Monday, 7 July 2014

Journalistic licence

Last Friday’s Western Mail contained this little story which included the paragraph:
John Dixon, who was Plaid Cymru’s chair from 2002 to 2010, told Wales Eye the fresh controversy showed the party’s policy on nuclear energy was incoherent.  He said: “On nuclear energy, whether the party is for or against depends on who you speak to.”
It’s obviously based on this posting on Wales Eye, from the 27th June.  However, the Wales Eye story doesn’t actually say either that this was something which I had “told Wales Eye”, or that it was in response to the “fresh controversy”; both those little fictions (or should we say “journalistic embellishments”?) are entirely the property of the Western Mail.  I don’t know who runs Wales Eye, but as far as I’m aware, I’ve never had any communication whatsoever with those running the blog; and certainly didn’t speak to them or anyone else about this story.  Apart from anything else, I was out of the country at the time.
The words attributed to me, though, are undoubtedly mine.  They’re lifted from this blog posting in July last year, but I’d have needed to be very prescient to comment on a trip to Japan almost a year before it happened.
Does it matter?  After all, the comments were made on a blog which is in the public arena even if not particularly widely read.  And I haven’t changed my mind about what I wrote a year ago.  Whilst Plaid’s de jure policy is to support renewables and oppose nuclear energy, the party’s de facto policy is that its members are free to take whatever stance that they wish on energy policy – and no party taking that position can claim to have an honest or coherent energy policy.
Context is important though.  The story in which the quotes were used was really nothing to do with energy policy at all.  It was about two other matters entirely – one overt, the other less so.
The overt focus of the story was a criticism by a Labour politician of a Plaid politician for accepting hospitality from a company which is seeking to gain and maintain political support for its proposed development.  The words which came to my mind were pot, kettle, and black.  A brief glance through the register of interests of AMs or MPs will reveal that many of our elected members – of all parties – are only too happy to accept the generous hospitality of companies in many fields.  Only the politically naïve could believe that the companies concerned spend money in this way with no ulterior motive in mind.  I’d prefer that our elected representatives maintained a greater distance from capitalists on the make, but I have no great expectation that that will happen any time soon.
The less overt aspect of this story was the quote from a “senior Plaid Cymru figure”, which was clearly a knife aimed at the back of Rhun ap Iorwerth.  This sort of unattributable briefing has become a pernicious problem for the party since the establishment of the Assembly, and owes more to internal personal rivalries and ambitions that it does to a debate about energy policy or any concern for the future of Wales.  It’s one of the less savoury practices which some party members have learned from observing New Labour in action.
So, whilst I don’t and can’t object to either Wales Eye or the Western Mail quoting selectively from this blog, it strikes me as unprofessional to present an old quote on an issue of policy as though it were a quote on either the question of accepting hospitality or an intervention in the internal rivalries of a party.


Anonymous said...

A little explanation John... the person behind Wales Eye is Phil Parry. Phil used to work in BBC Wales and was interviewed for a job that eventually went to Rhun ap Iorwerth. A cursory glance at Wales Eye will reveal something of an obsession with the Ynys Mon AM and his party. All well and good, you may say. But the regular use of "anonymous sources" to bulk up the stories on the website undermines any merit it may have. Just like the Western Mail in fact.

Anonymous said...

But don't you just love generating even more publicity for yourself ....... small time politician coveting the big time?

Anonymous said...

It's run by Phil Parry who has got a few hobby horses he uses for stories, the Chancellor of Aberystwyth Uni and the Welsh Higher Education sector more generally are in the firing line, and then we come to Rhun ap Iorweth and Plaid Cymru.

Of course it helps he's being served stories on a plate by Micheal Haggart's Syniadau blog and his personal vendetta with Plaid Cymru over nuclear power in Ynys Mon, but there's little journalistic credibility in the story.

The Wales Eye site has been running for over a year and they admitted recently it's read by about 500 people a day, most regular bloggers have more than that, it's probably why why Martin Shipton, Lee Waters at the IWA, Cambria Politico and Daran Hill are trying to promote and drive more traffic to the site to make it more relevant to welsh politics and current affairs which it will never be while it's persuading it's Editor's personal agendas.