Belfast Telegraph

Nolan Show row: SF rails at Queen's University 'for trying to gag academics'

By Staff Reporter

Queen's University has been accused of attempting to silence academics amid a deepening row over criticism of the BBC's Stephen Nolan.

A Sinn Fein MLA has waded into the controversy that erupted after Brian Walker, an emeritus Professor at Queen's, called the Radio Ulster programme to protest about what he described as its "negativity".

Professor Walker accused Nolan of "escalating tensions" in Northern Ireland and questioned why TUV leader Jim Allister appeared so often on the presenter's radio and TV shows.

After criticism of Queen's from Mr Allister, the university moved to distance itself from Professor Walker's remarks.

However, Sinn Fein MLA Caoimhe Archibald said academics should not be constricted.

She said: "Queen's University recently responded to TUV MLA Jim Allister, who had taken issue with an academic who offered his opinion on the influence of the media on politics in the north.

"In that response, Queen's University referred to giving Mr Allister reassurances on academic neutrality, rather than defending academic freedom.

"Sinn Fein rejects any attempt to gag academics. Academics are not bound to be neutral.

"Academic freedom underpins the pursuit of knowledge and understanding. Academics should not be subject to government or institutional overreach in the course of their work."

Earlier this week Queen's said Professor Walker had retired from the university in 2012. In a letter sent by Queen's to Mr Allister, it said: "The views he (Professor Walker) expressed on the Nolan Show were entirely his own and in no way represented the views of the university or the School of History, Anthropology Philosophy and Politics."

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph this week, Professor Walker restated his worries about what he described as "extreme views" aired on the popular BBC radio programme.

"Concern must also be expressed about how the Nolan Show can sometimes provide a platform for extreme views," he wrote.

"A free Press must allow the expression of all views, but there is a lack of more moderate voices on the show.

In her criticism of the university, Ms Archibald also said her party was concerned about academic freedom, rather than institutional neutrality and corporate reputation.

"The governance structures within universities must support academic freedom and freedom of research," she added.

"Academic freedom must not be undermined in the pursuit of institutional neutrality.

"Likewise, freedom of speech and expression of opinion by academics must not be subject to oversight in the interests of corporate reputation."

Queen's University was contacted for a comment but had not responded by the time of going to press.

Belfast Telegraph

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