Belfast Telegraph

BBC's Nolan hits back at critics that say his show 'part of problem in Northern Ireland'

BBC broadcaster Stephen Nolan has hit back at critics who say he and his show are "part of the problem with Northern Ireland politics".

He was responding to a Queen's University professor who was highly critical of the show and the presenter during Friday's Radio Ulster programme. 

Professor Brian Walker said the show was "part of the problem".

The presenter said he was "happy" to discuss the issues with the professor. He thanked the academic for his call.

"This is a conversation that needs to happen," he told the caller and his listeners.

To the day I die this programme will not be some type of sugar-coated programme where the elite have a voice. Stephen Nolan

In a lengthly exchange with the professor, Mr Nolan addressed his many criticisms. In recent weeks there has also been a barrage of criticism on social media about "the biggest show in the country". Some, while highlighting the show's content, have called for a boycott.

"Your programme constantly escalates tension," said Professor Walker.

"We see it over Irish language issue, we see it over this issue of the present [funding over legacy inquests] and what we need at the moment is compromise, is moderate voices but your programme, in my opinion, provides a platform for extreme views."

The professor accused the broadcaster of "constant negativity," saying the presenter needed to encourage politicians and not highlight their climbdowns in order to allow them to forge agreement.

Professor Walker said he had attempted to get onto the show on five occasions in the past week. Mr Nolan said there were hundreds of calls to the show every day.

"And your opinion should prevail and we should censor people who aren't maybe professors of politics?" responded Mr Nolan.

"So someone would define what is moderate and you therefore want me to tell people who are phoning this show 'sorry you are not moderate enough we are keeping you off'.

"We don't keep people off the air."

It is important you bring on more moderate people. Brian Walker

Referencing comments made about every street sign in Northern Ireland being in Irish, Professor Walker said that when people come on with "extreme" statements then people should be brought on to challenge those views.

"Why couldn't you bring on people from the universities who would have more moderate views about the Irish language?," he said to which Mr Nolan highlighted how Professor Walker was making the point on the show.

"The result of this is it encourages scare tactics out in the community," Professor Walker continued, "When Arlene Foster came on 10 days ago and made a statement about no compulsory Irish language in schools, why did she say that? It had all been hyped up.

"It shows how the tension was built up and your programme, by having these other views that went unchallenged were all part of the way it was hyped up."

He continued asking how many times TUV leader Jim Allister had appeared on the radio in the past two weeks and said that at times comments made by contributors descended into "fake news," something Mr Nolan outright rejected.

Sinn Fein and the DUP are trying to strike a deal, come up with a compromise, and the common approach of this programme has made that more difficult. Brian Walker

"[Jim Allister] is a minority view and yet you have him on the television and have him on the radio. He is entitled to make those points but at the same time it is important you bring on more moderate people.

"You can stir the pot or you can pour oil on troubled waters. I'm afraid your programme pours oil on troubled waters to encourage division. You point out how politicians have moved away from their original positions - you have criticised them over this. But that's a good thing.

"An entirely different way would be to be encourage them."

"You are a public body, funded by the taxpayers and the overall good of the community is important, not the pride or the earlier positions of the parties.

"It would worry me you are the 'biggest show in the country' and therefore you have a responsibility to this community and this community is deeply divided and therefore there is a strong need for calmness, reconciliation and when people make extreme statements they need to be challenged and not by bringing another extreme person.

"Sinn Fein and the DUP are trying to strike a deal, come up with a compromise, and the common approach of this programme has made that more difficult."

I would expect a person who is a professor at Queen's University not to say things that are just factually untrue. Stephen Nolan

Again Mr Nolan rejected the claims saying statements were challenged routinely on his show which included contributions from Alliance and the SDLP and indeed the professor himself was on the show. He said moderate views were "always welcome" on his programmes and it was not for him to "encourage" people to change their positions. He rejected he was in any way himself critical of the politicians.

"It is not true to say views go unchallenged. I would expect a person who is a professor at Queen's University not to say things that are just factually untrue."

He said he would publish how his show challenged Irish language groups along side the professor's assertion their comments were not challenged.

On the point of highlighting political u-turns, Mr Nolan added: "We set out the promises that both these party leaders made to the electorate when they were seeking their vote. And we challenged them on why they were then breaking those promises.

"For you to suggest that is stoking up division ... are you telling me that is not the role of a political journalist?

"Why did they take the hard line in the first place you might ask, rather than question the journalist?

"My job is to hold politicians accountable when they make promises, cast-iron guarantees to the public and a citizen votes on that basis it is absolutely the role of the journalist.

"You think it is the role of the BBC or me on the Nolan show to cover up division or to put a bit of jam on top of it? It is not the role of the BBC or the Nolan show."

He said the professor had "lost to the plot" over his assertion journalists should encourage politicians to come to agreement.

Mr Walker continued: "It is the role of a journalist not to stir the pot, not to be constantly negative and discourage compromise."

To which Mr Nolan responded: "Maybe we should just regurgitate their press releases."

"Every single day we invite the DUP and Sinn Fein on. We have the SDLP, Alliance, UUP, people like yourself criticising.

"We give free rein to every one.

"I am hearing it at the moment that the Nolan show is part of the problem. Brian is saying we are stoking it up that you are all not as angry as the Nolan show is making out.

"More moderate people are very, very welcome, but to the day I die this programme will not be some type of sugar-coated programme where the elite have a voice."

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