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Racism allegations against Welsh media over Gething coverage ‘weren’t approved by Labour committee’

26 May 2024 7 minute read
Stewart Owadally (L) and Ruba Sivagnanam. Photos The Labour Party

Martin Shipton

Welsh Labour’s committee for minority ethnic members was not consulted before a statement was issued in its name condemning Welsh journalists for their coverage of scandals surrounding Vaughan Gething, we have been told.

A member of Welsh Labour’s BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) Committee has told NationCymru that the first they knew of the statement was when they were told about it by another member of the Labour Party.

The First Minister has been embroiled in controversy over his decision to accept donations totalling £200,000 from David Neal, the owner of a waste disposal group who has been convicted of criminal offences and sentenced to two suspended prison sentences for dumping toxic sludge in the precious Gwent Levels conservation area near Cardiff.

Mr Gething wrote to Natural Resources Wales, the regulator, accusing it of treating one of Mr Neal’s firms too harshly.

NationCymru has broken a series of stories that have raised questions about Mr Gething’s honesty, his judgement and his fitness to be First Minister.

‘Dodgy donations’

As well as being the first news outlet to report on his “dodgy donations”, we revealed how he misled the UK Covid-19 Inquiry by failing to disclose that when he was Health Minister in 2020 he deleted iMessages involving ministerial colleagues during the Covid crisis. In a message leaked to NationCymru he admitted deleting messages because they were subject to disclosure under freedom of information law.

Other Welsh news outlets including BBC Wales and WalesOnline have also broken stories relating to the scandals Mr Gething is at the centre of.

On May 18 a statement was issued on behalf of Welsh Labour’s BAME Committee by its vice chair, Vale of Glamorgan councillor Ruba Sivagnanam, who shares an office with Stewart Owadally, Mr Gething’s campaign manager during his successful leadership bid.

It also carried the name of the committee’s chair, Dr Mahaboob Basha.

Diversity

It said: “We should be rightly proud that the appointment of Europe’s first Black leader happened here in Wales. As First Minister Vaughan Gething represents all the people of Wales, whatever their background or political identity, and the fact that he is Black demonstrates that Wales is proud of all of its children in all of their diversity.

“However, as Welsh Labour’s BAME Committee, we feel that we must also state that this achievement brings with it the danger of surfacing racist attitudes in the media and elsewhere. We would like to call on all in Welsh Labour to stand together to resist this path.

“For so many BAME people in Wales, the last few weeks will have been disturbing and unsettling, and yet very familiar.

“In the Welsh media, the treatment of Vaughan Gething has gone well beyond what one can reasonably call fair scrutiny … We fully endorse thorough political scrutiny from a free press and from an active political community. However, we feel that this scrutiny in recent weeks has crossed a line between fair examination and racially influenced attitudes and judgements, with a Black person being held to a higher standard.

“ … There have been many moments of reflection over the last few years in which people and institutions have accepted how subconscious racial prejudice can creep into the things they do and say . We believe we are seeing this play out before us, and we must act to stop it. That is why we are speaking out, standing firmly behind Vaughan Gething, and calling on all in our movement to be allies not bystanders.”

Scandals

The statement made no mention of the scandals surrounding Mr Gething or offered any criticism of his behaviour.

After the statement was issued, Shav Taj, the general secretary of TUC Cymru, endorsed it on X, despite the fact that it wrongly accused members of the National Union of Journalists, a union affiliated to TUC Cymru, of racism.

In a statement published by NationCymru, Mark Mansfield, the news outlet’s CEO, refuted the allegation of racism, saying: “Editorially we have always followed a strong anti-racist position and have exposed racist organisations and individuals operating in Wales, working alongside organisations such as Hope Not Hate.

“Members of the team have received death threats because of this reporting, resulting in the police putting in place increased protection, and staff having to install security equipment for protection.

“To suggest our scrutiny of Mr Gething is out of proportion is simply untrue. Any Welsh politician involved in scandals of the scale embroiling Mr Gething would be under exactly the same degree of scrutiny.

“We stand behind every line of our reporting. We are regulated by IPSO and adhere strictly to the Editors’ Code.

“The Code states: ‘The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability. Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.’”

Poll

A self-selecting readers’ poll that ran for 48 hours on NationCymru’s website resulted in 84.5% of those voting rejecting the allegation of racism.

We have spoken to a member of Welsh Labour’s BAME Committee on condition that they are not identified. The committee member told us: “I was not contacted about this statement before it was sent out. It’s wrong to suggest that the statement was put out with the authority of the committee.

“The committee is controlled by a very small number of people who don’t organise monthly meetings as they are supposed to. There hasn’t been an AGM (annual general meeting) of the committee to which I have been invited and so far as I am concerned the officers are self-appointed. It’s not democratic.

“I totally disagree with the allegation that the Welsh media have been racist in their coverage of Vaughan Gething’s actions. He has taken a huge amount of money from a convicted criminal, after all, and has to be scrutinised. I believe a race card has been played in an attempt to divert attention from what he has done.”

Questions

We wrote to Cllr Sivagnanam, who distributed the Welsh Labour BAME Committee statement, asking her a series of questions:

* Did the committee hold a meeting before the statement was issued?

* How many members of the committee are there and how many attended?

* How do you account for the fact that we have been told there was no consultation with the committee before the statement was issued?

* If no meeting was held, why not?

* If no meeting was held, how do you justify issuing the statement on behalf of the committee?

* Do you regret making unfounded allegations of racism against the Welsh media?

* You are a colleague of Stewart Owadally, who was Vaughan Gething’s leadership campaign manager. He works for Mr Gething and you work for Stephen Doughty MP, in the same office. Did you discuss the statement issued in your name with Mr Owadally before it was issued?

* How do you react to the suggestion, made by one of the BAME committee members, that in issuing the statement you were playing the race card?

* [We have also been] told that meetings of the BAME committee are held infrequently, and certainly not every month, as they should be. Is that correct, and if so why?

Cllr Sivagnanam has not responded to our questions.


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Evan Aled Bayton
Evan Aled Bayton
7 days ago

This kind of claim (of racism) in this context is not helpful. All the articles I have read have been concerned with the appropriateness or not of Mr Gething for office. It is a pity because the effect is to sideline everything else and Wales has quite a few pressing problems at the moment.

Gareth W
Gareth W
7 days ago

It’s long been known that Vaughan Gething gets spikey at scrutiny. From journalists and Senedd colleagues, including from his own side (Jenny Rathbone). Maybe he failed to appreciate how much scrutiny comes with top job. To my eyes, what he’s facing is no more intense than that which other FMs have faced. Alun Michael never had it easy. Carwyn Jones quit over the intensity of the scrutiny surrounding the death of Carl Sargeant. It certainly doesn’t seem to me to be motivated by racism. Having read Martin Shipton and Will Hayward over the years, I imagine the one aspect of… Read more »

Last edited 7 days ago by Gareth W
Yuri Nator
Yuri Nator
7 days ago
Reply to  Gareth W

Humility is something Gething is incapable of. As you’ve referenced there have been multiple examples of his inability to not become spikey when under scrutiny. He has the air of, “how dare these people question me!” about him.

I am on the fence over whether incompetence/foolishness is playing the bigger role over donations gate and subsequent events vs Gething’s arrogance. He is a man with very little to be arrogant about but has arrogance in abundance.

Brychan Davies
Brychan Davies
7 days ago

Cllr Ruba Sivagnanam who issued this apparently unauthorised racism accusation in the name of BAME Labour Committee against the Welsh media is also employed as a senior case officer by Stephen Doughty MP for Cardiff South and Penarth. He is, of course, the Labour candidate in the forthcoming elections to the Westminster House.

John Ellis
John Ellis
7 days ago

One of the factors underlying Mr Gething’s current difficulties could be the persistent rumour that he wasn’t the preferred choice of his party colleagues in the Senedd. They, after all, surely know him best, and he needs their confidence in order to be able to constructively work with them.

Being the preferred choice of party members but very definitely not the preferred choice of his MPs was, after all, the beginning of Jeremy Corbyn’s problems in the Westminster House of Commons.

robin campbell
robin campbell
6 days ago

looking forward to Councillor Sivagnanam’s reply

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