Farm union says ministers tried to 'gag' soap opera

Catrin Powell as Cadno in Pobol y Cwm The character of Cadno, played by Catrin Powell, attacked the Welsh government on Pobol y Cwm

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A farming union wants the Welsh government to apologise for complaining about a TV soap containing criticism of its decision not to cull badgers.

Ministers asked Welsh-language channel S4C to pull a repeat episode of Pobol y Cwm and to take it off the internet, but the channel rejected the appeal.

The Farmers' Union of Wales (FUW) accused the Welsh government of trying to "gag" the media.

The Welsh government has said it will not comment until it gets an S4C reply.

The storyline focuses on the return of bovine TB to a fictional farm on the soap, which is produced by BBC Wales.

Start Quote

Our members understand they were made by a character in a soap opera and should be taken in context because these are not real people”

End Quote Emyr Jones President, Farmers' Union of Wales

In it, a cash-strapped farmer's wife takes a rifle and kills an infected cow.

The character - called Cathryn Richards, known as "Cadno" - tells a local radio station that the Welsh government "doesn't have the backbone to sort the problem out". She says farmers are not afraid to break the law.

In another scene regulars in the local pub give an opposing point of view, with a barmaid telling the radio station, Cwm FM, that "farmers care about profits not animal welfare" and that "badgers have a right to live".

The Welsh government lodged an official complaint with the BBC and S4C, claiming the programme was a "serious breach of BBC and Ofcom guidelines".

It said the show failed to abide by BBC guidelines which insist controversial subjects are treated impartially and that the Welsh government was denied a right of reply.

FUW president Emyr Jones said: "I have written to the first minister stating that the Welsh government should apologise to S4C for what has happened and asking for assurances that such attempts to gag the media will not happen again."

'Censorship'

He said the union had not received any complaints about derogatory comments about farmers "because our members understand they were made by a character in a soap opera and should be taken in context because these are not real people".

"For the Welsh government to formally ask for censorship of a soap opera because it contains characters criticising them is not just an overreaction, but a major concern for anyone who believes in having a media free from political censorship by the ruling government or anyone else," he said.

Badger Labour dropped its badger cull and is carrying out vaccination in north Pembrokeshire in its place

Asked to comment after the repeat episode was aired as planned, a Welsh government spokesman said: "We have submitted a complaint to BBC Wales.

"It would be inappropriate to comment until we receive their response to our concerns."

S4C confirmed it had received a copy of the complaint but said it was satisfied the drama included a variety of viewpoints which reflect the debate about bovine TB.

The pervious Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition government had planned to cull badgers in west Wales as part of an attempt to eradicate the disease.

But the Labour administration elected last year has dropped the controversial policy and is vaccinating the animals in north Pembrokeshire instead.

Opposition parties roundly rejected the ministers' attempts to get the programme taken off air.

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