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S4C chief executive sacked after bullying inquiry

25 Nov 2023 7 minute read
S4C Chief Executive Sian Doyle. (C) Huw John

Martin Shipton

S4C chief executive Sian Doyle has been dismissed following an inquiry report that upheld complaints that she had bullied staff.

The Welsh language broadcaster commissioned Cardiff law firm Capital Law to investigate the complaints in May after receiving a formal letter from the trade union Bectu, which represents media workers.

Working environment

A statement issued by the S4C board said: “Members of the S4C Authority have considered the evidence provided as part of the fact-finding exercise undertaken by Capital Law into the working environment at S4C. The exercise was initiated following serious concerns raised with us by BECTU in April 2023. The evidence we have seen reflects the views and experiences of 96 people who are current or former staff of S4C or partners with whom the organisation works. We would like to thank those who felt able to come forward for their openness and willingness in sharing their experiences.

“The nature and weight of the evidence provided was deeply troubling. It has undoubtedly been a challenging time for many individuals. As Members of the Authority, we would like to apologise for the stress and anguish caused by behaviours experienced in the workplace.

“It is clear from the evidence received that action needs to be taken to secure change within S4C, and there is still much work to do to deal with all the issues arising from the information received. The S4C Authority is committed to ensuring that S4C is a place where our staff are happy and safe – a place where they feel able to perform at their best and thrive. We recognise that we need to restore confidence and trust in the organisation – not only amongst our staff but with our partners in the creative sector, audiences in Wales and beyond.

“For us to begin to make improvements we need to make some changes immediately. Therefore, having received detailed legal advice, members of the S4C Authority made the difficult but unanimous decision to terminate the employment of the chief executive. We will work towards appointing a new leader who can help restore an ambitious S4C with a renewed focus on collaboration and the well-being of our colleagues.

“These are never easy decisions to make. However, we, as Members of the S4C Authority, are confident that this is the right decision for the organisation.

“This is a sensitive matter, and we must follow due process. As the S4C Authority we need to carefully balance our obligations in relation to transparency with the well-being of those involved, and it would be inappropriate to add anything to this statement at this time about the decision announced today.

“In due course, we will publish a report that explains further the nature of the evidence received during the fact-finding process, decisions made and steps we will be taking to ensure that S4C provides a positive and thriving working environment.”

Tears

The letter from Bectu that prompted the investigation said that at a recent meeting of the union branch, four of its members had been in tears as they described their experiences of bullying.

According to the letter, there was a toxic working environment at the channel and a lack of confidence in S4C management, with staff often feeling that they were ignored and belittled, undermined or patronised by members of the management team.

It said staff were often left in tears and were too afraid to raise concerns through the usual complaints process.

According to the letter, there was a meeting between union officials and Ms Doyle last December. It said she acknowledged that things had been very difficult and that management were to blame for the way people felt, but that the term “bullying” had been used too readily.

Although union members reported a short period of improvement, the Bectu letter suggested that a mechanism needed to be established where individuals had the confidence to discuss their experiences with an independent investigator, who would reach a conclusion on where any blame could be apportioned and make recommendations.

Concerned

Deputy Arts Minister Dawn Bowden said after the inquiry was launched that the Welsh Government was extremely concerned by the bullying allegations at S4C and called on the broadcaster to ensure that such behaviour was rooted out.

Nation.Cymru reported how an S4C executive suffered an incident of stress-related heart failure during a corporate “awayday” at the Urdd Centre in Llangrannog on the Ceredigion coast, and had to be rushed to Glangwili Hospital in Carmarthen.

It is understood that more current and former employees of S4C came forward to give evidence to the inquiry than was originally expected, prolonging the timescale.

In a letter to S4C chair Rhodri Williams, Ms Bowden, herself a former trade union official with Unison, said: “Thank you for your time at our recent meeting to update me on the allegations concerning bullying at S4C. This is clearly a distressing time for all within the organisation, in particular those affected by the issues raised, and I recognise the courage it takes for anyone to speak out after experiencing abuse, harassment, or bullying.

“The Welsh Government will not be a bystander to abuse, and we are committed to tackling harassment and bullying in all forms.

“S4C occupies a special place in Wales’s cultural life and is vitally important to the Welsh economy and ongoing sustainability of the creative industries in Wales. All of us have an interest in seeing a well led, modern S4C that supports a strong creative economy and a vibrant Welsh language and culture while protecting the rights and wellbeing of its employees.

“Recent events are a warning that no organisation is immune from falling below the high standards we all value and hold in high regard. Each of us need to continually challenge ourselves and our organisations in maintaining the highest standards of dignity and respect so that we continue to earn the trust and confidence of our workforces and those who we work with and represent.”

“It is important that S4C’s status as an independent broadcaster is clear and understood. While the Welsh Government intends to use its levers to ensure the serious issues in hand are addressed I am clear that it is for S4C to take the necessary action to ensure that the organisation emerges with the governance arrangements, policies and culture that are fit for the future.”

Stunned

Gwyn Williams, former Director of Corporate Communications at S4C said: “I welcome today’s announcement and especially the apology by the Authority.

I’m stunned that 96 people gave evidence to the inquiry, considering that S4C only has around 110 fulltime staff. I know that over 35 people have left over the last 18 months. S4C has lost a great deal of talent, and numerous staff have had to work under horrendous conditions.

“The channel must now rebuild trust amongst staff and the production sector who also had to work under these conditions.

“Questions remain about why the S4C Board didn’t act sooner when they had notice that there were issues with management at the channel.”

Heledd Fychan MS, Plaid Cymru Senedd spokesperson on culture, said: “In an unstable period for the channel, it is key that both staff and the audience have confidence in S4C’s leadership.

Restoring that confidence to a channel that is one of the cornerstones of Welsh culture is a priority so that S4C can focus on commissioning first class content, which reflects Wales and its people.”


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Jeff
Jeff
7 months ago

Bullying in the workplace is nasty and insidious, at a high level it filters down and affects productivity and attitudes and work life balance. People basically don’t want to some into work. But businesses need a robust way to deal with this and not require external audits. Means what is happening at S4C? I have seen it rip through departments and ruin them.
Admit mistakes, deal with the fallout. Become an excellent broadcast entity.

Cwm Rhondda
Cwm Rhondda
7 months ago

In any walk of life, bullying is despicable thing to do. I’ve been bullied in the workplace, thankfully I escaped to a better organisation with far superior management practices. The person who bullied me went on to be promoted and subsequently become a very senior manager in another organisation. I hope she reads about Sian Doyle and starts to question her own behaviour at work (I doubt she will though).

hdavies15
hdavies15
7 months ago
Reply to  Cwm Rhondda

Seems like bullying is a desirable transferable skill ! Often a fine line between outright anti social behaviour and managerial bullying.

Cwm Rhondda
Cwm Rhondda
7 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

Managerial bullying is premeditated.

hdavies15
hdavies15
7 months ago

This lady was a fairly recent appointment. Perhaps those who selected her from what was probably a top drawer high priced recruitment programme need to reflect on their own competence. No doubt this will be a juicy bit of repeat business for some executive search firm that just keeps presenting the mixed bag of usual suspects to client organisations.

Richard E
Richard E
7 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

Just how “ hands on “ is the S4C Board ?

Sadly these folk come from a very very small
Section of our “ cultural elite “ known across Wales as the “ Tafia “

A more geographically representative new Board perhaps / from modern, includive Wales / accountable and reporting to our Senedd.

hdavies15
hdavies15
7 months ago
Reply to  Richard E

Why should it report to Y Senedd ? You’d need to devolve broadcasting/media first. Even then you would not be sure of improving the performance as evidenced by recent reports of NRW failures to enforce improvements in the water industry. You can create as many structures as you like but if those working within them choose not to function properly you end up back at square 1 with just a lot more costs.

Another Richard
Another Richard
7 months ago

According to Ms Doyle’s LinkedIn profile, she had no experience of broadcasting before becoming CEO at S4C; her career had been almost entirely in retail, starting with nine years at Asda. I’m not knocking that – running supermarkets must be a constant challenge and they are one area of life that works really well for the consumer – but it does make me wonder if she had the right experience and skills for the job. Let us hope S4C chooses a more suitable candidate next time, and that she finds another role she’s better fitted for.

Cwm Rhondda
Cwm Rhondda
7 months ago

She is probably a fully paid up member of the Taffia.

Rhddwen y Sais
7 months ago

Defund all public broadcasting. Entertainment should be paid for by the individual because they appreciate it and are willing to fund it.

Jeff
Jeff
7 months ago
Reply to  Rhddwen y Sais

Public broadcasting has a very important role in the UK. Unfortunately the politics section of the BBC has been meddled with but the rest of the content is excellent. With the usual suspect streaming places you dont get court reporting, news local and national, radio local and national and you wont get as much of the innovation and skills developed (of course there are off the shelf stuff but BBC are part of a lot of innovation), and you would not have S4C. Personally I am for a German version of taxation.

Frank
Frank
7 months ago

Was the chairman aware of the bullying? If not, why not?

Wynford Jones
Wynford Jones
7 months ago
Reply to  Frank

Was the chairman part of the bullying? Ms Doyle’s says she wasn’t afforded natural justice immediately prior to termination of contract. If so, whoever authorised that dismissal has put public funds at risk. Irrespective of the fact she had no entitlement to take the matter to employment tribunal, Ms Doyle may be able to pursue her case in the courts and for damage to her reputation. I doubt that we will ever get to the bottom of it all. Out-of-court settlement with gagging clause anyone?

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