Senedd committee joins calls for S4C chairman to go
A Senedd committee has become the second group of elected politicians in two days to call for the removal of RhodrI Williams as chair of S4C in the wake of a bullying scandal that saw the dismissal of the broadcaster’s chief executive Sian Doyle.
The Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport and International Relations Committee made the decision after hearing in person from Mr Williams. It follows an earlier call from the House of Commons’ Welsh Affairs Committee.
In a letter to UK Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer, the Senedd committee’s chair Delyth Jewell wrote: “As a committee, we believe that recent events at the channel represent an appalling episode in the history of S4C. It has become apparent from recent events that there has been serious failures in both the executive and non-executive levels of leadership at the channel. This has already seen two senior executive leaders leave the organisation.
“Leadership of the organisation, however, is not only limited to the executive team. The board, in our mind, also has a role in providing leadership. There are clear examples whereby the chair of the board should have been aware of the working environment at the channel. In an organisation the size of S4C, it should have been apparent to the chair that there were significant problems.
“The high numbers of staff leaving the channel should have rung alarm bells. The fact that this did not happen suggests a failure of oversight and governance on the chair’s behalf. In that regard, we recommend that a new chair should be appointed to lead the board of S4C as it seeks to repair and renew its reputation.
“Furthermore, we find it wholly unacceptable that neither you, as Secretary of State, nor indeed your predecessors, have seen fit to meet the leadership of S4C, a UK public service broadcaster, over whose governance you have ultimate responsibility.
“As was made clear to us today, requests were made for a meeting to be held between S4C and the Secretary of State to discuss the ongoing situation. We were astonished to find out that those requests were not accepted. In our view, the principle of S4C’s governance being a matter reserved to the UK Government has been undermined by this apathy. We would therefore urge you to ensure that the Welsh Government has a formal role in the appointment of the next chair of S4C, so that there is a joint responsibility between DCMS and the Welsh Government for making the appointment.”
Earlier, during the Senedd committee meeting, Mr Williams criticised the MPs who called for his removal, claiming they had shown no interest in the plight of workers bullied by sacked chief executive Sian Doyle.
Members of the Welsh Affairs Committee also wrote to Ms Frazer saying the broadcaster needs new leadership and that Mr Williams should go. The letter was sent following a meeting of the committee at which Mr Williams gave evidence about the bullying scandal which has rocked S4C.
Ms Doyle was dismissed for gross misconduct in November, following the delivery of an investigation report by Cardiff law firm Capital Law that catalogued multiple instances of bullying towards staff and others that she had engaged in as part of what was said to be a deliberate policy of forcing employees to leave.
At a separate meeting of the Senedd committee, Mr Williams was asked what changes were planned by S4C’s board as a result of the scandal. He said the board would be examining four areas: leadership, culture, policies and governance, adding: “We have policies already. We’ll need to review those. But what Capital Law’s report tells us is that it wasn’t a problem with policies that were causing the difficulties within S4C and to members of staff, but culture – the leadership of S4C – was creating those problems.
“The report is very clear on that. I think there is danger – and I don’t want to speak too much about questions we dealt with yesterday [at the Welsh Affairs Committee] – that people aren’t willing to accept the truth about what’s happened here – what is in the report and the welfare of staff and our duty of care towards staff is ignored completely. I would want to emphasise that the evidence we received in the Capital Law report shows clearly that there is a need for a culture where people can be safe, where they can express doubts, criticism without fear of consequences. That process of changing culture is key to our success as an organisation in the future.”
Lack of awareness
Mr Williams was challenged by Blaenau Gwent Labour MS Alun Davies over his apparent lack of awareness about distress within the workforce until it was drawn to the board’s attention in April 2023 by the trade union Bectu.
Mr Davies referred to a section of the Capital Law report which referred to employees breaking down in tears when discussing their experiences working at S4C. He quoted from an interview with a former S4C employee who told Capital Law: “I left because I didn’t feel for any reason I had a choice but to leave because of the situation. The chief executive put me in a very nasty position, and many other staff too. I was aware of that. My friends and family worried a lot about my mental health at the time. I had become very tearful. I couldn’t sleep. The atmosphere of work in the last few months of employment at S4C was very difficult. I didn’t feel I had a choice but to leave.”
Mr Davies told Mr Williams he found it incredible that as an experienced manager, he had not been aware of such extreme concerns until he heard from the union..
Mr Williams responded: “None of the staff had approached me until that time, and there’s a reason for that. I think it’s clear in the Bectu letter why that hadn’t happened. The reason it hadn’t happened was that nobody had felt they could approach me or another member of the board because of fear of the chief executive, the behaviour of the chief executive. It’s described very clearly in the Capital Law report. The conduct and behaviour of the chief executive was full of conflict and didn’t take account of people’s needs.”
Asked whether he had considered stepping down as chair following the call from MPs that he should do so, Mr Williams said: “My emphasis throughout this whole process and remains today on the wellbeing of the staff. Not a word has been expressed to me that any current member of the S4C believes it would be beneficial for S4C if I were to resign today.
“Not one of the production companies that I’ve been involved with or have had discussions with during this period have suggested that it would be beneficial. To be honest, the message is quite clear that what they want to see happening is a period of stability, allowing the process of improvement, which is already in play within S4C.
“The working environment has improved significantly since the departure of two senior officials [Ms Doyle and former head of content Llinos Griffin-Williams, who was sacked after a drunken public rant during the Rugby World Cup. and what we need now is stability to allow that process to continue to work.”
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