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Shadow Cabinet members call for probe into governance of S4C

09 Jan 2024 6 minute read
Jo Stevens. Photo Richard Townshend/UK Parliament

Martin Shipton

Shadow Welsh Secretary Jo Stevens and Shadow Culture Secretary Thangam Debbonaire have called on the UK Government to commission an investigation into the governance of S4C following a turbulent period which culminated in the dismissal of its chief executive for multiple instances of bullying.

Sian Doyle was sacked in November following the delivery to S4C’s board of a damning report from Cardiff law firm Capital Law, which included testimony from many current and former employees of the broadcaster about her bullying behaviour.

Ms Doyle’s close ally Llinos Griffin Williams, S4C’s content editor, had previously been dismissed following a drunken rant during the Rugby World Cup in France when she made insulting comments about staff working for a TV production company.

She also admitted that she and Ms Doyle had changed S4C’s policy on commissioning programmes unilaterally, without board approval, reducing the number of commissions awarded to larger companies.

Ongoing concerns

In a letter to Lucy Frazer, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Ms Stevens and Ms Debbonaire stated: “We write to raise ongoing concerns regarding the governance, leadership and organisational culture at S4C. Since its inception in 1982, S4C has been an important representation of Welsh society, its people and language. It has both a national and international audience through its innovative and award-winning programming. It also plays a significant role in the Welsh creative economy.

“However, you will be aware that recent efforts to modernise the channel have been overshadowed by a series of crises that suggest deep-rooted problems with the organisation’s leadership, management and culture, which should be of real concern to you as the responsible Cabinet Minister.

“There have been numerous reports, beginning with coverage of correspondence from the broadcasting trades union, through the independent Capital Law report, of a ‘toxic’ culture at the organisation, that have culminated in the sacking of the former chief content officer and the chief executive. Questions remain about the process that led to this, and whether the S4C Authority and interim leadership can swiftly deliver the fundamental changes which are clearly needed to transform the organisation and its working environment.

“However, there has been total silence from you and your department as this unfortunate saga has unfolded. We are deeply concerned that this is allowing a damaging situation to continue unchecked.

“Therefore, we would be grateful if you could answer the following questions:

• When were you first made aware of the issues regarding the senior management and the culture at S4C?

• When did you last meet the Chair of S4C and what assurances have you received that the S4C Authority remains able to deliver the changes needed to the organisation’s culture?

• What assurances have you received that the S4C Authority is able to hold the organisation’s leaders to account?

• When do you expect a new chief executive to be appointed?

• What discussions have you had with Ofcom regarding the ongoing challenges faced by the channel?

• Will you consider commissioning an investigation or rapid review into the culture at the organisation with a view to establishing a full picture of the problems to inform a long-term solution?

“Wales needs a modern Welsh language public broadcaster that is firing on all cylinders, nurturing its staff and their skills, showing excellent programmes and demonstrating value for taxpayers’ money. S4C cannot be allowed to flounder any further and we hope that you will begin to take a more active interest in its situation. We look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.”

Public scrutiny

The letter comes ahead of two public scrutiny sessions that will see S4C Chair Rhodri Williams questioned by MPs and MSs.

On January 10 Mr Williams will appear before the House of Commons’ Welsh Affairs Committee, and the following day he will be at a meeting of the Senedd’s Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport, and International Relations Committee.

Meanwhile Carwyn Donovan, of the trades union Bectu, which originally raised concerns about bullying at S4C, has written to Plaid Cymru MS Delyth Jewell, who chairs the Senedd committee, stating: As Senedd Members will be aware, Bectu wrote to S4C’s Authority in April 2023 outlining our concerns about the work environment at the channel.

“Bectu was reassured by the swift action the S4C Authority took to establish an independent investigation following our letter. Since the publication of the Capital Law report, Bectu has also been reassured by the inclination of the S4C Authority to work with the Union to ensure the channel provides a safe and happy workplace and ensure that such a situation does not occur again.

“Bectu has been clear that regardless of other action taken, a plan of restorative and repair action is required to achieve that. We welcome S4C’s response to that request and Bectu is committed to working with S4C’s Authority to that effect. Such restorative actions should include:

* Training for all S4C’s workforce on what positive workplace culture looks like. This should include a paid induction for any freelancers working for the channel.

* Training for all S4C managers on how to foster and maintain a positive workplace culture.

* A review of several of the organisation’s policies to be undertaken in consultation with the Union.

* Quarterly union liaison meetings with S4C’s executive board members.

* Annual union liaison meetings with S4C’s Authority.

* Bectu are long-standing advocates of the need for an Independent Standards Authority for the creative industries. The power imbalances in the sector are particularly extreme and we welcome the recent development of the Creative Industries Independent Standards Authority (CIISA). CIISA is being developed to uphold and improve standards of behaviour across the sector and to prevent and tackle all forms of bullying and harassment. Bectu understands that S4C is supportive of this initiative, we welcome that and look forward to the channel becoming a formal signatory to CIISA.

“As the collective voice of S4C’s workforce, Bectu is integral to bringing about the changes necessary to the organisation. We are committed to playing our part in delivering a first-class workplace for those dedicated individuals who deliver Welsh language television to the world.”

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Richard E
Richard E
6 months ago

At last ! S4C Governance. A subject folk have danced around for decades ! The great and the good in the “ media taffia “ for years have been given the benefit of the doubt using the good will & programmes it has achieved as a reason for inaction. Using the usual formula of pro language Labour plus neo Plaid folk with a sprinkling of closet business Tories and favourite third sector mates – the vision of the original leadership has been lost.

clear them all out and put in real community people from ALL of Wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

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