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S4C duo warn BBC Wales not to run ‘bullying’ story

01 Jun 2023 6 minute read
S4C Headquarters in Carmarthen. Picture by Rhodri ap Dyfrig (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Martin Shipton

Two members of S4C’s executive management team have instructed London solicitors to warn BBC Wales of legal action if a story is broadcast linking them with bullying allegations that are currently under investigation, we can reveal.

The bullying inquiry was launched in early May, after the board of the Welsh language TV channel commissioned a legal firm to look into major concerns raised by the broadcasting union Bectu.

Ironically Rhodri Williams, who chairs S4C, announced the move on the channel’s evening news programme Newyddion, produced by BBC Wales.

A letter written to S4C’s non-executive board members by a Bectu official said four of its members had been in tears at a union meeting as they described their experiences of alleged 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 S4C chief executive Sian 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.

Independent investigator

Although union members reported a short period of improvement, the Bectu official 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,

Mr Williams said the investigation would be carried out by Cardiff law firm Capital Law.

We have now learnt that two senior S4C executives, who cannot be named for legal reasons, recently instructed solicitors after being sent a series of questions by a BBC Wales journalist.

The questions related to an early draft of the letter from Bectu to S4C that named the two executives as having been involved in bullying behaviour.

In addition, it is understood that BBC Wales had spoken to S4C employees who had claimed to be victims of bullying.

The legal letter sent on behalf of the S4C executives warned of legal action if a story along those lines was broadcast.

It is understood that a decision was taken by BBC Wales not to run such a story at this time.

We were tipped off about the sending of the legal letter by a source not employed by S4C or BBC. Subsequently we have established that a letter in those terms was sent – and that it was commissioned not by S4C’s board or executive team as a whole, but by the two executives acting on their own initiative.


It is not the first time that the BBC has come under pressure from elements of S4C not to run stories that could be considered damaging to the Welsh language channel.

Last December the BBC decided not to run a story when S4C’s former director of communications Gwyn Williams made a complaint about spending undertaken at the channel since Sian Doyle took over as chief executive at the channel at the beginning of 2022.

In an open letter to Gareth Davies, the UK’s Auditor General, Mr Williams outlined a number of occasions on which he alleged S4C had broken its own procurement policies.

In his letter to Mr Davies, Mr Williams stated: “Specifically I ask you to look into the way S4C has contracted with [named companies or individuals] for PR and communications services and for social media services.

“It is my belief that none of these contracts adhered to S4C’s own procurement process.

“I ask that you look into the use of de minimis contracts, where companies are given contracts at or around £5,000 to avoid a full procurement process. They are then given a full contract for tens of thousands of pounds on the grounds of them having done the preliminary work and it being unreasonable / inequitable for the substantive contract to go through a full procurement procedure.

“Another area that I believe requires investigation is the use of ‘retained’ contracts.

“Furthermore I ask that you investigate all the contracts surrounding the S4C Wales in the World event in New York in November 2022.

“While S4C will argue that commissions for broadcast programmes that emanate from production companies are exempt from their procurement policy, it is right that the decision to proactively ask one specific company to produce a single programme and a number of public events, costing over £750,000, should be open to public scrutiny and should abide by S4C’s own procurement procedures.”

“It is essential that S4C uses this public money in an appropriate and transparent way, ensuring value for money for the taxpayer.

“Central to this is a robust, fair and consistent procurement policy.

“However I have serious concerns about the way S4C has spent its money and entered into contracts since January 1 2022.”

National Audit Office

Mr Williams later received a response from Lewis Knights of the National Audit Office, who stated: “We have reviewed the outcome of the S4C internal auditor’s review of procurement activities. This has concluded that there is no evidence of a deliberate breach of procurement rules.

“Where applicable, we have obtained evidence used to support the conclusions in the internal audit review to satisfy ourselves over the reasonableness of the conclusions drawn.”

In terms of procurement legislation relating to broadcast content, Mr Davies states: “Specifically in respect of the Wales in the World event, we have considered the nature of the activities undertaken and requirements under procurement legislation.

“We note that the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 state that broadcasting content is excluded from the requirements.

“As you set out in your letter, you consider that, despite this exclusion, it would be good practice for S4C to make broadcast content subject to procurement activities. Our view is that this would be a policy decision for S4C but is not a requirement.”

Since 2010, when a Conservative-led government came to power at Westminster, the funding of S4C has changed so that it now gets the bulk of its revenue from the licence fee. Nevertheless, BBC and S4C are meant to retain their editorial independence.

A broadcasting industry insider, who did not wish to be named, said: “It’s not a good look when it seems S4C, or those working for it, are putting pressure on the BBC not to run stories.”

People who have worked for S4C at any time in the last 18 months are able to give evidence to the Capital Law inquiry.

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Gaynor Jones
Gaynor Jones
10 months ago

S4C wedi bod yn toxic am flynyddoedd? Beth ar y ddaear sydd yn bod a’r bobl sydd yn rhedeg y siop siafins. Cyflogau enfawr ond pennau… bach. Pawb yn ceisio bod yn top dog a dog eat dog yw y canlyniad.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
10 months ago
Reply to  Gaynor Jones

What !

10 months ago

Open governance and public accountability are such scarce commodities in Welsh public life that they must be severely rationed. And we didn’t care if it is your money, this is Wales. “Our Wales”.

Gaynor Jones
Gaynor Jones
10 months ago
Reply to  Richardo

There is no scrutiny of public positions/ committees and boards in Wales. This needs to change

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