The Farmers’ Union of Wales has demanded an apology from the Welsh government after it requested the BBC and S4C pull an episode of a soap opera that contained a controversial storyline on the badger cull.
The episode of Pobol y Cwm, a popular Welsh language soap opera set in the Gwendraeth Valley, contained a contentious storyline in which characters speak out against the Welsh government’s U-turn over the badger cull.
The programme features a storyline on bovine TB returning to the soap’s fictional farm, Penrhewl. During the episode, one of the characters, farmer’s wife Cathryn Richards, known as “Cadno”, takes out her frustrations and shoots one of her TB-infected cows with a shotgun.
Later in a radio interview in the episode, she said the Welsh government “doesn’t have the backbone” to cull badgers.
Ms Richards added that farmers were not afraid of breaking the law and the government did not care about the countryside, because there “aren’t enough votes here”.
In another scene, regulars are filmed discussing bovine TB in the pub. A barmaid tells 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”.
The Welsh government made a formal complaint about the programme, which aired on BBC on Wednesday night (28 November) and asked for it not to be repeated on S4C. But a repeat of the programme was broadcast on S4C as scheduled at 6.30pm on Thursday (29 November).
The Welsh government also wanted the episode taken off the internet and removed from the S4C online service Clic. It claimed the programme breaches editorial guidelines and that the government has been denied a right of reply.
A Welsh government spokesman said: “The BBC’s editorial guidelines are clear: the corporation is expected to ensure that controversial subjects are treated with due impartiality in all their output. In this case, the Welsh government was not afforded a right of reply.”
S4C director of content Dafydd Rhys said: “We’re satisfied that the drama includes a variety of viewpoints which refer to the public debate about plans to eradicate bovine TB.”
FUW president Emyr Jones said: “I have written to the first minister (Carwyn Jones) 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.”
He added: “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.”
Plans for a badger cull to combat bovine tuberculosis in west Wales were cancelled in March when ministers in the Labour administration decided to vaccinate the animals instead. So far, more than 1,400 badgers have been vaccinated.