article. “I did not write it and have no comment to make on it,” he said.

French was saddened by the Golwg piece: “I could not believe that someone I had taught could be party to a piece of work that went against everything I stood for. I felt that everything Rebecca stood for had been betrayed.”)

The proposed Wales This Week programme stayed on the schedules and in June 2003 French interviewed Ron Jones at Agenda’s headquarters in Llanelli. By that time the company had changed its name to Tinopolis.

During the interview Ron Jones, said of Rhodri  Williams and quangos: “I think we allow them into the hands of people whose honesty can be so easily questioned at our peril.”

French said: “Because of the history between Rhodri Williams and myself I did not feel I could morally press for the programme to be made.”

“I made the situation clear to the people in charge of the programme. I would not have objected if they had decided to give the project to another producer”.

“However, I was in no doubt that the programme was a strong one and was it was in the public interest that it should go ahead.”

“That did not happen. In fact, nothing happened at all. Week after week, month after month the interview with Ron Jones  stayed on the shelf. It never saw the light of day — until it appeared in the Hidden Agenda programme on the Rebecca website.

In December 2003 Rhodri Williams was appointed Wales Director of the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom.

NOTES

1  This article was first published in April 2012 on the original Rebecca website.

♦♦♦ 

© Rebecca 2013

CORRECTIONS  Please let us know if there are any mistakes in this article — they’ll be corrected as soon as possible.

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RASH JOURNALISM — THE SWANSEA MEASLES EPIDEMIC

June 14, 2013

14 June 2013rebecca_6aTHE CURRENT measles epidemic in the Swansea area has led to more than fourteen hundred children and adults catching the disease throughout Wales.

A large part of the responsibility for the outbreak rests with Swansea’s local paper, the Evening Post.

In 1997 the paper ran a high-profile series of articles on behalf of a group of parents who believed the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine — MMR — had damaged their children.

No medical evidence has ever been found to justify these concerns.

The paper’s campaign led to a dramatic fall in vaccination rates in the area which helped to create a large reserve of unprotected children. This allowed the current outbreak to take hold and spread.

The newspaper refuses to accept its share of the responsibility for the largest measles epidemic in Wales this century.

The current editor says the Evening Post was only doing what any responsible newspaper would have done.

But Rebecca Television has investigated the campaign — and finds the paper guilty of rash journalism.

THE MEASLES VIRUS Before the introduction of the single measles in 1968, around 100 children in England and Wales. But the single vaccine failed to eradicate the disease — before MMR was introduced in 1988, there were still between 50,000 and 100,000 cases a year.

THE MEASLES VIRUS
Before the introduction of the single measles vaccine in 1968, the disease killed 100 children a year in England and Wales. But the single vaccine failed to eradicate the disease — before MMR was introduced in 1988, there were still between 50,000 and 100,000 cases a year.

ON APRIL 18 this year a young Swansea man called Gareth Colfer-Williams, 25, was found dead at his home.

His mother, Angela Colfer, said the day before he died he went to the doctor complaining of a rash all over his body except his arms.

She added that he had also recently been treated in hospital for asthma.

Post-mortem tests showed he was suffering from measles but the precise cause of death was unclear. Further tests are taking place.

If his death is shown to be due to measles, he will be the first fatality of the disease in Britain since 2008.

By June 10 this year the number of cases in the Swansea health board area — which includes Neath, Port Talbot and Bridgend —  had reached 934.  The total for Wales stood at 1,413.

The local paper, the South Wales Evening Post, has been reporting the epidemic.

It now supports the campaign to give all children the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine — known as MMR.

But in the late 1990s the paper was sending out a different message — and one that led to a massive drop in the number of children getting the jab.

The saga started with a straightforward Evening Post article at the end of July 1997.

The piece highlighted a warning from the local health board urging parents to ignore press reports of a possible link between the MMR jab and cases of autism and the bowel disorder Crohn’s disease.

The warning was issued because, two days earlier, the Daily Mail carried a story about claims that MMR caused autism and Crohn’s disease in a small number of chidren.

The Daily Mail was, in turn, picking up an interview in the doctors’ magazine Pulse with an academic researcher called Dr Andrew Wakefield who was flagging up a piece of research he was undertaking at London’s Royal Free Hospital.

The Daily Mail said the “two illnesses most commonly linked to vaccination problems are Crohn’s disease, which causes ulcers by leading to chronic inflammation of the gut, and autism, the condition in which children are unable to mature socially”.

Wakefield told Pulse the results of his and other studies “clearly confirm our suspicions and take them further. We have not enough published evidence to change policy at the moment, but we have accumulated enough evidence … to conduct an independent review.”

Wakefield was questioning one of the most successful immunisation programmes Britain has ever seen.

MMR — which reduced the number of injections for measles, mumps and rubella from six to two — was introduced in Britain in 1988.

It had already been used in the USA for 25 years and in Sweden for ten.

MMR is given to children on their first birthday with another booster injection just before they go to primary school.

The programme is a spectacular success.

In the Swansea area, in the three years before MMR was introduced, there was an average of more than a thousand cases of measles every year.

By the time of Wakefield’s interview in Pulse in 1997 there had been no cases at all in Swansea in the previous two years.

In its July 1997 article, the Evening Post reported that Dr Peter Donnelly, Director of Public Health for the Iechyd Morgannwg Health authority, insisted there was no medical evidence of any link between the MMR vaccine and the two diseases.

PETER DONNELLY Dr Donnelly — the  Public Health Director for the Swansea area in 1997— warned that even discussing alleged  links between MMR and autism and bowel disorders risked driving down vaccination levels.

PETER DONNELLY
Dr Donnelly — the Public Health Director for the Swansea area in 1997— warned that even discussing alleged links between MMR and autism and bowel disorders risked driving down vaccination levels.

He also laid down an important marker which the Evening Post would later ignore.

Donnelly told reporter Nick Dermody that “merely debating such fears could prompt parents to do the worst thing of all and stop taking their youngsters for their jabs.”

Donnelly warned: “If we were to have an outbreak of measles because people stopped taking their youngsters for their jabs that would be very serious indeed.”

Fifteen years later that’s precisely what happened.

♦♦♦

ON 12 August 1997 Evening Post reporter Jo Bailey wrote a front page story — “Mum’s Plea in Vaccine Scare” — about a Swansea mother whose son was given MMR and later developed autism and a serious bowel disorder. 

Although the mother believed MMR was responsible for her son’s problems, she wasn’t blaming anyone.

She was simply asking for parents to be given more information about the possible risks involved in taking the MMR jab.

The next day the Evening Post also carried a response from Dr Brendan Mason, then a public health consultant for Iechyd Morgannwg Health.

“Allegations about the MMR vaccine have been around since the early 1990s,” he said, “and there has been a great deal of research into links between the vaccine and conditions such as autism and the bowel ulcer condition Crohn’s disease.”

“However, despite all this research, no evidence has been found of any such link.”

But, two days later, the seeds of the Evening Post campaign were sown.

On August 15 reporter Nick Dermody wrote a piece about Port Talbot mother Jackie Eckton who blamed MMR for turning her three-year-old son Daniel into a “distant and silent recluse”.

She believes to this day that her son’s problems are the result of MMR.

Dermody reported that Jackie Eckton was calling on other parents who believed their children had also been affected by the jab to “team up” and form an action group.

The piece included health officials’ insistence there was no evidence to back up the assertion.

After this article Jackie Eckton was contacted by other mothers concerned that their children’s problems had been caused by the MMR jab.

Three days later this produced a key front page lead story.

Written by Jo Bailey, it was marked “Exclusive” with the headline — “Jab Mums Fear A Rogue Batch” — running across the entire front page.

A much smaller sub-heading added that “Experts say no proof of  vaccine link”.

2013-06-01 21.44.34

FRONT PAGE EXCLUSIVE
The story that claimed the Post had “discovered that dozens of children in the Neath, Port Talbot and Swansea areas” who were believed to have been damaged by the MMR vaccine in the space of a few months. That claim was false.

The piece reported Jackie Eckton’s fear that a rogue batch of MMR was circulating in the Swansea area.

This article, published on August 18, said ” … the Evening Post has discovered that dozens of children in the Neath, Port Talbot and Swansea areas, who were all given the jab in the period between the end of 1994 and the beginning of 1995, are believed to be suffering problems.”

Rebecca Television can find no evidence to back up this claim.

A later study into 36 alleged victims by the local health board found that only seven had been given the vaccine in the whole of the year from July 1994 and June 1995.

Only two of them had been given vaccine from the same batch.

This was shoddy journalism — the Evening Post was giving massive publicity to alarming claims without making any attempt to substantiate them.

By the time of the article, the Evening Post had only published  stories about three alleged victims.

As it did with all its reporting, the paper also included a comment from the public health side.

This time it quoted Singleton Hospital’s consultant paediatrician Dewi Evans who insisted there was no evidence of any link.

♦♦♦

BUT BY now the Evening Post had decided it would mount a campaign on behalf of parents with children allegedly damaged by the MMR vaccine.

It began the next day, August 19, with another front page lead story by Jo Bailey, headlined “We’ll Check Jab Batch Numbers”.

This reported the agreement of Iechyd Morgannwg Health to investigate the possibility that a batch of the vaccine had been contaminated.

This piece carried the first use of the logo of a syringe with the words “MMR Parents’ fight for the facts”.

THE CAMPAIGN BEGINS The paper's "MMR Parents' fight for the facts" begins.

THE CAMPAIGN BEGINS
The paper’s “MMR Parents’ fight for the facts” campaign starts with a distinctive logo featuring a syringe. In the year that follows, vaccination rates in the paper’s circulation area fall dramatically.

In another piece the same day reporter Paul Turner interviewed solicitor Michael Green of Swansea law-firm Smith Llewellyn.

Green told the paper that, if parents could prove that 80 per cent of their children’s health problems was due to the vaccine, they were entitled to compensation under the Vaccine Damage Payments Act.

Inside there was a two page spread, again illustrated by the campaign logo, giving the pros and cons of each side of the argument.

However, the spread was dominated by an article headed “Solicitor takes up the fight for truth”.

Reporter Jo Bailey introduced this piece with the words: “To vaccinate or not to vaccinate is the most pressing issue facing South Wales parents today.”

The article featured the battle by Norfolk solicitor Mike Barr who had been given Legal Aid to assess 903 cases across the UK of alleged damage to see if they could sue the manufacturers of the vaccine.

The feature also detailed four more cases of alleged damage to local children from the MMR jab.

On the same day, there was an editorial entitled “Parents must have jab choice.”

It said the paper’s coverage “should be required reading for every parent. We are not trying to alarm anyone.”

It says that was the reason it was putting the case for and against the vaccine in a special feature.

“What is needed most of all,” it says, “and this must come from Government rather than local level, is a commitment to give parents the right to a truly informed choice when it comes to vaccination.”

It then says that when people are given advice about contraception, they are given an assessment of the effectiveness and possible dangers “in percentage terms”.

“Giving parents the same sort of detailed information and statistics when it comes to vaccinating their child should not be a lot to ask for in a world where science has given us the ability to see the surface of Mars on our television screens.”

The next day, August 20, a story on the front page reported that more than 40 families had now contacted the Evening Post.

In the same edition, Jo Bailey and Paul Turner reported a further seven cases of alleged MMR damage to local children.

Again, the denial of any link from health officials was carried.

By August 21, the Post was reporting health officials’ refusal to give single jabs instead of MMR with an article headlined “Health chiefs stand by jab”.

The piece reported that health officials admitted there was “no medical reason why single vaccines are not offered.”

The Post reported that this view “has incensed parents who claim their youngsters have been permanently affected by the jab”.

When MMR was introduced in 1998 licences for single vaccines were withdrawn.

Another feature the same day reported another batch of five children allegedly adversely affected by the jab. The headline was “Parents’ cry for answers”.

On August 29, health officials reported, as the headline said, “No proof of rogue vaccine batch.”

This article was written by chief reporter Susan Buchanan. It did not make the front page.

By August 29, the Post was reporting that 50 families are forming themselves into an official action group and teaming up with the national anti-MMR organisation JABS.

♦♦♦

BUT IN this same edition, there was an indication of unease about the campaign at a senior level.

The Post published its second editorial on the issue entitled  “Parents are still waiting for answers”.

Of the cases it had reported, it asks “Can there really have been so many coincidences?”

“Logic would immediately say no, but medical research effectively says yes.”

It repeats the position of the Singleton Hospital paediatrician Dewi Evans — that there was no evidence linking MMR with autism and Crohn’s disease.

“There are few more respected and experienced paediatricians than Dewi Evans,” noted the editorial, “and neither has Dr Evans been afraid to oppose the party line has he felt the need to do so.”

“Yet Dr Evans says he is not aware of any scientific research which links MMR injections with subsequent learning difficulties or chronic health problems.”

If any research existed, “Dr Evans would know about it.”

“As things stand there is no answer …”

The editorial ends with the advice that parents should talk to their doctor or health visitor.

But, whatever the misgivings, the Evening Post campaign continued.

On September 3 the paper reported on “calls to withdraw MMR jab” from the action group.

By September 9, the Post reported that Michael Green of local solicitors Smith Llewellyn was preparing an application for Legal Aid for some of the families.

On September 22, in an article which reported the health board’s detailed research dismissing the “rogue” batch of MMR theory, the Post increased the number of children allegedly affected by the vaccine to 60.

By this point, the paper had carried reports of only 21 of these 60 alleged cases.

Before the paper’s campaign, the uptake of MMR in the Swansea area had been higher than the rest of Wales.

After the campaign got under way, vaccination rates began to fall.

In February 1998 Andrew Wakefield finally published his research in The Lancet, one of the world’s most prestigious medical journals.

Even though it stated categorically that the article “did not prove a link between MMR vaccine and the syndrome described”, the article sparked a massive controversy which lasted several years.

It even reached No 10 in 2002 when Tony Blair refused to say if his young son Leo had been given the jab.

Vaccination rates fell throughout the UK.

But a study carried out by the Iechyd Morgannwg Health officials, Peter Donnelly and Brendan Mason, and published early in 2000, showed that the decline was much sharper in Swansea.

The two experts compared the uptake rates of MMR in the period July to September in 1997, when the Post campaign was at its height, with the rates in the same quarter a year later.

They found that the rate of vaccination in the Swansea area dropped by more than 13 per cent compared with a fall of less than three percent in Wales.

The two doctors concluded the data “suggests that the [Evening Post] campaign has had a measurable and unhelpful impact over and above any adverse national publicity.”

The Post continued its campaign.

In September 1998, it published an editorial in which the unease of a year before had vanished.

The line was now uncompromising.

“Parents are making it abundantly clear they want separate vaccinations,” it stated.

“Any further debate on why and how that feeling is so strong is pointless and, increasingly, dangerous.”

“It is a fact of life and blithely repeating ad infinitum that ‘MMR is safe’ is not going to change that.”

And it defended the Evening Post campaign.

“If the uptake rate on MMR falls any further there will only be one place to point the finger of blame — and that is not at the drug companies or the press.”

♦♦♦

IT TURNED out that Dr Andrew Wakefield, the man who started the MMR scare, was a charlatan.

An inquiry by the investigative journalist Brian Deer, commissioned by the Sunday Times and Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, revealed that Wakefield was already working for the Norfolk solicitor Mike Barr in 1996.

Barr was the lawyer, as the Evening Post reported on August 19, who was trying to put together a “class action” to sue the manufacturers of the MMR vaccine.

The case was initially funded by the Legal Services Commission until barristers decided in 2003 that there was no hope of the action succeeding — the medical evidence didn’t stack up.

By that time, the legal aid bill had reached £18 million.

A substantial chunk of that money went into Wakefield’s pocket — he amassed £435,000 in fees.

When his infamous paper was published in The Lancet, in February 1998, Wakefield did not inform the editors that he was working with Barr. This was unethical practice.

Deer also discovered that Wakefield had patented single vaccines for measles — and formed companies apparently created to market them.

Deer’s campaign eventually led to the General Medical Council charging Wakefield with unethical practice.

He was struck off in January 2010 for performing unnecessary invasive procedures on some of the twelve children who formed the basis of his 1998 article in The Lancet.

The GMC branded Wakefield “dishonest”, “unethical” and “callous”.

The Lancet article was partially retracted in 2004 and fully retracted in 2010 after Brian Deer showed that the data had been manipulated to fit Wakefield’s thesis.

The full story can be found on Brian Deer’s website — see the notes below for the link.

None of this was known to the Evening Post in 1997.

♦♦♦

WHEN THE current epidemic began in November last year, the Evening Post was silent about its conduct in 1997.

Four months after the measles epidemic began, the BBC Radio 4 programme Today carried a report about the role of the paper’s “MMR Parents’ fight for the facts” campaign in the outbreak.

The current Evening Post editor Jonathan Roberts declined to appear on the programme.

He said the campaign “pre-dated their entire newsroom”.

One of the paper’s current reporters is called Paul Turner.

As we have already seen, there was a Paul Turner among the team of Evening Post reporters who worked on the story in 1997.

We asked the Paul Turner who works for the paper today if he’s the same Paul Turner who wrote MMR stories back in 1997.

He emailed to say “you will have to deal with the editor on this I’m afraid”.

We asked Jonathan Roberts. There was no answer by the time this article went online.

Five days after his refusal to appear on Today,  Roberts finally wrote about the issue in his own paper.

The piece appeared on April 12 under the headline “South Wales Evening Post campaign was hard-hitting but reflected parents’ concerns at the time”.

The core of Roberts’ defence of the 1997 campaign is that “It is dangerous to judge this campaign outside of its time.”

“The evidence of a link between the MMR and autism has since been discredited, but in 1997 that was not the case.”

This is a travesty of the facts.

In August and September 1997 the medical evidence was overwhelming — MMR was safe and effective and no medical evidence had ever been published demonstrating a link between MMR and autism and Crohn’s disease.

Study after study had shown no connection between MMR and autism and Crohn’s disease.

For example, a Swedish study of autism rates in the five years before and the five years after MMR was introduced showed no increase in autism.

At the time the Post mounted its campaign all that existed was Wakefield’s press interview in Pulse which was given additional credibility in the Daily Mail.

Right at the beginning — and more than a week before the Post campaign began — local public health chief Dr Peter Donnelly warned that even debating the issue was dangerous because it risked driving down vaccination rates.

No journalist would accept Donnelly’s point that the issue shouldn’t be debated — but he clearly put the paper on notice that it had to do so responsibly.

A week later the health board’s public health consultant Dr Brendan Mason told the paper there was no evidence of a link between MMR and autism and Crohn’s disease.

The paper’s first piece of rash journalism was Jo Bailey’s shoddy front page story of August 18 about an alleged “rogue” batch of vaccine.

Her claim was that the Post had “discovered dozens of children” believed to be suffering problems “were all given the jab in the period between the end of 1994 and early 1995.”

As we have seen, the local health board’s study of 36 of these children found only 7 had been immunised in the entire year covering the year from July 1994.

Only two had received the same vaccine.

But the damage had been done.

Parents were getting the message that there were question marks over MMR generally — and the disturbing idea had been floated of a “rogue” batch of vaccine circulating in the Swansea region.

The day after this disastrous article, the Post mounted its “MMR Parents’ Fight For The Facts” campaign.

This implied that, somehow, important “facts” were being deliberately with-held.

And yet — even though Jo Bailey was commended for her investigative work at the 1998 BT Press Awards — she and the Post  seemed uninterested in uncovering the “facts”.

Instead they rushed into print with the flimsiest of evidence.

Throughout August and September 1997, the Evening Post coverage concentrated on simplistic reports of parents’ claims that their children had been damaged.

No attempt was made to investigate the circumstances behind each case.

For example, when the parents of 36 children with alleged problems came forward so that their children’s vaccination records could be checked in August and September, health officials found many of them had not been diagnosed with autism at all.

For this article, a spokesman for Public Health Wales said that most of these children “did not have autism. The usual diagnosis was learning difficulties.”

“In many (perhaps the majority) the diagnosis was clearly documented in the records before the MMR was given.”

Public Health Wales also told Rebecca Television there was no significant change in the rates of autism or Crohn’s disease in the Swansea area at the time.

Nor did the Post seem to grasp that the average age of a mother’s perceived sense that her child might have learning difficulties was around 14 months (for experienced mothers who already had at least one child) and 18 months (for first time mothers).

With the first MMR jab coming after a child’s first birthday and with more than 90 per cent of all such children at that time receiving MMR, the chances of parents reading the Evening Post at the time, putting two and two together and coming up with five were extremely high.

When Jonathan Roberts says there was “genuine concern, even fear, among parents that they could be putting their children at risk”, he’s talking about “concern, even fear” that was being generated by the Evening Post campaign…

♦♦♦

THE MOST likely explanation for the editorial position of the Evening Post in 1997 is that the paper was taking a gamble.

It was banking on Dr Andrew Wakefield producing hard evidence of problems with MMR — and, with its clutch of local victims, it would be shown to be in the vanguard of journalists exposing the scandal.

image

Awards and kudos would come to the team who led British journalism with their hard-hitting “MMR Parents’ Fight For The Facts” campaign.

So, what should have happened?

In the days after Jackie Eckton brought cases of alleged damage following  the article about her son’s problems, the paper should not have published anything.

Instead, it should have organised a systematic piece of investigative journalism.

Reporters should have started to compile detailed medical profiles of each alleged victim.

They should have obtained parents’ permission to talk to their children’s GPs and obtained their medical histories.

Reporters should have started to research the general medical background to see if the rates of autism, Crohn’s disease and other related problems had been rising in the Swansea area.

It should have sought the co-operation of health officials in this investigation, especially in the suggestion that a rogue batch of vaccine was responsible for the alleged Swansea victims.

It should have waited until it knew what the score was.

In the end, it would still have had a story — perhaps not as sensational as the “MMR Parents’ fight for the facts” — but the one that had the merit of being accurate.

It would have responsibly investigated the concerns of parents with damaged children — and shown there was no evidence that the vaccine was responsible for their children’s problems.

At the same time it would have reassured parents that MMR was safe.

And, last but not least, it would almost certainly have prevented Wales’ worst measles epidemic this century.

The paper’s journalists can’t argue that they weren’t warned about the consequences of backing the wrong horse.

Tens of thousands of children were not vaccinated — and the rate in the Swansea area was so much greater than elsewhere in Wales that the only possible culprit is the Evening Post.

The paper made the wrong call.

It was rash journalism.

 ♦♦♦

WE WROTE  to current Evening Post editor Jonathan Roberts and the four named reporters who contributed to the campaign and spelt out these criticisms.

There was no reply from Roberts — who edits the largest circulation newspaper in Wales — by the time we went online.

Susan Buchanan, the chief reporter at the time, is now ironically, the communications chief at the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg health board, under her married name of Susan Bailey.

She had not commented by the time this piece was published.

As we have already seen, the current Post reporter Paul Turner won’t say if he is the same journalist who worked on the story in 1997.

Jo Bailey, now Jo Doek, is a press officer for Swansea City Council. She did not reply to emails.

Nick Dermody now works for the BBC in Cardiff. He too, did not answer  emails.

The Evening Post editor in 1997 was George Edwards.

He has not responded to our criticisms.

However, he told the BBC programme The Wales Report in April that the newspaper was not responsible for the fall in vaccination rates in Swansea.

He said the paper never told people not to get their children vaccinated — and was providing a service for its readers.

“As I saw it, their concerns were totally genuine.”

“Newspapers listen to their readers, report what they say, and then go to the relevant people and say ‘what have got to say about this?’ And then publish that response.”

He’s unrepentant.

“It’s impossible to have regrets. I’m certain that if we wound the clock back and started again, I can’t imagine any reason why we wouldn’t do it the same way.”

♦♦♦

NOTES

1  This article is based on a detailed survey of Evening Post articles in July, August and most of September 1997. It is not exhaustive and there remains scope for a major piece of academic research on what remains an important story about the interplay between the media and public health.

2  The only parent mentioned in this article is Jackie Eckton and she only features because she played  a central role in the 1997 campaign. She continues to insist that MMR damaged her son. We do not believe the parents featured in the “MMR Parents fight for the facts” campaign can be criticised for their part in the saga.

3  The articles by Brian Deer can be found on his website, click here.

4  The full defence of the Evening Post by current editor Jonathan Robers can be found here.

5  The BBC online report of then Evening Post editor George Edwards’ justification of the 1997 campaign can be found here.

6  The National Autism Society can be found here

7  The campaign group JABS, headed by Jackie Fletcher, can be found here.

8  More information on the current measles outbreak can be found on the Public Health Wales website, here.

♦♦♦ 

© Rebecca Television 2013

CORRECTIONS  Please let us know if there are any mistakes in this article — they’ll be corrected as soon as possible.

RIGHT OF REPLY  If you have been mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let us have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory we’ll add it to the article.

DONATIONS  If you would like to support the work of Rebecca Television, you can do so by clicking on the DONATE button.

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COMING UP
The Son Of The Man From Uncle
tells the story of the rise to power of the current Director of BBC Wales, Rhodri Talfan Davies. He’s a member of one of the most powerful media dynasties Wales has ever seen — his father Geraint Talfan Davies was head of BBC Wales for ten years. Geraint Talfan Davies’ father was a senior executive at the corporation in Wales and his uncle, Sir Alun Talfan Davies, was one of the dominant figures in Wales for more than a quarter of a century.


HIDDEN AGENDA

May 22, 2013

NOTE
THIS PROGRAMME has been temporarily withdrawn for re-editing.
The broadcaster ITV has objected to the use of its copyright material and it’s being removed.
The trailer, which does not infringe ITV copyright, can be seen below.
See the article ITV Bid To Gag Rebecca Television for more on this story.

rebecca_6a

RHODRI WILLIAMS is a major player in British broadcasting.

He’s Wales Director of the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom.

For part of last year he handled one of its most important roles: Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs in London.

But he’s a controversial character.

HIDDEN ONCE, HIDDEN TWICE, HIDDEN THREE TIMES The dramatic story behind Rhodri Williams' sudden departure from  the company he helped to found was suppressed in 2001, again in 2003 and now ITV want to hide it again.  Photo: Ofcom

HIDDEN ONCE, HIDDEN TWICE, HIDDEN THREE TIMES
The dramatic story behind Rhodri Williams’ sudden departure from the company he helped to found was kept secret in 2001, suppressed in 2003 and now ITV have taken action to prevent Rebecca Television showing the interview which tells what happened …
Photo: Ofcom

This programme reveals, for the first time, the inside story of how he was dramatically sacked from the television company he co-founded.

He was sacked for dishonesty — a charge he branded “defamatory and libellous”.

The video has been withdrawn so that it can be re-cut.

However, the trailer gives an idea of the programme’s content.

For more details on the career of Rhodri Williams, see the article A Man Of Conviction?

Rebecca Television
 Editor Paddy French has declared a personal interest in this story: the details are revealed in the article, A Licence To Censor.

Hidden Agenda was first shown on the old Rebecca Television website last year.

♦♦♦ 

© Rebecca Television 2013

CORRECTIONS  Please let us know if there are any mistakes in this programme — we’ll correct as soon as possible.

RIGHT OF REPLY  If you have been mentioned in this programme and disagree with it, please let us have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory we’ll add a note including your comments.

DONATIONS  If you would like to support the work of Rebecca Television, you can do so by clicking on the DONATE button.

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A MAN OF CONVICTION?

May 22, 2013

rebecca_6aBROADCASTER Rhodri Williams is a powerful player in British television.

The Wales Director of the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom spent much of last year as its Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs at the organisation’s London HQ.

But he’s been accused of sabotage three times.

In the 1970s he was convicted of damaging a transmitter as part of a campaign for a Welsh television channel. He was gaoled for six months.

A decade later he was sacked by the broadcaster HTV after it discovered he was plotting to take a valuable contract from the company.

In 2001 Wales’ biggest independent TV production company dismissed him for dishonesty when he was caught diverting a valuable contract to a rival firm.

RHODRI WILLIAMS A major figure in Welsh broadcasting — it’s widely believed that he applied for the positions of BBC Wales Controller and chief executive of S4C last year though he would not confirm or deny that he had applied. His attempts to become a media mogul have attracted criticism — in the 1990s, the Welsh language magazine Lol  dubbed him “Rhodri Billions”. Photo: Ofcom.

RHODRI WILLIAMS
A major figure in Welsh broadcasting — it’s widely believed that he applied for the positions of BBC Wales Director and chief executive of S4C in 2011. His attempts to become a media mogul have attracted criticism — in the 1990s, the Welsh language magazine Lol dubbed him “Rhodri Billions”. Photo: Ofcom.

IN FEBRUARY 1977 Welsh language activists entered the compound of the television transmitter at Blaenplwyf near Aberystwyth in mid-Wales.

Police arrested two members of Cymdeithas Yr Iaith Gymraeg — the Welsh language Society — which was campaigning for a dedicated Welsh language channel.

They were the society’s chairman Wynfford James and Rhodri Williams, leader of its radio and television group.

When they appeared in court to answer charges of conspiracy to damage the transmitter in July 1978, they refused to plea.

The jury found them not guilty.

At a second trial in November 1978 there were accusations that the jury had been deliberately selected to exclude Welsh-speakers.

The two men were found guilty and sentenced to six months in gaol. They became heroes to language campaigners.

The campaign eventually led to the launch of Sianel Pedwar Cymru (S4C) — the Welsh Fourth Channel — in 1982.

By then Rhodri Williams’s career as a journalist had already begun.

He was taken on as the Welsh language reporter by the radical magazine Rebecca in 1981 despite having no journalistic experience.

While he was there, he met the graphic designer Siân Helen — the couple later married.

Williams was with Rebecca less than a year when he was recruited by the newly created Welsh-language current affairs programme Y Byd Ar Bedwar — the World on Four.

S4C wanted a world-class current affairs programme and decided to provide it with the budgets to match.

S4C did not produce any programmes of its own.

The BBC provided its Welsh language output without charge.

But the remainder had to come from the private sector. Since there was little tradition of independent production in Wales, HTV had a virtual monopoly.

Many observers felt that the contract HTV negotiated with S4C for the first seven years, which included the current affairs output, was extortionate.

It allowed HTV to build a huge new headquarters complex on the outskirts of Cardiff at Culverhouse Cross.

In 1989 the contract was coming up for renegotiation.

A strong independent sector had sprung up to provide S4C with programmes and the channel was confident it would provide competition with HTV.

Current affairs was different.

It was politically sensitive, legally dangerous and all the experienced personnel worked either for the BBC or HTV.

So HTV entered the negotiations for a new contract knowing that its margins were going to be squeezed everywhere except current affairs.

Its bid to keep Y Byd Ar Bedwar was priced accordingly.

What HTV managers didn’t know was that there was another, secret bid — and it came from inside the company.

The rival bid had been prepared in secret. Rhodri Williams and Glynnog Davies, another journalist working on Y Byd Ar Bedwar, had teamed up with the accountant Ron Jones.

Ron Jones had been a senior accountant for the world-wide accounting group Arthur Andersen but had decided to come home to Wales.

They were joined by Gwynn Pritchard, the Channel 4 executive mainly responsible for relations with S4C.

He obtained permission from the channel to join the bid.

The group formed a partnership called Sylw — it means “Attention” in Welsh.

Their bid was lower than HTV’s.

Behind the scenes, rumours of the bid began to circulate. There were concerns that S4C’s head of programmes Euryn Ogwen Williams was a close friend of Rhodri Williams.

Euryn Ogwen Williams, who is not related to Rhodri Williams, told Rebecca that he was impartial throughout the tendering process.

There was also talk that some influential journalists were backing the Sylw bid.

One of them was Huw Edwards — now the BBC’s leading UK newsreader but at the time working for BBC Wales.

Huw Edwards declined to discuss the matter.

HUW EDWARDS The BBC newsreader wouldn't comment on allegations that he'd been approached by Rhodri Williams to present a rival programme. Photo: BBC.

HUW EDWARDS
The BBC newsreader wouldn’t comment on allegations that he’d been approached by Rhodri Williams to present a rival programme. Photo: BBC

But Rebecca has discovered that he was called before BBC Wales Controller Gareth Price who demanded to know if he was involved.

Edwards admitted he’d met Rhodri Williams and his wife Siân Helen in London on several occasions to discuss the possibility of joining Sylw.

But the negotiations petered out and Edwards told Price he never heard from the couple again.

Another rumour concerned Guto Harri, also working for BBC Wales at the time.

Harri is now Rupert Murdoch’s Communications Director at his troubled News International subsidiary. Before that he was Boris Johnson’s £127,000-a-year external affairs director.

Harri also declined to comment.

Rebecca understands that, when Guto Harri was asked at the time if he had been approached, he denied any contact with any of the Sylw group.

Inevitably, HTV management learnt that two of its journalists were involved in the Sylw bid.

Rhodri Williams was called before a hastily-convened disciplinary committee.

Nicola Heywood Thomas, the shop steward of the National Union of Journalists branch at HTV, was told to attend the hearing.

Rhodri Williams didn’t deny he was involved — and was instantly dismissed.

He was escorted out of the building.

Nicola Heywood-Thomas declined to discuss what happened.

Rhodri Williams told Rebecca: “When asked about my potential involvement in a rival bid for the current affairs contract in July 1989, HTV invited me to pledge my allegiance to the company’s bid.”

“I refused to do so and my employment at HTV was terminated by mutual consent with a compromise agreement.”

When his colleagues on Y Byd Ar Bedwar heard that he’d been a key player in the Sylw bid, they were shocked.

Williams had been the deputy shop steward of the NUJ branch — a man whose union role was to protect their jobs had been secretly conspiring to take them away …

HTV began lobbying fiercely against the Sylw bid.

In the end, S4C decided that it was politically impossible to accept it even though it was lower than HTV’s.

HTV was awarded the contract.

Rhodri Williams was now out of a job but he went ahead and formed a partnership with Ron Jones and Glynnog Davies.

Gwynn Pritchard withdrew from the group and remained with Channel 4.

Over the next couple of months, Sylw gained several small commissions from S4C.

Then, in 1990, it hit the jackpot.

The company won the multi-million contract to produce a new S4C evening magazine programme.

The programme was called Heno and a new company was formed — Agenda.

The Welsh magazine Lol suggested that part of their success was the friendship that existed between Rhodri Williams and Euryn Ogwen Williams.

S4C’s senior management was furious.

They insisted that action be taken to deal with the claim that a senior channel executive had helped Agenda.

Rhodri Williams, Ron Jones and Euryn Ogwen Williams sued Lol editor Eurig Wyn for libel.

S4C funded the action.

Eurig Wyn lost.

Rhodri Williams, Ron Jones and Euryn Ogwen Williams were each awarded several thousand pounds in damages.

Euryn Ogwen Williams told Rebecca that Eurig Wyn was not asked to pay the damages.

S4C did not ask for its legal costs to be refunded which left Eurig Wyn having to pay only his own legal bill.

In the years that followed Rhodri Williams became a public figure.

In 1996 he was appointed a £5,400-a-year member of the Welsh Language Board.

Ron Jones had served as a member for the previous three years.

In 1999 Williams was appointed chairman.

The post paid £24,000 a year with a pension contribution of £5,000.

Ron Jones says he understood the job carried with it a one day a week commitment and that Rhodri Williams’ Agenda salary was adjusted accordingly.

It was only later, he claims, that he discovered that the post required two days a week.

♦♦♦

BY 2001 Agenda was a prosperous business — it’s main Jersey-based holding company was worth three-quarters of a million pounds.

But Rhodri Williams, who had started out with 40 per cent of the business, now owned just 13 per cent of the Jersey company’s shares.

With Ron Jones still holding 36 per cent, Williams’ influence was waning.

He was a member of the main board but he worked selling the company’s e-learning and other IT-related products.

Agenda had started to diversify and had targeted e-learning — education delivered remotely by computers — as a potential market.

But Williams’ unit was not performing well and consistently failed to reach its targets.

It was against this background, early in 2001, that Ron Jones was told that someone had tried to hack into password-protected areas of the company’s computer system in the early hours of the morning.

Suspicion fell on Rhodri Williams but the investigation that followed was inconclusive. Security was tightened up.

Later, an analysis was made of Rhodri Williams’ email account.

This homed in on emails between him and Agenda’s head of sales Chris Thomas.

RON JONES The boss of Agenda Television began to suspect that Rhodri Williams was betraying the company ...

RON JONES
The boss of Agenda Television began to suspect that Rhodri Williams was betraying the company … Photo: Tinopolis

This revealed that Williams and Thomas had been involved in a clandestine operation to divert a substantial contract from one of Agenda’s best customers — the giant Swiss banking firm UBS — to another company.

Ron Jones considered this to be a serious breach of Williams’ duty to his company.

The final straw came when Ron Jones was told that Williams had tried to bully a member of Agenda’s staff into giving him the password to a sensitive part of the company’s computer system.

Ron Jones wrote to Williams and asked him to attend a disciplinary hearing.

When Williams did not turn up, he was sacked for dishonesty. No compensation was paid.

Also dismissed was Chris Thomas — head of sales at Agenda.

Ron Jones says that in the year before he left, the e-learning division Williams was in charge of lost a million pounds.

When the news of his dismissal leaked out, Rhodri Williams issued a statement: “I have been on the board of directors of Agenda since its formation. I am one of the founders of the company.

“This dismissal is unfair and I will be fighting the false accusations that have been made against me. I have advised my solicitor accordingly and it would be inappropriate at this stage to make any further comment.”

No legal action followed.

For this article, Williams told Rebecca that he had not acted dishonestly at Agenda.

The allegation was “defamatory and libellous,” he said.

“For the record, my employment at Agenda was terminated by mutual consent with a compromise agreement.”

♦♦♦

SEVEN DAYS after he was dismissed from Agenda, Rhodri Williams became a director of a new company called Learning Angles.

Chris Thomas also became a director.

The two men were joined by Agenda’s deputy chairman, Dr Gwyn Jones.

Dr Jones did not tell Ron Jones that he had joined forces with the two men who had just been sacked.

At the time Dr Gwyn Jones was a key player in Welsh public life.

He had caught the eye of Margaret Thatcher back in the 1980s.

The Porthmadog-born entrepreneur had gained a PhD from Essex University and built a moderately successful computer company.

Thatcher appointed him chairman of the Welsh Development Agency in 1988.

He was appointed national governor of BBC Wales in 1992.

But his career declined after Labour came to power in 1997.

His attempt to get a second five-year term as national governor of the BBC failed.

Learning Angles remained an independent company for just 15 days.

In October 2001 the Oxfordshire-based computer software firm RMR plc bought the newly formed business.

RMR was the company which had gained the valuable UBS contract from Agenda, helped by Rhodri Williams and Chris Thomas.

RMR had gained a Stock Exchange listing on the Alternative Investment Markets in 2000 when it raised £12 million.

Even though Learning Angles had no assets and no trading record, RMR used 6 million of its shares — worth 6p each at the time — to buy the newly formed business.

Dr Jones received £209,000 in shares for his slice of Learning Angles. Rhodri Williams and Chris Thomas were each allocated £75,000 worth of shares.

Dr Jones and Chris Thomas joined the board, Dr Jones as a non-executive director with Chris Thomas as a full-time sales director.

Rhodri Williams was appointed commercial director.

In its press release announcing the purchase of Learning Angles, RMR made a remarkable admission.

RMR “… has been working for the last six months on projects in the e-learning area with the management of Learning Angles.”

In other words, Rhodri Williams and Chris Thomas had started working for RMR in April 2001 — five months before they were dismissed from Agenda.

Dr Jones was also clearly involved in the plot to take work from Agenda to RMR.

RMR later submitted accounts which revealed that Chris Thomas was paid £8,000 for his work for RMR while he was employed by Agenda.

Dr Gwyn Jones was paid £6,000.

Since Rhodri Williams was not a director, the company did not have to state how much he was paid for his services.

For this article, Williams told Rebecca: “I was categorically not working for or paid anything by RMR until I had left Agenda and joined RMR on the payroll.”

RMR was confident Learning Angles would help to turn around the company fortunes — in 2001 RMR lost £6.3 million.

RMR’s main product was called Elevate, an e-learning package.

“The board believes that the acquisition of Learning Angles provides an excellent opportunity to develop and market Elevate in a cost-effective manner whilst minimising the risks to RMR’s capital funds.”

“RMR already has a good working relationship with the management of Learning Angles as a result of recent collaborative projects.”

“The Board is confident that using Learning Angles’ software development and sales expertise in addition to having access to its ‘blue chip’ relationships should bring significant benefits to the financial performance of RMR.”

One of those “blue chip” relationships was with UBS.

RMR added that, in the five months after its formation, Learning Angles management “expect it to break even and they anticipate strong growth in sales and profitability in the following years.”

If Learning Angles performed according to plan, added the statement, then the three founders would be entitled to an additional £750,000 in shares.

Dr Gwyn Jones also persuaded the RMR board to commission research into how the company could break into the lucrative local government market.

Dr Jones suggested that the Welsh firm Taro Consultancy would be ideal to carry out the project.

Taro was owned by Huw Vaughan Thomas, former chief executive of Gwynedd and Denbighshire councils, and his wife Enid Rowlands.

At the time Enid Rowlands was the chair of Welsh further education quango ELWa.

Dr Jones approached Huw Vaughan Thomas who was happy to carry out the consultancy.

Taro said, in a statement in 2006, that “discussions took place which might have led to a closer working relationship between Huw Vaughan Thomas and RMR regarding the development of RMR software for local government. A personal, and very small-scale shareholding was taken.”

But the alliance with Learning Angles was to prove an expensive folly for RMR.

In the five months that followed the purchase, the Learning Angles business generated no sales.

In March 2002 there was a crisis meeting of RMR’s board. It decided to close the Learning Angles section — and demanded the resignations of Dr Jones and Chris Thomas.

Rhodri Williams agreed to give back his shares and was made redundant.

At the same time, Huw Vaughan Thomas also disposed of his shareholding. Thomas was appointed the head of the Wales Audit Office in 2010.

The Learning Angles adventure cost RMR a million pounds.

In 2002 it lost another £6.3 million and it was later taken over.

POACHER TURNED GAMEKEEPER Rhodri Williams started his public career in 1996 when he was appointed a member of the Welsh Language Board. In the period 1996-2004 he would take home a total of more than £180,000 in fees and pension contributions. Photo: Rebecca

POACHER TURNED GAMEKEEPER
Rhodri Williams started his public career in 1996 when he was appointed a member of the Welsh Language Board, becoming its chairman in 1999. In the period 1996-2004 he would take home a total of more than £180,000 in fees and pension contributions.

The disaster left Rhodri Williams with the prospect of just having one job to his name, the £26,000-a-year chairmanship of the Welsh Language Board.

♦♦♦

BUT WITHIN a few months, he had another.

And once again, he was joining forces with another controversial Welsh businessman — Emyr Afan

Afan was a television producer who had built up the independent production company Avanti on the back of music programming for S4C and ITV Wales.

In September 2000 he opened a new studio complex in an old lemonade factory at Porth in the Rhondda. He called it the Pop Factory.

He persuaded Tom Jones, born in nearby Treforest, to open the premises in exchange for one per cent of the company.

The following year Avanti was named Welsh Innovation and Entrepreneurial company of the year.

His wife, Mair, had earlier been voted top woman of the year in Welsh media.

Later that year Avanti began negotiations for a multi-million pound training grant from the higher education quango ELWa, chaired by Enid Rowlands.

In late November 2001 ELWa discovered it was facing a massive underspend of some £14 million.

The board of the quango agreed there was an urgent need to find schemes to soak up the money before the end of the financial year in April 2002.

By December 2001 officials had come up with a list of projects. One of the biggest was a £4 million scheme cobbled together by Avanti to create a Pop Café as the basis of a novel training scheme.

The scheme was given ministerial approval in January 2002.

In February 2002 Rhodri Williams went to the Pop Factory for the launch of the Welsh Assembly Government’s new culture strategy. He was a guest of culture minister Jenny Randerson.

In March ELWa gave Avanti a cheque for £4 million.

In April Rhodri Williams — by now sacked by RMR — was offered a part-time job by Emyr Afan. Afan said Avanti needed “capable management”.

Williams started work in May but, a month later, he was full-time.

Emyr Afan said Williams was “not a director of Avanti Media Group or any of its subsidiaries and not Finance Director.”

“He has two roles – selling factual programmes (enjoying mixed success, because the market’s tough) and concerned with the delivery of the ELWa contract”.

But the ELWa contract turned sour. When Avanti announced redundancies in November 2002, ELWa’s internal audit began an investigation into what was happening with the Pop Café project.

In February and May 2003 the BBC Wales current affairs series Week In Week Out produced critical programmes on the contract. The National Audit Office followed up with a damning report.

Eventually, Avanti handed back roughly half of the money. But Welsh taxpayers had nothing to show for the £2 million that disappeared into Avanti’s coffers.

By May 2003 the ITV Wales current affairs programme Wales This Week was also preparing a programme.

Wales This Week producer Paddy French — now editor of Rebecca — had approached Agenda boss Ron Jones back in 2001 to see if he would talk about the reasons why he had sacked Rhodri Williams.

He wouldn’t discuss the matter at that time.

When French approached him in 2003, after it was revealed that Rhdori Williams had joined Avanti, Jones’ attitude had changed.

He was not only prepared to talk — he was willing to do it on camera.

The interview took place at the Llanelli studios of Agenda — which had recently changed its name to Tinopolis.

“It was probably the most dramatic I carried out in the ten years I worked for Wales This Week,” French said.

“At that time Rhodri Williams was chairman of the Welsh Language Board and we had his former partner on camera publicly accusing him of acting unlawfully.”

“At the same time Williams was also working for Avanti — part of his job was working on a contract that was destined to prove an expensive waste of public money.”

During his interview Ron Jones, said of Rhodri Williams and quangos: “I think we allow them into the hands of people whose honesty can be so easily questioned at our peril.”

But this interview was never broadcast at the time — as the  article A Licence to Censor  reveals.

And — six months after the interview with Ron Jones — Rhodri Williams had landed yet another new job…

♦♦♦

IN DECEMBER 2003 it was announced that Rhodri Williams had been appointed Wales Director of the new broadcasting regulator Ofcom.

His pay was between £80 and £110,000 a year.

In April 1998 Williams had joined the Labour Party, less than a year after Labour won the 1997 general election.

In 1999 the Labour-dominated Welsh Assembly Government appointed him chairman of the Welsh Language Board.

With it came the £24,000-a-year salary and £5,000 in pension rights for the two days a week commitment.

But Williams’ Labour Party connections stretch far beyond Wales.

His wife Siân Helen is a close friend of Delyth Evans, an important New Labour high-flyer.

Delyth Evans started her career as a journalist and worked for the BBC Radio programmes PM and The World at One.

She joined the Labour Party in 1984 and became an assistant to Gordon Brown in 1992.

She also acted as a policy adviser and speechwriter to Labour Leader John Smith until his sudden death in 1994.

In 2000 she became a member of the Welsh Assembly and, shortly after, was appointed deputy minister for Rural Affairs. Culture and the Environment.

ETON COLLEGE Rhodri Williams was accused of hypocrisy when his son Owain won a sixth form scholarship to the public school in 2003. At the time Williams was chairman of the Welsh Language Board and, at a conference in 1999, had said: "Our message to students is simple — stick with bi-lingual education throughout your time in school or college and you'll be better prepared for the workplace." Williams was unrepentant: "I'm absolutely delighted that my son has won one of the most competitive education scholarships in the UK." The warden of Williams' old public school, Llandovery College in west Wales, said that the only difference  between his college and Eton was "the old boys' network. You are buying into part of English society — Old Etonians are in an awful lot of the top jobs in the UK". Photo: PA.

ETON COLLEGE
Rhodri Williams was accused of hypocrisy when his son Owain won a sixth form scholarship to the public school in 2003. At the time Williams was chairman of the Welsh Language Board and, at a conference in 1999, had said: “Our message to students is simple — stick with bi-lingual education throughout your time in school or college and you’ll be better prepared for the workplace.” Williams was unrepentant: “I’m absolutely delighted that my son has won one of the most competitive education scholarships in the UK.” The warden of Williams’ old public school, Llandovery College in west Wales, said that the only difference between his college and Eton was “the old boys’ network. You are buying into part of English society — Old Etonians are in an awful lot of the top jobs in the UK”. Photo: PA

She didn’t stand in the 2003 elections.

Evans is the partner of Ed Richards, another key New Labour figure.

Richards also worked for Gordon Brown in the early 1990s and, after a spell as the BBC’s Controller of Corporate Strategy, joined Tony Blair as a media policy adviser.

Richards helped draft the bill that brought Ofcom into being.

He joined Ofcom as number two when it launched in 2004.

In 2005 he became the organisation’s chief executive.

He  was not involved in the appointment of Rhodri Williams to the post of Wales Director.

Rhodri Williams said that he and his wife’s friendship with Ed Richards and Delyth Evans played no part in his appointment.

When he was appointed to the Ofcom post, Williams was still the chair of the Welsh Language Board.

He held the post for another eight months.

Rebecca asked the Welsh Language Board if Rhodri Williams surrendered any of his salary during those months. It told us he did not. It also confirmed that he was also paid his pension contribution for that period.

In addition to his Ofcom salary of between £80,000 and £110,000-a-year, he took home a further £24,000 in fees and pension contributions from the Welsh Language Board.

Ofcom told us that Rhodri Williams had informed the organisation of his chairmanship of the Welsh Language Board and that his salary was not reduced.

“For a temporary period of time he worked seven days a week in order to honour his commitment to the Welsh Language Board,” a spokesman said.

Rhodri Williams did both jobs until he finally resigned from the Welsh Language Board at the end of August 2004.

Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards currently has a second job — non-executive director of Thames Water Utilities — but he does the job in his normal working week and gives all of the £42,000 a year payment to Ofcom.

Rhodri Williams told us:

“I submitted my resignation to Alan Pugh AM, the then Minister … in November 2003. He subsequently asked me if I would be prepared to continue to chair the Board until a replacement was appointed.”

“I asked Ofcom whether or not it would be happy for me to do so and the answer was affirmative.”

♦♦♦

NOTES

1  This article was amended on 1 September 2013. Originally, it contained quotes taken from the censored 2003 interview with Ron Jones. However, ITV lawyers have insisted that these quotes be removed. The thrust of the article remains unchanged.

2   Rebecca editor Paddy French has declared a personal interest in this issue: the details are revealed in the article A Licence To Censor.

3  A version of this article was published on the old Rebecca website last year.

♦♦♦ 

© Rebecca 2013

CORRECTIONS  
Please let us know if there are any mistakes in this article — they’ll be corrected as soon as possible.

RIGHT OF REPLY  
If you have been mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let us have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory we’ll add it to the article.

DONATIONS
If you would like to support the work of Rebecca, you can do so by clicking on the DONATE button.

Donate Button with Credit Cards

COMING UP
THE FULL story behind the factors which led to the current Swansea measles epidemic has not been told. In the article Rash JournalismRebecca examines the role of the city’s Evening Post in causing the outbreak. The investigation found misguided journalism and confused thinking plagued the paper’s campaign in support of local families claiming the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine damaged their children.  


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