Sacked S4C boss had ‘secret plan’ to deprive TV companies of work
Directors of one of the largest independent TV production companies in Wales have expressed serious concern about an admission by the sacked chief executive of S4C that she implemented a secret plan to deprive firms like theirs of work.
Sian Doyle was dismissed for gross misconduct after an independent inquiry by Cardiff law firm Capital Law upheld a range of bullying allegations made against her.
The decision to sack her was made unanimously by S4C’s board. A redacted version of the inquiry report is due to be published within days.
On November 30 Ms Doyle posted on Linked-In a letter to Lucy Frazer, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in which she claimed credit for improved audience figures at the channel and other successes.
She goes on to personally attack S4C chair Rhodri Williams, claiming he is the “embodiment” of a culture of “fear, secrecy, lack of trust and excessive control” first identified in an independent report on the channel in 2011. Mr Williams became chair in April 2020.
Ms Doyle accuses Mr Williams of appointing Capital Law to investigate the allegations made against her and others at a cost of £350k of public money, “without any oversight from the board, your department or from me as CEO and chief accounting officer.” In fact, it was a board decision to commission the inquiry because of the serious nature of the allegations.
Ms Doyle tells Ms Frazer that the cost of the inquiry should be “deeply troubling” to her. She adds: “More troubling should be the dominance of the ‘Big Five’ independent production companies in Wales. In 2022 the Big Five accounted for over two thirds of S4C’s commissions. When I joined the channel I was warned by several people in the industry not to challenge that status quo or I would regret it. I ignored that advice because it is good business for a CEO to diversify their supply base. Instead I championed fair competition and increased creativity and transparency. As a result the figure reduced to 54% within two years.
“Since ignoring that advice there have been sinister attempts to silence me in the form of threatening text messages from unknown phone numbers late at night, anonymous Freedom of Information requests submitted asking who was staying at my house, private and confidential details about my health leaked to the media.”
Ms Doyle concludes: “This is an inflection point for S4C. It is my view as a senior businesswoman with over 30 years experience in some of the world’s biggest organisations that the board of S4C is no longer capable of managing the issues I have described. There is little governance or oversight of the chairman who the leadership team are terrified of.
“The only person with the power to intervene and change that is you. You are shortly due to reappoint the chairman for a further term. It is therefore vital that you are 100% confident in that person’s character, integrity and ability to represent you in the decisions made by S4C. It is now imperative that you and you and your department see S4C as equally as important as the BBC cand Channel 4 and that you set the channel up for future success. A thorough and urgent investigation by you should be the start of that process.”
In response, the letter from Cwmni Da, which has gone to the DCMS and politicians at Westminster and the Senedd, states: “We are writing to you in response to a letter that has been sent to the Secretary of State for DCMS, The Rt Hon Lucy Frazer KC MP by the former chief executive of Welsh language broadcaster S4C. It was also shared on her X, formerly twitter, account. The letter contains a number of allegations and statements which are very troubling.
“Cwmni Da is a production company that employs 51 full time staff, located in the north west of Wales, which is classed as a socially deprived area. We are unique in Wales in being an Employee Owned Trust – our company is owned by a trust for the benefit of our staff.
“We have immense pride in our highly skilled and dedicated team and the fantastic content that they create for S4C and other broadcasters. We pride ourselves on being able to offer a number of pathways into the industry and a high level of training and development.
“This publicly shared letter [from Ms Doyle] is a direct threat to the media production industry in Wales. We believe that the current situation at S4C has to be resolved as soon as possible, for the sake of the service that S4C provides to viewers in Wales and across the UK, to S4C itself and the wide range of production companies – large and small across Wales. We fully support the Chairman and the Board in the present situation, and any discussion about their future at this point in time is not helpful. We condemn in the strongest possible manner the alleged actions of the previous chief executive.
“There are proper and recognised channels for raising concerns and pursuing complaints. It is not social media. Promoting this narrative is not helpful, especially in the week when £500m of cuts is being announced by the BBC.
“The accompanying narrative that everything in the last 18 months has been a success and the previous years were a failure is at best misleading.
“Content produced in Wales has been sold for years on the international market, very successfully, with drama series such as Hinterland and Byw Celwydd only two such successes. This has resulted in money being channelled back into the industry in Wales. We are only one of a number of companies that have been working internationally for years, with success. It provides value for money for content for the viewers, provides challenges and valuable learning opportunities for the staff, and helps raise the profile of Wales on the international market.
“Ms Doyle also makes public her plan, executed successfully according to her, of reducing work to companies with a high turnover. Under Ms Doyle’s plan, successful production companies appear to be punished, for no reason other than their relative success. We have been assured by S4C that this personal plan has never been approved by the S4C Unitary Board nor discussed with the channel’s commissioners.
“If the channel’s Board or content commissioners were not aware of this policy, how was it possible that such a secret policy led to ‘increased creativity and transparency’? It is a very, very troubling admission and serious questions remain about the business policies implemented by S4C over the previous 18 months.
“We felt it was important to raise these issues with you as the allegations by the individual concerned are shared and inevitably discussed. It is with a great deal of sadness and disappointment that we must reflect that the damage inflicted upon S4C over the last two years risks discrediting the reputation of an important national public service broadcaster.
The letter is signed by the company’s managing director Llion Iwan (son of the iconic singer/songwriter Dafydd Iwan), operations director Bethan Griffiths and non-executive directors Sioned Wiliam and Phil Williams.
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