When is criticism healthy, and when destructive?

I hear we got a passing mention on Monday’s Nolan Show during Stephen Nolan’s ‘fightback’ against the accusation by Belfast Telegraph man Ed Curran of appealing to the lowest common denominator. In fact he went so far as to describe them as “Crude, rude, offensive, irrational, bigoted, vulgar, seemingly unwilling to listen to anything other than their own voices?” I can’t say I listen that often. No slight to Stephen, it just doesn’t fit in with my day. But even Ed Curran doesn’t doubt the talent of the presenter: “seven gold Sony radio awards. You’ve won two Royal Television Society awards.” In fact, Nolan does raise local issues that are often neglected elsewhere. But Curran lodges some interesting questions that bare thinking about more widely than just one radio show:

“…there is a world of difference between a constructive, critical appraisal of the Stormont folks on the hill, or of the inadequacies in our police, health or other public services, and the approach of the Nolan Show. A question to you, Stephen, and to the BBC. To what extent are you allowing yourself to pander to the lowest common denominator? Where do you and the BBC draw the line in terms of taste and tone on our airwaves? Or do you bother?

Constructive criticism of what the powers-that-be are doing is one thing, to be commended. Deeply disparaging and abusive tirades against them, from THE PEOPLE, (all too often a hallmark of the Nolan Show), are hardly likely to inspire public confidence, especially at a time when Northern Ireland is trying to establish a new order. Giving power to THE PEOPLE needs careful handling either in print or in the spoken word. It shouldn’t be a knocker’s, whinger’s destructive charter.

These important questions are better spoken about amongst journalists rather than, as we have seen, passed down from politicians.

  • From a standard matter of internal school discipline, Nolan managed to create an outrage when that plank’s son protested that he should be allowed long hair in Ballyclare High. From what I gather the headmaster was devastated by the whole affair which had almost been resolved when the ‘outraged’ publicity seeking father went to nolan.

  • Grassy Noel

    It’s Witch Hunt radio – and it’s despicable, but thankfully the shelf-life is short. Nolan is riding a tiger and some time he will have to get off. At least there is plenty of him to devour….

  • interested

    An interesting piece from Mr Curran – however, there’s no doubt that the Telegraph have themselves started to adopt a much more ‘tabloid’ style of reporting and some of the analysis and reporting is starting to be replaced with a sensationalised style of reporting where everything is the ‘black and white’ with no room for the shades of grey that he criticises the Nolan Show for.

  • Shore Road Resident

    I heard this piece this morning and thought that Nolan smoked out Curran nicely by giving him enough silk rope to hang himself. It only took about five minutes before Curran was referring directly and repeatedly to “senior police and health service officials” as his sole example of the Nolan Show’s ‘victims’.
    A pretty clear case, I’m afraid, of some of Ed’s mates complaining at the tennis club.
    The man is a complete establishment buffoon.

  • Joe

    The Nolan Show is a vital part of my morning – when I hear the opening bars of his theme tune, I know it’s time go turn off the radio and leave the house.

  • Eddie

    Aye, well, Stephen Nolan does go a bit far sometimes, but the pluses far outweigh the minuses.

    Here’s what I think: Nolan is big into accountability, and so he should be with all these quangos and agencies at “arm’s length” from the Government, with the Minister often having no direct responsibility.

    The powers that be don’t like it. The programme’s laudable persistence on worrying away at some perceived shortcomings by administrators/bureaucrats has begun to needle them big time.

    Can’t you imagine them just sitting round at a strategy meeting or on the fringes of some conference saying: “What can we do about Nolan?”
    So it’s been decided that steps should be taken to neutralise him.

    Maybe somebody has even slipped a word into the ear of the local BBC Controller saying if it wasn’t for Nolan in the new Northern Ireland there’s be better stories/facilities/whatever available. Or what about starting with a sideways sort of shot from the likes of Ed Curran?

    Watch out for Nolan being “softened” Or am I too conspiracy prone?

  • Stan Dards

    Nolan is tabloid radio of the lowest kind. Passing fast fire commentary off as considered in depth journalism, he is in deed popular with people of a “Sun” and “Mirror” mentality. Like Joe, my radio is turned off when a programme he is connected to comes on yet I regret that my licence money (and yes I DO have one) makes such dribble possible.

  • Shore Road Resident

    Doesn’t change the fact that a complaint about this from Ed Curran’s soaraway Belfast Telegraph is pot-kettle-blackness of the blackest kind.
    Has he read Gail Walker lately? Or, indeed, ever?

  • Glenn

    Stephen Nolan is a self obsessed oik however; his show is popular because it gives the man and woman on the street the opportunity to air their views.

    Unlike the pompous Belfast Telegraph that dose not permit the ordinary man and woman to express their views in the Telegraph, and our politicos only listen to themselves. The Nolan show gives the voiceless a voice.

    If the editor of the Telegraph wants to get a peace of the Nolan action why don’t they start up a radio station and get something done instead of whinging.

  • lib2016

    Nolan is a long way from tabloid radio, far less the ‘shock-jock’ tactics of American right-wing awfulness. I listened the first few times (doesn’t suit my day either) and was pleasantly surprised by intelligent middle of the road stuff from an obviously clued-up presenter with a regard for his audience.

    Thank heavens for a commentator who thinks that he has a responsibility to THE PEOPLE. Dammit, that’s the whole point of the job – Oh! and do I disagree with his take on some things, but at least he challenges me to think why I disagree with him rather than just giving me the Establishment line.

  • Henry M


    I enjoy reading your pieces in the Guardian and here. I’ve never commented on this before. But really, this post annoyed me so much that I had to comment. Please don’t pander to the likes of Stephen Nolan. He is bad for journalism and bad for Northern Ireland. The BBC has given him too much influence in this society. I wish you would listen more, then you might regret giving this loathsome creature any solace.

    I listened to Ed Curran today, btw. He was all over the place trying to take back what he’d said in his piece. Coward.

  • belfastpaul

    Dear All,

    Nolan is not good for NI society. His abrupt and tabloid driven approach reduces the significance of the real issues that he adopts.

    I appreciate that Nolan has done some positive things especially regarding people who have not received appropriate welfare services but the central issue is his incapacity to provide depth.

    As someone who lived in the US I see Nolan as following the trend, set long ago in the States, of surface examination of complex issues. This means that he discusses issues but doesn’t raise anything more than a knowledge of them.

    His self-absorption is also increasingly tiresome.

    People always say if you don’t like it turn it off but the BBC is a public broadcaster that is reducing, via people like Nolan, the capacity to truly educate and inform. He also possesses that rare quality that many listen so that they can can get angry about what he says. Maybe that is why he has the biggest show in the country.

  • IJP

    Quickly – I have no problem with ‘shock jocks’ really, and certainly no problem with them raising issues neglected elsewhere.

    Fundamentally, those who go on the programme and actually know what they’re talking about get a fair crack of the whip, and those who do not get punished. The way it should be.

    My problem is, really, that Nolan often takes the populist side if an argument, or is too general. On the former, for example, he supports those who receive parking tickets rather than challenging them on why they had parked illegally. On the latter, for example (and I quote) ‘You know what I’m thinking… there’s a crisis in the NHS‘ is not the kind of thing shock jocks should be saying. What is the crisis? Who is causing it?

    On balance, I’m glad he’s there, but I’d like to see more biting challenges to some of the false assumptions in our society.

  • willis

    There is one aspect to Stephen Nolan’s position as a representative of “the people” which Ed Curran could have alluded too.

    According to this report,

    “During his lengthy ruling, Mr Thomas also stated: “The Commissioner understands that both Stephen Nolan and John Daly’s contractual agreements with the BBC contained express confidentiality provisions which explained that each party (i.e. the BBC and the talent) would not disclose any details of the financial agreement.””

    All is well however as

    “The Belfast Telegraph and other news organisations have been using Freedom of Information procedures in a bid to shine light on BBC salaries.”

    That’s because they too are “The voice of the people” and not involved in anything as base as trying to shift more papers. Be assured if they got this important information they would not splash it all over the front page, dear me no.

    So now we have “The Nolan debate” in the Tele. Probably about time Nolan had a debate about whether we need the Tele.

  • sir humphrey

    Curran’s pleading for Nolan to leave the ‘victims’ of his probing (such as high-ranking police officers and government officials) alone while NI society ‘gains confidence’ is the measure of the man.
    I don’t like Nolan or his show myself but you have to respect the scoops he gets which put the rest of the BBC news output to shame for one programme.
    No doubt there is a lot of golf club and masonic chatter about this upstart and we can expect more attempts to muzzle the programme in future. I wish it well for that reason. With enemies like Curran, it must be doing something right.