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Saturday, October 25, 2003

More BBC tricks

Postings are going to get a bit erratic over the next week as I am currently at the Welsh Party Conference in Llandrindod Wells and will be away for most of next week. I am also writing this an hour before having to deliver a speech on Higher Education that I haven't written yet.

The repercussions of Thursday's "Dragon's Eye" programme on "familygate" or how large numbers of AMs employ members of their family and some had failed to register that fact, continue to reverberate. It seems that the S4C programme "Byd y Bedwar" is now doing a half hour programme on the staff of AMs per se. Notice that nobody ever looks at the staff of MPs, even if the practices that apply to them have, by and large, been adopted by Members of the National Assembly for Wales.

I took exception to a journalist interrogating my research assistant about her employment and told him that if he wanted answers he should come straight to me. After all I am accountable for my decisions and actions, not my staff. The journalist in question wanted to know how we advertised for staff, what criteria we applied in appointing them, even how much they were paid. I told him everything he wanted to know apart from matters relating to personal and confidential contracts i.e. I was not prepared to reveal terms of employment or remuneration as that is the business of the staff member and nobody else.

The question that arises from all this of course is why haven't these journalists got anything important to investigate. I would be astonished if there was any impropriety relating to the employment of AM support staff and even the journalist involved was just fishing. He clearly had little else to go on. What they are doing is creating an atmosphere of suspicion and implied sleaze in the mind of the public, reinforcing the perception that politicians are untrustworthy and slightly shifty. In doing that they devalue the political process and undermine democracy. They create a mood of apathy amongst the electorate and actively cause them to question the value of voting. Politicians are just human. We make mistakes. We are ordinary people doing an extraordinary job to the best of our ability. We have responsibilities to the public which we seek to meet. The media have responsibilities too, to report fairly and accurately and to cherish the constitution that allows them to operate so freely. They have a scrutiny role, it is true, but that role would be far better exercised if they concentrated on the issues and not the personalities. Isn't it about time they started to face up these responsibilities?

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