Belfast Telegraph

Queen's University distances itself from prof's criticism of BBC Nolan Show 'negativity'

By Suzanne Breen

Queen's University has moved to distance itself from a professor who accused the BBC's Stephen Nolan of "escalating tensions" in Northern Ireland and questioned why Jim Allister appeared so often on radio and TV.

Professor Brian Walker rang the Nolan Show a fortnight ago to complain about its "constant negativity".

While the TUV leader was on "every day", the academic asked why Nolan couldn't "bring on people from the universities who would have more moderate views about the Irish language".

Following Professor Walker's interview, Mr Allister wrote to Queen's expressing "strong disquiet".

The TUV leader said the academic had "issues with my politics, beliefs and of course he is quite entitled to his views".

However, Mr Allister said he took "strong exception" to a Queen's professor allegedly "using his position to seek to censor the media and dictate who they should and should not allow on the airwaves".

He said: "It is one thing for Professor Walker to claim we need more 'moderate' voices and seek to be one of those himself.

"It is quite another for him to go on and rant about the supposedly 'extreme' views that others articulate and suggest they should not be permitted air time.

"It is the very antithesis of liberal democracy for an academic to seek to suppress debate and dictate to broadcasters in the fashion in which Professor Walker did."

Mr Allister asked the university if Professor Walker's views represented its "approved ethos" and if Queen's had a "policy of suppressing political expression" of those its academics viewed as "extreme".

The TUV leader also asked the university how Professor Walker's remarks could be "squared with the international principle of academic neutrality".

In its response, Queen's moved to distance itself from Professor Walker's remarks. In correspondence to Mr Allister seen by the Belfast Telegraph, the university said: "The views he 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."

In the letter to Mr Allister, the university's acting president and vice-chancellor James C McElnay revealed that Professor Walker wasn't currently a member of Queen's academic staff and had retired from the university in 2012.

The Queen's website lists Mr Walker as an Emeritus Professor in the Centre for Irish Politics.

The university said that Queen's pro-vice chancellor Professor Richard English would be "very happy to meet" Mr Allister to "provide a personal reassurance around the university's commitment to academic neutrality".

On the Nolan Show on February 23, Professor Walker chided the BBC broadcaster for his "constant negativity" and said he was "part of the problem" in Northern Ireland.

He said that in order to allow politicians to reach an agreement, Mr Nolan should encourage them rather than highlighting their climbdowns. He said the Nolan Show had become a platform for extreme views.

"How many times have you had Jim Allister on in the last two weeks? He's on every day isn't he? Why didn't you bring on people from the universities who would have more moderate views about the Irish language," he asked Nolan. "Can you tell us please how many times Jim Allister has been on BBC radio in the last two weeks? I'm sure you have researchers. And the other thing I'd like to know is how many MLAs does Jim Allister have in Stormont?"

Professor Walker complained he had tried to get on the show five times that week.

The Belfast Telegraph contacted Queen's for comment about the controversy, but it did not reply.

Belfast Telegraph

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