IS THE BBC ANTI-LABOUR?

December 21, 2019

Pride of Britain Awards - London

THE PRESS GANG report on the Panorama programme Is Labour Anti-Semitic? was published on December 7.

Press Gang found the BBC was biased in its journalism, leaving the Corporation open to the charge that the broadcast was a deliberate attempt to interfere in the General Election. 

The interim report lists serious breaches of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines in the 59 minute programme first aired on July 10.

You can read the report here.

The Panorama programme is still available on iPlayer — the link is here.

The BBC’s Editorial Guidelines can be accessed here. 

The Press Gang 16 page report — rush-released to be available before the election — cites nine separate occasions when programme-makers were in breach of the Editorial Guidelines. 

Copies were delivered  to various media organisations in London.

A hundred went to senior managers and journalists at the BBC. 

Other copies went to the Channel 4 News, Sky News, LBC, the Guardian and the Times, the Sunday Times and the Sun on Sunday

Here’s the report’s dramatic cover. 

BBC_cover_08_b

Our investigation into this rogue journalism continues.

This is important work and you can underwrite this project by supporting our crowdfunded site — here. 

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THE REPORT was published on Saturday, 7 December 2019. 

The next morning, the BBC Press Office got in touch and asked for the following statement to be included:

The BBC stands by its journalism and we completely reject any accusations of bias or dishonesty. Panorama explored a topic of undoubted public interest, broadcasting powerful and disturbing testimonies from party members who’d suffered anti-Semitic abuse. We also heard from former Labour officials, some of whom defied non-disclosure agreements to speak out about their experiences inside the Party and its anti-Semitism crisis. This shows the serious questions facing the party and its leadership on this issue. The programme adhered to the BBC’s editorial guidelines, including a full right of reply for the Labour Party. John Ware is a highly experienced and respected investigative journalist, whose track record includes critically-acclaimed and award-winning reports. We reject any claims Panorama took any of the evidence out of context. 

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NOTE
1 Paddy French declares an interest in this issue. A life-long Labour voter, he joined the party after Jeremy Corbyn was elected Leader.
2 Much of this article is based on the work of others including The Canary, Electronic Intifada, Vox Political and Jewish Voice for Labour.
3 On December 13 the article was amended to include the statement from the BBC.

4 There is a typo in the Press Gang pamphlet Is The BBC Anti-Labour? In the note on page 15, the figure 763 should read 673. The error does not affect the other figures in the note which remain correct. 

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Published: 7 December 2019
© Press Gang
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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.

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: 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 …

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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?

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THIS INVESTIGATION continues.

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

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Published: 8 August 2016
© Press Gang
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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.

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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?

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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 …

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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?

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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.

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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 …

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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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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

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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.

 


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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