Breaking down a political hit job
Emily Price, News Editor
Firstly, I want to say a very warm hello and thank everyone for the encouragement and well wishes I received following my first week as news editor.
I thought this may well be a good opportunity to peel back the curtain of Nation.Cymru and invite you all to take a peek at how we report news and hold power to account.
Impartiality was key during my first week at Nation.Cymru when I began work on a story involving an attack by the Welsh Conservatives against the Welsh Government.
An article posted online by the Welsh Conservatives alleged the Welsh Government had given funding to the National Union of Students – which had been accused of anti-Semitism last year.
The article also accused education minister, Jeremy Miles, of meeting with NUS President, Shaima Dallali, who was sacked after “significant breaches” of policy surrounding severe anti-Semitism allegations, including a tweet that referenced a historic massacre of Jews.
The independent report into the NUS confirmed the anti-Semitic charges and the president’s removal following her tweet.
I asked the Welsh Government to clarify whether they had funded the organisation caught up in these allegations.
One of Jeremy Miles’s press officers immediately alerted me to the inaccuracies of the Welsh Conservatives article, confirming the education minister never met with the former NUS president.
And here, we reach the crux of the piece.
NUS Wales and NUS UK are separate organisations, independent of each other, with NUS Wales implementing their own policies and having its own separate president.
On November 21 last year, the Welsh Conservatives asked Jeremy Miles the following questions:
“How much funding has the Welsh Government provided to the National Union for Students and associated groups over the last five years?
“What meetings has the Minister had with the National Union of Students this year?
“Can you confirm what Welsh Government programmes the NUS are involved with?”
The Welsh Conservatives failed to specify whether they were enquiring specifically about NUS Wales – which could be the reason Jeremy Miles did not confirm that the Welsh Government’s work was primarily with NUS Wales and not NUS UK.
Jeremy Miles responded to the questions and said:
“During the last five full financial years the NUS has received funding directly from the Welsh Government totalling £52,500.
“I met the previous NUS president on 27 April this year and had an introductory meeting with the new NUS President on 13 October.
“The NUS is one of our key stakeholders and officials have regular informal engagement with its officers.
“Two meetings are scheduled at the end of the year.
“NUS were involved in the Anti-Racist Wales Action Plan, the Rent Smart Wales Stakeholder Group and PCET Strategy Board.”
On December 21, in a response to James Evans MS, Jeremy Miles confirmed the funding was given purely to NUS Wales:
“Officials have been in regular contact with NUS Wales during the course of the investigations into antisemitism in the NUS.
“NUS Wales is a politically autonomous part of NUS UK, its policy and political leadership being determined by students in Wales.”
The Welsh Conservatives decided to still run their article on January 5 which included a string of unfounded allegations – this is why stories should never be published upon the word of a single source.
In verifying the facts of the Welsh Conservatives accusations, it led me to the conclusion that this was not a sound exposure of the Welsh Government.
In fact, once I’d dug a tiny fraction beneath the surface, I found that there was very little foundation to the allegations.
In a statement, the Welsh Government confirmed: “Shaima Dallali was the president of NUS UK. NUS Wales is independent from NUS in England, and sets its own separate policies.
“The Education Minister has never met with a president of NUS UK. He has met with presidents of NUS Wales. The funding and involvement in the action plan is also NUS Wales, not NUS UK.”
At some point, The Welsh Conservatives added a footnote to their online article:
“Updated: We have been advised that despite the Welsh Government saying NUS in their Written Question response online, apparently the meetings with the Labour Education Minister, were with NUS Wales.”
After Nation.Cymru’s report of the article was published online, Laura Anne Jones MS tweeted: “I have a comment. NUS and Stonewall for that matter are a registered organisation / charity, and even though have Welsh branches, they are not separate entities. So, what we said was correct.”
Hard working learners here have taken on a distinctly ‘made in Wales’ attitude and the policies of NUS Wales are shaped by Welsh students needs – because education has been devolved since the creation of the Welsh Assembly in 1999.
A fair representation of the Welsh Government and its use of devolved power is integral to our democracy and the freedom of the press further strengthens that democracy as media outlets act as a bridge between an average person in Wales and powerful entities.
We believe our job at Nation.Cyrmu is to report the facts, whilst pointing out when UK matters are being conflated with Welsh issues, as if they’re one and the same, in an effort to muddy the waters and exploit confusion over who does what.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.