“Censorship is saying: ‘I’m the one who says the last sentence. Whatever you say, the conclusion is mine.’ But the internet is like a tree that is growing. The people will always have the last word – even if someone has a very weak, quiet voice. Such power will collapse because of a whisper.”
There is something very odd going on in the reporting of Welsh rugby.
Back in January, BBC Wales ran a Scrum V special on the current crisis. A number of Gwladers were there . Those present felt that the edited, broadcast version of the programme – which went out some 6 hours after it was recorded – gave a misleading impression of the tone of the debate.
The feeling was that much of the voluble audience reaction – largely negative reaction to comments made by Roger Lewis, Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) Chief Executive Officer – had failed to make it to the edited version of the programme. It was also alleged that passages of the programme which, in the view of some of those present, had reflected badly on Roger Lewis had been cut completely. In fact, they felt so strongly about this that they – along with others who were present – wrote a letter of complaint to the BBC Trust and the BBC Complaints Department.
The complaint was dismissed.
A specific question raised in the complaint was whether WRU staff or other representatives were involved in the editing of the programme. They were told that they were not. Today, WalesEye carries a piece on comments allegedly made by a member of the BBC Wales sport department staff about interference in the programme-making process.
Those comments concerned the perceived influence of senior BBC Wales figures in removing a respected Welsh rugby journalist – the Guardian’s Paul Rees – from a Radio Wales programme. It is fair to say that Rees has generally been supportive of Regional Rugby Wales’ case in recent months, and it is also fair to say that the programme’s host – Peter Jackson of the Rugby Paper – has similarly tended to support the professional teams.
Nevertheless, WalesEye allege that Paul Rees was “effectively gagged” and removed from the programme’s panel because “…senior management decided his views on the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) were ‘inappropriate.”
Rees was asked, by a researcher for the programme, to outline some of the key points he would make. He was, of course, a member of the panel at the ScrumV debate in January and stated that he would maintain his critical tone. It is alleged that the matter of his participation on the programme was “referred up” to senior figures, after which it was decided to “stand him down” from contributing to the programme.
WalesEye’s source, a BBC Wales programme-maker, is quoted saying that,
“It’s disheartening when you are trying to make a programme that reflects all sides in a debate, to be told that certain things just cannot be said.”
Of course, it is very difficult to prove these things, and I have no personal information about the veracity or otherwise of the WalesEye story and the alleged comments of the BBC programme-maker contained within. The story does, however, highlight a general perception among many of us who are sceptical of the WRUs conduct in recent years that the governing body would like to control the news agenda.
There is a clear impression that the Western Mail, for instance, has no interest in upsetting the WRU – news of the clubs’ decision last month to call an Extraordinary General Meeting was buried some ten pages into the sports pages.
Paddy French – former producer of ITV Wales current affairs programme “Wales This Week,” alleged in an April 2012 article that his programme on the business dealings of David Pickering – a man now into his second decade as WRU Chairman – was prevented from airing by senior ITV Wales executives.
The programme had been due to air on Monday 15 May 2006. The previous day, an Extraordinary General Meeting of the Welsh Rugby Union had decided to recreate the role of WRU Chief Executive Officer, a post which had been wound up with the departure of David Moffett in 2005.
Four months later, ITV Wales’ Managing Director Roger Lewis moved into that new post.
In December of that year, his Head of News at ITV Wales, John Williams, found his way to a new role as Head of Communications at the WRU.
Elis Owen, the ITV Wales Director of Programmes who had made the final decision to pull that edition of the Wales This Week programme, moved into Roger Lewis’ old job as ITV Wales MD.
In 2009, he was appointed BBC Cymru Wales’ Head of Commissioning.
But of course the world is changing. Mainstream media is increasingly having to compete with social media (which has led to the thoroughly entertaining spectacle of Western Mail Chief Rugby Hobbit Andy Howell having regular Twitter meltdowns when his ill-researched pronouncements are routinely ripped to pieces).
Having ignored social media for much of this affair, the WRU seem to have surprisingly changed track. The sudden appearance of an apparently legitimate WRU account on Twitter – @WRUMediaOffice – which seems to owe its existence entirely to propping up the precarious position of the Union’s senior executive – has prompted much amusement.
The account profile notes that it is “Welsh Rugby Union media office. Tweets are for info only”.
“Info” seems to include accusing David Moffett of being “rude” and arguing the toss about the success of the WRU in recent years. Quite why another “official” WRU twitter handle is required to provide info when @WelshRugbyUnion already exists to…um… provide info isn’t explained.
Neither is it explained why the policy of totally ignoring David Moffett and disgruntled clubs – to the extent of sending a security guard to accept the clubs’ letters requesting the forthcoming EGM – has suddenly morphed into arguing with the Twittersphere.
Sorry, did I say “totally ignoring”? I meant “maintaining a dignified silence, with dignity, in private and behind closed doors as we look forward while reflecting on the past”.
Gwladrugby.com recently carried a very detailed article on the travails of rugby in Wales. It was based upon interviews with many people on all sides of the argument, including the editor of this site.
We don’t want anyone to be pressurised in this way. We have therefore, reluctantly, today removed the article.
Furthermore, there are rumours galore that clubs who support the calling of the EGM are nervous of speaking publicly, while those in opposition are more than ready to do so. Why would that be? Why would two clubs, with differing opinions, have such different approaches to stating their case publicly?
Perhaps they’re aware of what’s happened to IWRTV, an online TV channel developed through collaboration between former Wales international Paul Turner and Dischro Creative.
They’ve produced a number of very interesting and thoroughly well-researched online programmes in recent months. They also took to showing a few highlights – filmed by their own cameras – of matches in the lower reaches of the Welsh rugby pyramid.
The WRU approached IWRTV, indicated that BBC Wales held the rights to all matches (despite never having shown any interest in broadcasting footage of these games) and demanded of IWRTV not only a business plan outlining their editorial stance, but an additional £200,000 for the rights to matches they had already sold to BBC Wales.
It’s difficult to understand what harm IWRTV were doing. They were showing footage which would otherwise be unavailable, and doing so online. Yet the WRU sought to stifle yet another media outlet.
There may, of course, be nothing in all of this. It’s possible that people are hearing rumours and half-stories, adding them all together and leaping to an entirely erroneous conclusion. I’d like to believe that.
I’ll finish with a plea. The forthcoming EGM offers an opportunity for all who care about Welsh rugby to meet and to discuss the issues affecting them – from the professional teams right down to the smallest village club. The WRU seem to be keen to persuade clubs to stay at home, to fail to engage with the debate, and to simply hand their votes to WRU President – and chair of the EGM – Dennis Gethin
This matter is too important – to all of us who support the game here – to be treated in this way. Inform yourselves. Build a clear understanding of the issues. Question your club committeemen. Question your district representatives. Question David Moffett. Question what you read and hear. Make your own minds up. And please, turn up at next week’s EGM to engage with the issues.
Ignoring the debate – or, worse still, allowing it to be supressed – will be the ruin of us.