| 1.5°C Belfast

BBC's Stephen Nolan defends confronting Belfast shoppers without face masks after Twitter backlash


Stephen Nolan questioning a member of the public outside a petrol station. Credit: BBC

Stephen Nolan questioning a member of the public outside a petrol station. Credit: BBC

Stephen Nolan questioning a member of the public outside a petrol station. Credit: BBC

BBC presenter Stephen Nolan has defended his actions after he faced a barrage of criticism for a segment on his popular Nolan Live television show which saw him confront the public for not wearing face masks while inside a Belfast petrol station.

The popular presenter was accused of attempting to "criminalise" people for not wearing masks, with loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson saying Mr Nolan was "punching down, trying to coerce the 'little people' on behalf of the powerful".

Responding directly to the message, Mr Nolan denied criminalising people.

"If people break the law, they are criminalising themselves," he tweeted.

"And as for little people - there is none more little than a vulnerable person, helpless because they are surrounded by people who don’t give a damn about their safety."

He added: "This is about the community protecting each other. Never will so many citizens have the power to protect life."

The BBC backed Mr Nolan in his approach to the matter saying there was a "significant public interest" in the matter and his programme reflected differing views. It said those approached were given an opportunity to explain their actions.

The segment broadcast on Wednesday evening, showed the presenter standing on a petrol station forecourt and approaching members of the public who he had spotted without face coverings.

Some he approached laughed it off while others said they did not wish to comment and others swore at the broadcaster. Several people also attempted to walk away from the presenter, with Mr Nolan following them in an attempt to get an answer.

At one point the presenter expressed dismay at one man who admitted he was a hospital worker, asking: "How can you not wear a mask?"

Mr Nolan stressed he was standing in the open and had a camera crew around him saying he was not "hiding away".

He said that when members of the public told him they were exempt, he walked away. He said he only pursued those that did not give a reason for entering the shop without a mask.

The boxer Paddy Barnes also hit out on social media, tweeting: "Who does Nolan think he is?"

In a Twitter exchange with the Olympian, Mr Nolan asked the boxer if he had looked at the number of infections in hospitals, if he had spoken to people who have been in intensive care and if he had read the legislation.

Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson, a regular contributor on the Nolan Show, tweeted: "It’s not often I disagree with Stephen Nolan- but he is taking on a ‘policing’ role, with the threat of public shaming used as a tool of coercion."

Mr Nolan said he was trying to make a difference and help protect vulnerable members of the public.

Addressing the barrage of criticism he was getting on Twitter, Mr Nolan told viewers he was aware of the comments.

"If you want to be anti-establishment, work away, fill your boots," he said.

"If you want to blame some of it on the government, that is your prerogative but some of the blame is on us. Some of the blame is in our community - our friends, our neighbours our family who are not trying hard enough to protect each other.

"I don't get it. I am in this game to communicate with you. I am not in this game to sit here and blindly read some script. So do I care, yeah. "

On Thursday morning Mr Nolan again defended his reporting, saying that wearing face masks was the law and that those who disobey the legislation were putting others at potential risk of being infected with Covid-19.

"Last night on Nolan Live we showed what happened when I stood outside a petrol station for just over an hour," Nolan said on his BBC Radio Ulster show.

"The PSNI talked last Friday to the Policing Board about 90% compliance [for face masks] and then they couldn't back it up with any data.

"Well they will want to stand outside any petrol station in this country and count how many people are simply not abiding by the law, infringing it and putting others in danger as a consequence.

"There were many people not wearing a mask inside the petrol station shop and who were therefore putting other people around them at potential risk and I wanted to know why."

On the TV programme, Health Minister Robin Swann called for more enforcement on face masks.

Mr Swann said: "We will have to step up enforcement and that involves the police getting involved.

"It involves council environmental health officers getting involved and it involves our entire justice system getting behind the health messaging we need people to follow and act upon."

Northern Ireland has seen a sharp rise in Covid-19 infections in recent weeks. It has a higher seven-day rolling average of new cases per million people than countries such as the United States, Spain, and France.

The death toll now stands at 587 people, and the total number of cases diagnosed since the outbreak has topped 17,000.

A BBC NI spokesperson said: “We think that compliance with Covid-19 regulations and their role in helping to limit the transmission of Coronavirus is a matter of significant public interest.

"We note the views of the health minister and his advisors on the importance of face coverings and also the exemptions that exist for some people.

"Our programme reflected differing views on this subject, including some that were critical of the approach that we had taken in highlighting non-compliance with the Executive’s regulations. Filming took place openly and provided everyone featured with an opportunity to explain their position.”

Belfast Telegraph