S4C chairman ‘willing to be reappointed’ despite sacking of chief executive in bullying scandal
S4C chairman Rhodri Williams has told MPs that he would be happy to be reappointed for a second term, despite the turbulence at the broadcaster that culminated in the dismissal of its chief executive Sian Doyle.
Mr Williams made the statement in response to Stephen Crabb, chair of the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee, at the end of a 90-minute grilling by members of the committee in Westminster.
Ms Doyle was dismissed in November following the findings of a report from Cardiff law firm Capital Law which detailed multiple instances of bullying engaged in by her.
Mr Williams faced a series of challenging questions from Conservative, Labour and Plaid Cymru MPs.
He said that despite allegations to the contrary, the way the bullying allegations were dealt with was decided unanimously by the non-executive members of S4C’s board.
The trade union Bectu initially raised concerns about the treatment of its members with the broadcaster’s executive management team in December 2022. The non-executive board members were informed of this and told by Ms Doyle that the situation was improving.
However, in April 2023 Bectu wrote a letter to the board, saying that matters had got worse, and calling for an investigation into the “toxic culture” within the organisation to be investigated in a way that protected staff members, who were scared to come forward and make individual grievance complaints..
Non-executive members of the board decided to appoint Capital Law. The investigation took longer than expected because of the large number of current and former S4C staff who wanted to give evidence.
Mr Crabb reminded Mr Williams that when he was appointed chair, he had told MPs that he felt equipped to bring about a “culture of inclusivity” at S4C that he felt had been lacking. Asked whether he had failed in that mission, Mr Williams said: “I think yes is the answer to that, in that the Capital Law report paints a picture of the culture within the organisation … If we look at the last 12 months, there is no way anybody could say that the culture within the organisation has been a healthy one.
“The Capital Law report makes it very clear where the responsibility for that lies. I don’t think it is with me and I don’t think it is with the board. The Capital Law report states very clearly that the chief executive at the time acted in a confrontational, abusive and inconsiderate manner – and I think that’s where the failure has been in terms of the management of the organisation.
“When it became clear to us as non-executive members of the board, the extent of those problems, the toxic culture, the culture of fear that existed within the organisation, we acted very quickly to put in place a process which provided safety [and] security to members of staff wishing to step up.”
He said the report itself had taken a long time to produce, and then it took more time to prepare a version that could be published without compromising people’s privacy.
Asked about a finding that he had acted inappropriately when raising his voice in a board meeting to Llinos Griffin Williams, S4C’s chief content officer, whom he subsequently sacked, Mr Williams said he had apologised after being asked to do so by a non-executive director, former Conservative MP Guto Bebb.
Mr Williams said he had raised his voice when Ms Griffin Williams had failed to desist when he asked her not to raise a confidential matter that was under investigation by Capital Law. Both Mr Williams and Chris Jones, a non-executive director of S4C who also gave evidence at the hearing, said there was no equivalence between this incident and the general concerns about bullying made by S4C staff .
Asked by Newport West Labour MP Ruth Jones whether it had been appropriate for him to dismiss Ms Griffin Williams following an incident during the Rugby World Cup in France when she verbally attacked in public members of a TV production team working for S4C, Mr Williams said: “What happened when Llinos Griffin Williams was in Nantes was an issue that created immediate detrimental effect to the reputation of S4C.
What happened was in the full view not only of members of the public, but of many journalists and television staff, not just from S4C but from other organisations. The damage to S4C’s reputation was immediate and it was very clear – there was no doubt, I took very detailed legal advice – that what happened gross misconduct and it was my view that needed to be resolved immediately.”
Asked by Ynys Mon Conservative MP Virginia Crosbie about the culture and working environment within S4C now, Mr Williams said: “I think they have improved substantially. I had a letter from Bectu on Friday which said: ‘Having met with our members … I am pleased to report that they have noted recent improvements to their working environment. It has been a hard and a deeply distressing period for S4C’s workforce, and I am pleased to hear them speaking with optimism about their workplace and the channel once again.”
Asked by Plaid Cymru MP Ben Lake, and also Mr Crabb, why the findings of the Capital Law report had not been shared with Ms Doyle before she was dismissed in the interests of natural justice, Mr Williams said: “I think the letter of dismissal sent to the chief executive by the non-executive members of the boardset out very clearly the reasons for her dismissal and I think that was sufficient.”
Asked by Mr Crabb whether he would be seeking re-appoint as chair of S4C when his current term ends in March, Mr Williams said: “I don’t think it’s a matter for me to seek reappointment. It’s a matter for the Secretary of State to decide whether or not she would like to offer me a second term.
“I would be very happy to do so should the opportunity arise. There is a re-building process that will need to happen whether I’m the chair or whether it’s someone else. I would certainly be willing to play a part in that and will always provide my support to S4C as an institution regardless as to whether or not I’m reappointed as chair.”
Asked by Mr Cran whether it would not be in the best interests of the channel to have a clean start under new leadership, Mr Williams said: “No – to be perfectly honest. That’s certainly not what I’m told by members of staff or by members of the production community. I don’t think there’s any evidence that I have – other people clearly have very strong views on the matter but I don’t share those.”
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