Badger cull: S4C rejects Welsh government Pobol y Cwm complaint

The soap opera features a storyline about bovine TB on a farm

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S4C has rejected a Welsh government call to scrap a repeat of an episode of soap opera Pobol y Cwm.

Ministers have complained after a character on the BBC-produced TV series said the Welsh government "doesn't have the backbone" to cull badgers.

A planned cull in west Wales was cancelled in March when ministers decided to vaccinate badgers instead.

S4C said the programme included a variety of viewpoints and repeated Wednesday's episode as planned.

The Welsh government has written to S4C and BBC Wales, which makes the programme that has run for 38 years, claiming it breaches editorial guidelines and that the government has been denied a right of reply.

Ministers object to a storyline on Wednesday night's episode about bovine TB and a discussion about culling badgers.

Start Quote

The BBC's editorial guidelines are clear that programmes are expected to ensure that 'controversial subjects' are treated with due impartiality in all their output”

End Quote Welsh government

They also want the episode removed from the S4C online service Clic.

The repeat was broadcast as scheduled at 18:30 GMT on Thursday.

The current storyline focuses on the soap's fictional farm, Penrhewl, where there has been a return of bovine TB.

It proves to be a tipping point for cash-strapped farmer's wife, the character Cathryn Richards, known as "Cadno", who takes a rifle out and kills one of the infected cows.

In the aftermath, she gives an interview to a local radio station voicing her frustrations about TB being found on her farm.

She claims that "the government doesn't have the backbone to sort the problem out" and that farmers are not afraid to break the law.

Later in the episode she says the government does not care about the countryside because "there aren't enough votes here".

'Due impartiality'

Another scene shows regulars in the local pub discussing the issue.

A barmaid tells the radio station, Cwm FM, that "farmers care about profits not animal welfare. They are responsible for spreading TB because they overstock. Badgers have a right to live".

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We are satisfied that the drama includes a variety of viewpoints which reflect the public debate about plans to eradicate bovine TB”

End Quote Dafydd Rhys S4C director of content

A Welsh government spokesman said: "Following last night's episode of Pobol y Cwm, we have made an official complaint to the BBC and S4C following what we believe to be a serious breach of BBC and Ofcom guidelines.

"We have asked the BBC and S4C to take swift action to address our concerns.

"The BBC's editorial guidelines are clear that programmes are expected to ensure that 'controversial subjects' are treated with due impartiality in all their output. We do not believe this to be the case in this instance.

"The BBC's guidelines also state that organisations criticised in programming 'should be given a "right of reply", that is, given a fair opportunity to respond to the allegations'. In this case, the Welsh government was not afforded a right of reply."

S4C director of content Dafydd Rhys said: "S4C has now received a copy of the Welsh government's complaint to the BBC regarding a storyline on last night's Pobol y Cwm.

Catrin Powell as Cadno in Pobol y Cwm Cadno (played by Catrin Powell) is shown to be under strain when bovine TB returns to her farm

"We are satisfied that the drama includes a variety of viewpoints which reflect the public debate about plans to eradicate bovine TB.

"Last night's episode will be repeated as planned this evening at 6.30pm on S4C, and is available to watch on demand on Clic."

The Labour Welsh government announced in March that it would not go ahead with the previous coalition government's plans to cull badgers in west Wales as part of an attempt to wipe out bovine TB in cattle.

So far more than than 1,400 badgers have been vaccinated under trials being conducted instead of the cull.

'Farcical'

Opposition parties roundly rejected the Labour administration's attempts to get the programme taken off air.

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The last thing that you want on the day that we're discussing the Leveson report and the freedom of the press is a government trying to say what should be the content of a TV programme”

End Quote Simon Thomas AM Plaid Cymru

Conservative shadow minister for rural affairs Antoinette Sandbach said: "This is a farcical government request that should be treated with the contempt it deserves.

"I urge ministers to get a grip and apologise to S4C for this blatant disregard to their editorial independence."

Plaid Cymru AM Simon Thomas rejected suggestions that S4C should drop the programme, which he said "reflects what has been discussed up and down Wales".

He added: "The last thing that you want on the day that we're discussing the Leveson report and the freedom of the press is a government trying to say what should be the content of a TV programme."

Liberal Democrat heritage spokesman Peter Black said he was "astonished" that Welsh Labour ministers were "starting to throw their weight about".

"Clearly they have no respect for the concept of free speech and artistic integrity," he said.

"They are acting like old-style bullies - it is as if Malcolm Tucker from [political comedy series] The Thick of It has decamped to Cardiff Bay."

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