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Sacked S4C boss had ‘secret plan’ to deprive TV companies of work

03 Dec 2023 7 minute read
S4C Chief Executive Sian Doyle. (C) Huw John; S4C headquarters in Carmarthen. Photo via Google

Martin Shipton

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.

Oversight

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.”

Terrified

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.”

Troubling

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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James Soares Jones
2 months ago

Docudrama!

Richard Harris
Richard Harris
2 months ago

The phrase, “it’s our club and your not in it” has never been more appropriate. As they try to close this farce down, the more it erupts.

“Shush!”, they whisper, “you may damage the brand!” Too late for that, it’s in the bins waiting for collection.

hdavies15
hdavies15
2 months ago

There are very good production companies in Wales supplying content to S4C and other channels in UK and overseas. S4C does not produce anything in house but it plays an important role in giving Welsh language output a platform. It therefore follows that the relationship that S4C has with its contractors/ supplier base must be stable and based on trust and openess. While setting out to broaden the supplier base is a legitimate trading activity it might have been a lot wiser to do so by open competition rather than covert actions. After all Wales is quite a small community… Read more »

Rhufawn Jones
Rhufawn Jones
2 months ago

Dylid ffilmo’r holl bantomeim yma, a’i ddarlledu ar S4C. Efallai y byddai’r ffigyrau gwylio yn codi wedyn.

Richard
Richard
2 months ago

The “ TV Media Taffia “ always circle the waggons at times to protect their own – even from current or former members of their small & private elite.

Self selection and lack of open governance yet again ?

Thompson
Thompson
2 months ago

What an absurd headline. It’s clear what the Chief Executive was doing was openly tackling the cartel of companies who have prospered from S4c since its inception Everyone in the Welsh media knows has been going on for years. The fact that the case for the defence comes from Dafydd Iwan’s son speaks volumes. Equally the Board of S4c is a premier league gravy train for a bunch of mates. Headed up by “Mr Quango” Rhodri Owen. Sian Doyle must have put the wind up these time servers and hence they turned on her.

John Jones
John Jones
2 months ago
Reply to  Thompson

Rhodri Williams not Owen

Richard
Richard
2 months ago
Reply to  John Jones

Not sure what name is on
his party membership card ?

  • might be worth asking him
Erisian
Erisian
2 months ago

The Golden age of the BBC was when a bunch of new, small, independent production teams were given a chance. Most of the truly great comedy came from that period.
As long as the Welsh language content isn’t degraded or reduced S4C should cast their nets widely for new talent.

Banto
Banto
2 months ago

The ‘Crachach cartel’ is real

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