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Chief reporter ‘buoyed’ by support after axing from award judging panel

Martin Shipton 1A daily newspaper’s chief reporter says he is “buoyed” by the support he has received after being asked to step down from judging a literary award over comments he made about the Black Lives Matter protests.

The Wales Book of the Year Award relieved the Western Mail’s Martin Shipton of his duties after he used what organiser Literature Wales called “aggressive language” on Twitter.

Martin, pictured, had questioned why the demonstrations were being allowed to take place during the coronavirus lockdown in Wales, which currently prohibit gatherings of more than two people from different households at a time.

After receiving abuse on Twitter, he called one of his detractors a “shit” and responded “flippantly” to an “offensive ageist comment” by telling another to “die” in a tweet which was later deleted.

He later received support on the social media site from industry figures including Reach plc Wales print content editor Robert Lloyd and former South Wales Evening Post editor Spencer Feeney.

Robert wrote: “This is a disgrace. Martin Shipton is a decent, respected and honourable journalist entitled to express views which add to and enrich public debate on a wide variety of topics.”

Spencer added: “For a book prize, of all things, to oppose freedom of expression. Strange times.”

More than 150 people have also signed an online petition expressing concern at Martin’s treatment.

Martin told HTFP: “I have been very buoyed by the support shown to me from all over the British Isles and further afield. People understand that Literature Wales acted in a way that is contrary to natural justice, by denying me the opportunity to defend myself before a decision was taken to remove me from the judging panel.

“I was subjected to an appalling level of online bullying from individuals who disagreed with my opinions, were in some cases verbally grossly offensive and had no inhibition about making ageist comments directed at me, calling into question my integrity as a journalist, and implying I was a racist because I suggested that Cardiff and London were not the right places to protest about a murder that took place in Minneapolis.

“More importantly, I criticised the organisers of the Cardiff protests for breaking the Welsh government’s lockdown regulations, which ban mass gatherings of more than two people in order to save lives.

“I suspect that the great majority of those who broke the regulations had only a week before been baying for the blood of Dominic Cummings.

“I believe our society is facing a crisis in which a vocal authoritarian minority bullies and seeks to take down those who hold different views to them. It is the duty of all right-thinking people to resist this.”

In a statement, Literature Wales said: “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.”