Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

BBC denies Nolan Show was hijacked by loyalists

Loyalists protest outside the BBC's Blackstaff House on Great Victoria Street where the Stephen Nolan TV show was taking place.

The BBC has defended airing the Nolan Show despite it being criticised for having a “one sided and disproportionate” audience during its most recent programme.

The live show was forced to be pre-recorded after a loyalist picket gathered outside its studios on Wednesday.

Around 100 protesters gathered outside the BBC's Blackstaff House in central Belfast.

The controversial row over the Union flag that now only flies over the City Hall on designated days resulted in a heated debate inside the studio.

Members of the panel and audience were heckled throughout the programme.

It was claimed a “disproportionate” number of protest supporters were in the audience who “shouted down” other guests and members of the public.

The studio panel included DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson, SDLP MLA Conal McDevitt, Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly and Alliance MLA David Ford.

And in the audience was loyalist protest spokesman Jamie Bryson and east Belfast community worker Jim Wilson.

Political blogger Gerry Lynch, who also appeared on the television show, said he felt it was “frightening to speak out in that room”.

Speaking to the host on his radio show yesterday, Mr Lynch said an “intimidatory attitude” was on display and he was “shouted down” by people hurling sectarian abuse.

Mr Nolan admitted it was “not the easiest show” to host but insisted he did not lose control of the audience.

Some panellists took to social networks to express criticism.

After appearing, Mr McDevitt tweeted: “Was invited in @StephenNolan tonight. At times felt more like I was on the Jeremy Kyle Show.”

Alliance leader David Ford said: “It was clear that the audience was not very balanced and did not represent the differing opinions on the issue of the protests and violence.

“There was a disproportionate number of protest supporters,” he said.

Speaking on his radio show yesterday morning, Mr Nolan admitted he would have been happier if there had been a “better mix” in the audience — in response to one caller who told him “your show was hijacked and I think even a part of you knows that because you had no control over that show last night”.

A BBC Northern Ireland spokeswoman said “it was important to go ahead with the programme” under “difficult circumstances”.

“We sought to include a range of views through the selection of panel members and invited contributors. These guests included people from nationalist and unionist communities in east Belfast, local businesses and political commentators,” she said.

One of the most dispiriting pieces of television ever to hit our screens

By Joe Nawaz

What defines us as a common people? Is it how many days a flag flies? Our spirit in the face of adversity? Even our capacity to patiently tolerate violent protest, no matter how indecipherable the grievance?

After Wednesday night, we can but hope that it’s got nothing to do with the quality of the studio audience on the Nolan TV Show.

Polite small talk quickly ceded the floor and fled the building as politically small thought blundered in like an impotent drunken uncle at a wedding, and proceeded to wee all over the floor.

The “hot topic” was, of course, flags, or to be less specific: the lack of flags, the erosion of certain people's culture as the result of flags or lack thereof.

It wasn't just flags at stake though, it was “everything I hold dear” as east Belfast community worker Jim Wilson succinctly put it, without shedding any light on even a few things that he possessed that were reasonably priced.

This was a remarkable display from the self-appointed leaders of the loyalist working class.

The United Protestant Voice was expressed by the helium-infused tones of Jamie Bryson, in what has to be the biggest undermining of a political agenda on TV since Gerry Kelly and his “elk” we're dubbed by bad actors in the ’80s.

It wasn't all incoherence and threat though — this well-oiled machine of “educated young loyalists” also managed in just under 45 minutes to do what 20 years of PR grooming and smiling lessons have failed to do — make Gerry Kelly seem like a sympathetic and almost likeable character.

Gerry sat there and calmly took on board the grievances of the mob, and even had time for a joke about the BBC's audience selection procedure in between being called out for being a terrorist whose weasel weapons were now words like “equality”.

A freshly exhumed David Ford had his five minutes of reasonable and rational address on designated days and equality for all and what not, but he may as well have been declaring that he'd urinated on Carson's statue.

“Consensus!” was an involuntary spasm from (the unionist answer to Daniel O'Donnell) Jeffrey Donaldson, like an elderly dozing aunt in front of the TV, before intellectually dozing off again.

Even Conall McDevitt couldn't calm proceedings.

“Remember where you live!” cried one passionate Prod, who'd heard enough.

The final insult was perhaps the outrageous affront that was the last nine minutes, in which concerns of cultural erosion were tossed aside to deal instead with a tale of friendship, sacrifice and a donated kidney.

Joe Brolly, Shane Finnegan and Shane's ongoing health battle gave more meaning, lent more resonance, more eloquence to the words “No surrender” than anything that had gone before.

But the audience had gone strangely quiet by that stage...

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