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BBC NI boss: We are not the Stephen Nolan broadcasting corporation

By Jonny Bell

Published 16/11/2016

BBC Northern Ireland boss Peter Johnston said television is 'built around popular presenters'. Above: Stephen Nolan
BBC Northern Ireland boss Peter Johnston said television is 'built around popular presenters'. Above: Stephen Nolan

BBC Northern Ireland boss Peter Johnston has refuted a suggestion that the organisation is the "Nolan broadcasting corporation".

The director of the public service broadcaster appeared on lunchtime phone-in show Talkback, presented by William Crawley.

During a wide-ranging hour-long interview, callers were invited to ask questions of the £150,000-a-year boss on his management from Ormeau Avenue.

He was probed on all manner of things from the loss of the Great British Bake Off to Channel Four, viewers' perceptions that the organisation is biased and to the local approach to GAA coverage.

One caller asked, given the amount of shows featuring Stephen Nolan, was the presenter dominating local output, making it the "Nolan broadcasting corporation".

Mr Johnston denied this was the case saying there is a wide range of presenters. He said that there was a balance to be struck between experienced presenters and new talent and his task was to look at developing new talent over the coming five-year cycle.

He also  explained that shows on radio and television did currently work to develop new broadcasting talent.

"Welcome to the world of television," he said, "it is built around popular presenters, but it is something we need to look at."

"We constantly judge this, it refreshes all the time. One of my key objectives is to bring on new talent and to make sure we do have that new generation of presenters for the future."

He also said that while the loss of Jeremy Clarkson was a shame to the broadcaster, "presenters can't go around punching producers".

Peter Johnston, Director of BBC Northern Ireland
Peter Johnston, Director of BBC Northern Ireland

"And to be fair to Jeremy I think he gets that and acknowledges that."

He also said the broadcaster was right not to match the reported fee Channel Four paid for the Great British Bake Off given the sacrifices that would have had to pay for it.

He was also asked on the broadcaster's approach to screening GAA live coverage.

Mr Johnston said the lack of live coverage was down to a rights issue with Sky able to screen games. He did say that the BBC would cover the sport online, on radio and in news reports.

When asked why games were not broadcast live on radio, he said this was down to a "scheduling issue".

One caller to the show asked the Beeb executive to explain its "left-leaning slant as a whole" and in particular Talkback's "Irish nationalist viewpoint".

Mr Johnston denied this was the case saying that he had never discovered an "inherent bias" and that locally the corporation scored high on audience perception of impartiality.

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