Theatre in Wales

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Welsh Writer's Unfitness for Award Panel

On Criticism & Critics

Literature Wales , Wales Book of the Year Award , December 20, 2020
On Criticism & Critics by Literature Wales On 5th June last Nation Cymru carried a news item.

“The Western Mail’s Chief Correspondent Martin Shipton has had to give up his judging role at the Book of the Year awards after an argument on Twitter about the Black Lives Matter movement. Literature Wales, the body responsible for the annual award, has now announced that he will not remain a judge due to his comments over the weekend.

In a statement, Literature Wales said the journalist had “displayed conduct that is detrimental to our values and interests as an organisation by use of aggressive language”.

The organisation did not say which comments, in particular, constituted aggressive language.

Martin Shipton, however, said that he regretted the decision to remove him from the judging panel.

“After expressing my concerns about the Black Lives Matter protest in Cardiff, which undoubtedly broke the Welsh Government’s prohibition on public gatherings of more than two people, I was subjected on Twitter to a vicious tirade of abuse and bullying that lasted for days,” he said.

“Many of the tweets questioned my right to express an opinion, called into question my credentials as a journalist and attacked me on the basis of my age.

“One of my guiding principles is not to appease bullies, so I defended myself by responding robustly to my attackers.”Without giving me the opportunity to explain myself, Literature Wales decided to remove me from the panel of judges for the Welsh Book of the Year awards. I regret the decision, which I find both perverse and contrary to natural justice.

“I have always been a strong advocate for Welsh writers and this incident will not change that.”

“Literature Wales had earlier released the following statement:

“The Wales Book of the Year Award is an important event in the Welsh literary calendar, and as organisers, our priority is to ensure that the focus of conversation is Wales’ talented writers, and that the literary community and industries of Wales can benefit from the recognition of their work,”

“Our values are principles that we consider central to who we are as an organisation. We expect everyone involved with Literature Wales – whether staff, Directors, clients, tutors, volunteers or panel members – to respect and observe them. We believe in everyone’s right to freedom of expression, however it is our view that during recent online activity, one of the individuals appointed to judge the Wales Book of the Year Award has displayed conduct that is detrimental to our values and interests as an organisation by use of aggressive language.

“Regretfully, we have therefore asked Martin Shipton to step down from his role as a judge, and would like to thank him for his work and collaboration with Wales Book of the Year over recent months.”

Thus it ended. The “literary industries” had an award event where a known name in Wales could not judge, the judges that remained being names little known.

Then a half-year later, on December 9th a new writer, Jack Cousins, returned to the affair. It is a long article, 1600 words, with the source given below. In extract:

“Well, it all started when they asked me in November of last year to be a judge in the Wales Book of the Year Awards,” Martin explains. “They sent me the material and basically I had to read more than 40 books, which is a lot. So it took quite a lot of time and the fee for all of this was 500 quid, which is well below the minimum wage!” he chuckles.

“I got this email saying, ‘We’ve decided to remove you from the judging panel because of your recent Twitter activity,’” says Martin. “I found it really quite extraordinary because my Twitter activity I didn’t think had been that offensive.”

“Martin’s transgression was retweeting a post by the former leader of the Welsh Conservative Party Andrew RT Davies who had, as Martin described, “expressed concern” about actions demonstrators at the BLM protest in London had taken as the proceedings took a violent turn.

"I had a personal understanding about the need for restrictions to take place to stop many deaths,” says Martin. “I was rather shocked by the failure to enforce these regulations when it came to BLM demonstrations.” He added, “It was illegal for more than three people to assemble together in Wales at that time and yet there were hundreds of people with very little social distancing going on.”

“We then discussed the motivation Literature Wales had to cancel Martin’s role as a judge. The most ‘aggressive’ language Martin used was describing someone who thought he should automatically lose his job as a journalist for disagreeing with the social media consensus as a “McCarthyite shit”. It was supposedly this tone which made Martin inappropriate in Literature Wales’ eyes. Martin detected something was wrong.

“He already knew Literature Wales “allies” with people who are not afraid to speak their mind, such as the poet and playwright Patrick Jones who regularly uses less-than-polite language on social media. Martin’s suspicions were vindicated after he undertook some classic journalism by demanding a subject access request.

“They took quite a while to come back but they did and quite a lot of what they sent was redacted, but there was sufficient material there to show that the real reason why I had been cancelled as a judge in the Book of the Year Awards was because of my views and not because of my ‘aggressive language,’” says Martin.

"There was sufficient material there to show that the real reason why I had been cancelled as a judge in the Book of the Year Awards was because of my views and not because of my ‘aggressive language'"

“He told me, “That is worrying in any society and indeed it is comparable to the sort of thing that used to go on in Soviet Russia and East Germany where you’re not allowed to deviate from the party line. If you don’t adhere to every aspect of the orthodoxy which they are seeking to create, you are an enemy and you shouldn’t be able to express your views and simply be cancelled. I just think this is absolutely shocking.”

“What is most interesting about Martin’s story is not that there was dismay at what he said, but it is the extent to which Literature Wales, a publicly-funded organisation, imbibed his detractor’s censorious philosophy so willingly. We must ask ourselves what purpose these politicised organisations hold within our society. But perhaps more pressingly, we must ask ourselves what happens when there are no more journalists like Martin who dares to question.

“Despite the strong indictment made by Martin in our conversation, Literature Wales chose not to reply specifically to his findings. Instead, they sent me a six-month-old press release which reiterates the line they’ve always gone along with; that Martin’s behaviour was “detrimental [to their] values and interests”.

The full articles can be read at:

https://nation.cymru/news/top-journalist-loses-book-of-the-year-judging-role-over-twitter-comments/

https://jscousins4.wixsite.com/lonehowl/post/in-conversation-with-martin-shipton

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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