Category Archives: BBC

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A Question of Trust

There’s been plenty of debate about the BBC Wales ScrumV Special which aired on 19th January. I wrote about my impressions of the recording and subsequent broadcast here.

However there hasn’t been a response from the BBC. A group of us who were at the recording have written a letter of complaint to the BBC Trust and the BBC Complaints Department. The contents of that letter are reproduced below.

We write to you with concerns over the recent ScrumV programme on the 19th January on BBC Wales having been audience members and subsequently viewers of the show.

We appreciate that this may generally sit with the BBC Complaints department and have copied them in on this correspondence so they may also respond accordingly but as there are question marks over several issues such as editorial content and commercial relationships, we thought it best to address the issue to yourselves also. 

The show was sold to us as a ‘Question Time’ warts and all format, intentionally shot over a short period to get some answers from the panel and an honest viewpoint of the current situation in Welsh rugby with plenty of interaction, discussion and questions from a varied audience of regional, club and international supporters of all ages and genders.

Many of us did a great deal of preparation in anticipation of a ground-breaking show in respect of rugby in Wales and we were hugely disappointed to instead listen to the panel discuss pre-planned topics with a handful of opinions from the audience rather than questions and no opportunities to put any questions forward to the panel. The production team had specifically asked us to provide questions prior to the recording. None of these questions were used.

We were led to believe that the programme would be in the Question Time style. Before the recording started we were encouraged to put our hands up during the show if we had any questions or wanted to express our opinions. We were also encouraged to make our feelings known through applause or boos so the show would accurately reflect the audience’s mood.

In respect of the format of the show we left the studio disenchanted and frustrated having prepared and taken time out of our weekends to travel from all over Wales. We appreciate that the set-up of the show is entirely the BBC’s prerogative, but we feel we were invited to the show under false pretences. We were led to expect an interactive programme but it was nothing of the sort.

Our frustration turned to anger when we watched the recording later that day. We had not expected much having been there, but as the very least we thought we’d left the studio safe in the knowledge that whilst we weren’t able to direct questions at the panel or voice our concerns or approval, we did express our feelings through the applause, laughter and boos. However, it transpired that this wasn’t reflected in the final edit.

Several of the comments made by Roger Lewis were followed by jeering and various comments were made by us in the audience. However, the audience reaction only came across once during the broadcast version of the show, which made the debate seem much more amicable and considerably less confrontational than it was. Even some of the more confrontational comments from the panel and host were edited out, for example when Gareth Lewis pushed Roger Lewis for an answer as to whether the WRU had looked to set up new regions.

There were several further examples of this with what appeared to be the one common theme that the show was edited in order to be favourable to the WRU and Roger Lewis. For those of us in the studio there was no question that there was a very clear discontent with the WRU from the majority of the audience which did not come across in the final edit.

The whole WRU/RRW/Welsh Rugby debate has been poorly reported by BBC Wales and ScrumV, after being very late arriving at the party the impartiality has been questionable on simply too many occasions. You only have to look at the way the impasse is being reported by both local and national newspapers such as The Times, The Guardian, The Rugby Paper and Evening Post to see a balanced unbiased view on the topic; indeed Paul Rees’ article in the Guardian on the ScrumV programme in question (he was a panellist on the programme but was given limited opportunity to speak) speaks volumes on the standard and impartiality of the show and reporting of the topic.

This raises many questions over not only the individual show but also whether BBC Wales is profoundly compromised by their commercial relationship with the WRU and/or its employees. The indisputable difference between the unedited and edited version can’t be masqueraded as coincidence or poor editing so there appears to be something untoward. We know that the WRU were accompanied by their legal representatives when they attended the recording and we are concerned that the presence of these representatives may have adversely affected the balance of the programme which went to air.

We anticipate that BBC Wales Complaints will be well versed in respect of responding to this issue as they will no doubt already have had complaints on the matter. We expect that the BBC Trust will be able to delve a little deeper than the likely response from BBC Wales Complaints (having to edit the show as it overran, giving the panel sufficient airtime or whatever stock answers are generally given) and give us a meaningful response.

The public generally look to the BBC for unbiased and objective news and content and BBC Wales and ScrumV’s recent actions and coverage have brought into question whether the BBC is acting correctly in their role as a public service broadcaster and we implore you to fully investigate this. We feel that we have very real and legitimate concerns and we would be reassured to know that this issue is being treated seriously and would welcome any feedback you could give us and if you require any further information from us we are more than happy to assist.

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A toxic relationship

There’s been an enormous amount of online discussion following last night’s BBC ScrumV Special . In fact, the “scrumv” hashtag and “Roger Lewis” were both in the top ten UK trending topics on Twitter at one point yesterday evening. As someone who was at the recording of the programme, I thought it might be useful to give my impressions of how it went in the studio, and also how it looked to people watching on TV. These two impressions are quite different.

The fact is that those of us who are interested in the current crisis in Welsh rugby (and it is a crisis, in spite of what Roger Lewis seems to believe) have been mostly living off scraps of information in the Welsh media relating to the issues. Gwladrugby is a notable exception to this, of course. Our analysis has become the one of the definitive sources in recent weeks.

Therefore, many of us were relieved last week when we heard the announcement that BBC Wales were planning a ScrumV Special, with an invited audience and a panel representing the key players in the debate. Our immediate thoughts turned to the likely composition of the panel. Would Roger Lewis or David Pickering put themselves forward? Who would represent the fans? Who would represent the regions? Would we be able to directly question the panel?

Some of these questions had been answered by the time we arrived at BBC Wales at 10am yesterday. Some, but not all. It was still unclear who the WRU representative was going to be, but we did know that former Chief Executive and self-proclaimed saviour of Welsh rugby, David Moffett would be there, albeit in the audience rather than on the panel.

In the days leading up to the recording, some information had trickled out regarding who was going to be there. We knew Dragons CEO Gareth Davies would be, and Martyn Thomas, former chief of the RFU. There were mutterings that Paul Rees, the Guardian rugby writer who has done some sterling work in uncovering the details of this sorry affair, would be on the panel. But even as the clock ticked past the planned start time of 10.30am, there was still no word on who the WRU representative would be.

Finally, at 11am, we heard the news that WRU CEO Roger Lewis had decided to attend. At this point many of us had been drinking BBC coffee for over an hour. The atmosphere in the room was tense. Bladders were close to bursting point.

Eventually at 11.15am, 45 minutes late, we were called into the studio. No reason was given for the delay, but several people were convinced that one of the panellists had only just arrived.

For those of you familiar with the BBC studios in Llandaf, the recording took place in studio C1, the former site of the Pobol y Cwm set. A fitting location for a scene from another very Welsh drama to be played out.

As we made our way to our seats, we spotted David Moffett on the front row, chewing his fingernails. Several members of the audience were being miked up, as the producers planned to come to them for comments during the debate. There were also boom mic operators standing at either side of the seating, presumably there to capture questions from the audience.

On the stage, there were five empty chairs. One for presenter Gareth Lewis, the other for the four panellists. After some sound checks and some house rules from the floor manager, the panel filed in and were introduced to the audience one by one. Three of the panellists made their way quietly to their seats on the stage. But Roger Lewis strode across the room, waving and smiling at a number of audience members. He was clutching a leather folder brimming with notes and a spiral bound document, which we were later to discover was the fabled PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) report concerning Welsh rugby finances.

I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow description of the debate which followed. You can see most of it on BBC iPlayer. The programme was recorded “as live”, but there were several exchanges which failed to make the version which went to air.

At one point, during a particularly lively exchange between presenter Gareth Lewis (GL) and Roger Lewis (RL), GL asked RL for his reaction to Peter Thomas’ claim that Regional Rugby Wales (RRW) have “no confidence” in RL. RL’s response to this was the decidedly evasive, “I had coffee with Gareth [Davies] last Thursday.” This exchange was not broadcast.

At several points during the debate when RL was speaking, the audience reacted with jeers and cries of “answer the question!” We had been told we could express our reactions to the discussion, and so we did. At one point, after a succession of questions regarding whether he had made plans to set up new regions, RL responded that he had not. The audience erupted into loud jeers of derision. This reaction is not audible on the broadcast. There may be technical reasons for this, but the fact remains that for large parts of the debate, the audience were loudly expressing derision at much of what RL said.

Another important point to make about the programme is the involvement (or lack of it) of the audience. The show had been set up in a “Question Time” format, and we had been asked to submit questions in the days leading up to it.

When we got into the studio, it was clear that the producers had already decided who would be contributing, and these people had been miked up. These included, David Moffett, a lawyer, a representative of the four Regional Supporters Clubs, and Mark Davies, CEO of the Scarlets. In fact, the boom mic operators might as well have spent the morning at home in bed, for all the use they were. The only spontaneous intervention came from a member of Cross Keys RFC, who spoke in support of RL. At no point were the dozens of regional fans in the room invited to ask a question. Furthermore, there were several occasions where fans put their hands up in response to something one of the panel had said, and they were ignored.

You might say that I’m being naïve in expecting a full and frank debate. But that was what we were led to believe it would be. I can understand why someone who has been under siege as much as RL has would want to carefully control the question topics. However, the BBC are always banging on about balance. I would say, where were the voices of the fans on yesterday’s programme? How’s that for balance? The inclusion of Martyn Thomas was a complete waste of time. He is a largely-discredited has-been; the Nigel Farage of English rugby. As Brian Moore put it on Twitter, the only reason he could think of including Thomas was that the debate was about maladministration. Make of that what you will.

At one point GL asked RL whether he was happy with the way in which he’d conducted himself during this affair. That would’ve been the point to ask him about BBC 5 Live presenter Alastair Eykyn’s claims that RL and Warren Gatland had been badgering Alun-Wyn Jones on a “daily basis”, trying to get the Ospreys player to sign a central contract.  That’s a question I’d have liked to have asked RL, if I’d been given the chance.

I realise I’ve gone on about this quite a lot already. But before I stop, there are a couple of other impressions I took away from yesterday’s programme.

The first one is that Roger Lewis got very bad tempered when he was asked about central contracts and his plans for what happens if the regions walk away. He also waved the PWC report around a lot to make his points. If the report is so marvellous, why doesn’t he publish it?

The second clear impression which came out yesterday is that the relationship between Roger Lewis and RRW is toxic. It’s a word David Moffett used, and he’s right. There are a couple of moments where Gareth Davies visibly winces in response to the things Roger Lewis is saying. There is never going to be a deal between RRW and Roger Lewis, because the relationship is irrevocably broken. That means that this thing is going to court, and a judge will decide the future of Welsh and probably European rugby.

 

 

 

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Assembly members call for review of WRU governance

The BBC are emphasising First Minister Carwyn Jones’ offer to mediate between the WRU and the Regions in their ongoing bitter dispute over the future of our professional game.

However, the real story of today’s debate in the Senedd is that opposition AMs were united in a call for a thorough, independent review of the governance of the WRU. That piece of information, which should make very uncomfortable reading for WRU CEO Roger Lewis, is buried in the BBC piece, several paragraphs down.

Unlike the First Minister who only turned up for the last five minutes, I was in the Senedd to listen to all of today’s debate. I was horrified by the lack of knowledge of the basic issues displayed by most of the Assembly members who spoke. However, one AM had clearly done her homework.

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Bethan Jenkins of Plaid Cymru had taken the time to speak to all the parties involved: the WRU, the regions and the supporters.  She had clearly done her research and returned to her theme of governance several times during the debate.

The rest of the speakers spent most of their allocated slots either reminiscing about watching rugby, or expressing their heartfelt – albeit bleeding obvious – hope that the WRU and RRW could come to an agreement for the benefit of Welsh rugby as a whole. Blah blah blah. Other AMs, on the whole, contributed the sum total of nothing to the debate.

Mike Hedges (Labour) rambled through a confused rant against the regions, citing recent match results as reason to look at an alternative.  What Hedges and his ilk fail to recognise is that the regions have been very successful in the Celtic League and Anglo-Welsh cup. Their contribution to the last eight years of unprecedented success of the national side should be obvious to anyone who understands how professional sport works.

What is most worrying is that we allow our elected representatives to debate important issues like this without many of them appearing to have done any research whatsoever.

 

 

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The Curious Incident of the Lapdogs in the Night-time

The continued media silence in Wales over the Alastair Eykyn story about the WRU’s undermining of Alun-Wyn Jones’ status with the Ospreys and ongoing ‘harassment’ of a RRW employee on an ‘almost daily’ basis would, in ordinary circumstances, be one of the most curious developments in an extremely curious affair. However, when it comes to the Western Mail and BBC Wales, it seems less like the curious incident of the dog in the night time and more like the curious incident of the lapdog.

The first time I had a decidedly ominous feeling about the rigour and fullness of Welsh media coverage of the dispute came last year when, in the coverage of a RRW press conference criticising the frustration of the PRGB, regional ire was directed at Westgate Street. “I sum it up with the words power, control, divide, conquer, wipe-out,” said Peter Thomas. “That is the agenda for certain people across the way.”

Now, the first inkling for consumers of Welsh media that these incendiary sentiments existed would have occurred on the twelfth of never. These remarks were simply unreported, despite the fact that these were easily the most headline-friendly comments in the whole press conference. They were reported in the Guardian and were found nestled in an unedited youtube clip of the press conference available on regional websites but, ultimately, the Welsh media declined to report them, let alone lead with them.

Of course, one instance can be attributed to editorial prerogative as to what is newsworthy or journalistic incompetence, with the latter in no short supply in the Welsh media. However, since then, a pattern of omission has emerged which means that it is no longer feasible to construe missing the power-control-divide-conquer-wipeout story as the isolated missing of an open goal.

Thomas was at it again in the Rugby Paper from the 5th January, in which he ventured the opinion that: “There is a desire within the regions to work with the WRU but there is no appetite from the regions to work with Roger Lewis. We have no confidence in him.”

Again, perhaps the most headline-friendly and incendiary comment of the entire affair went unreported. In light of this, perhaps it was unsurprising that the Welsh media would also decline to publish the other claims in the report, namely that the WRU has been conspiring to centrally contract Welsh players and play them in England.

But hey, perhaps they didn’t get the Rugby Paper delivered that week. And perhaps it’s a co-incidence that renowned Welsh rugby expert and intellectual giant Jeff Probyn was invited to air his views on Radio Wales a day after espousing pro-WRU sentiments in that very same edition of the Rugby Paper.

Unfortunately, it seems that the reticence epidemic is spreading. The WRU declined to invite any members of the press to their pre-6N squad naming today, preferring to retreat behind the inviolability of an email to the media corps.

Given the furious criticism the regions received from luminaries of the Welsh media (such as Andy Howell, the man who looks like Alexander Pope but doesn’t write like Alexander Pope) for having the temerity not to include their superstar players in a pre-Christmas joint press conference, the decision of the WRU to soft-sell the upcoming Six Nations with a letter from the table of the Politburo will surely attract the most frightful savaging in the Welsh media. Right?

Or, ‘food for thought?’ as per the parlance of Welsh media’s most fearless little lapdog.