Nolan: A Public Service Broadcaster?

Yesterday, on Twitter, the trending hashtag was #BBCPay. Today it’s #BBCPaygap.

The big story, yesterday, as far as I was concerned, was the squandering of licence-payer money. The paygap was a secondary story. Important, yes, but not the main story.  The BBC thought otherwise and drove the agenda in its chosen direction.

The only Northern Irish broadcaster in the Top “Talent” pay-list published yesterday was Stephen Nolan. He earns over £400,000 a year for hosting his BBC Radio Ulster radio phone-in show, broadcast at a time that most working people can’t listen. That’s about 17 times the average Northern Ireland salary.

But still, he claims, he’s responsible for the “biggest show in the country.”  By “country” I presume he means Northern Ireland and not Ireland or the United Kingdom. I suppose “biggest show in the tiny region” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

He also broadcasts on Radio 5 Live – a BBC station with just around 3% or so UK ‘market share’.

It’s for these reasons that the Daily Mail, yesterday, made the point that one broadcaster in the Top 10 Earners’ List was somebody most people in the UK had never heard of: Stephen Nolan.  The BBC NI region contains less than 3% of the UK population.

Today, we learn, that in addition to his personal income from the BBC, Nolan also receives income through his production company that sells TV content to, you guessed it, the BBC. The extent of this income is still to be revealed. In his interview with Jim Allister, broadcast this morning, Nolan claimed that he was an “entrepreneur” in creating his production company and not having a silver spoon in his mouth. Except, of course, the BBC is the silver spoon.

Nolan has made clear in the past that he always had ambitions to get to the BBC. The BBC in Northern Ireland dwarfs all other news and current affairs outlets. He also made it known yesterday that he is ambitious and wants to earn a lot of money. Unfortunately for us, his chosen cash-cow is not ‘the market’ but the BBC.

But questions do have to be asked about the vast amount of cash being heaped on one individual who waddles, primarily, in a tiny pond.

Nolan may be a big man but he has not made it big as a national broadcaster. Relatively speaking his audiences are tiny. He has not attained public recognition in Britain, and he has no real brand equity outside of Northern Ireland.

Therefore, it’s perfectly justifiable asking – as many have – just how a public service broadcaster can justify his vast salary and additional fees paid to his production company.  These are valid questions when so many broadcasters with much greater reach and ‘brand equity’ are paid so much less. Broadcasters like Emily Maitlis didn’t even make the list. Others, like Andrew Neil, are paid substantially less than Nolan.

The publication of the list has made clear that public service broadcasting may be elemental to the BBC’s charter commitment, but many of its insiders are riding a gravy train paid for by the general public. The short-term solution must be pay caps for overpaid staff. In the longer term, the nature of funding of the BBC really must be questioned. It’s one of many broadcasters and its reach – especially to the young – is in terminal decline.

The payment of a licence fee to pay “talent” and administrators to run a bloated and unaccountable institution like the BBC is anachronistic. In Northern Ireland terms Nolan is the exemplar of everything that’s wrong with the BBC. BBC NI needs to get real very soon.  We’re all (or at least some of us) watching.


  • ted hagan

    I’m not really fussed about what Stephen Nolan earns. The guy works hard, probably too hard for his own good, and must wake up some mornings wondering what planet he’s on.
    No, it’s the adversarial format of his show that annoys, where he pits some random supposedly right-wing commentator against some random supposed left-wing ‘commentator’ to provide instant judgments on the topic of the day.
    Nolan doesn’t seem to know whether he wants to be a shock jock or a serious journalist. What I do admire him is for is his excellent pre-election coverage, where he challenges local politicians on every facet of often very flimsy and lazy manifestos and takes to prisoners. Well done for that.
    Other than that he seems a decent spud and a rare character. Good luck to him;


    Part of the reason why it is wonderful that Mr Peel can make his impassioned denunication of the BBC, is the very fact of our wonderful BBC institution. What is so wonderful, is that the BBC is not a “market” or a business and so mere business reasoning doesn’t work in this context.

    So long as the BBC is able to maintain its world class output and reputation, it’s sounds a bit miserly to whinge. Any boy, will world class anything from the UK, but particularly the BBC be essential after Brexit.

    It’s too easy, facile even, to make financial comparisons and talk about cost savings and comparison. If only, money had not been a factor in Grenfell Tower, perhaps some dear souls could have been saved. If only . . . .

  • tim plum

    I’m not worried about Nolan or any other person on the list pay packet. They are paid less than market value unlike Mr. Peel who is not in public service but his own service. One note missing on his slight to NI is that the day after the latest Westminster election the same Brits that have not heard of Stephen Nolan were googling “DUP” they had no idea of a political party that sits in Westminster. This is a false flag argument. As a conservative and Leaver Mr. Peel is mad for his perceptions of the BBC. Get over it.

  • Korhomme

    Apart from the levels of remuneration which I think are grotesque, there is also:

    A marked gender gap in pay; and I don’t understand why Nolan is paid so much more than presenters on, say, Newsnight.

    There are those who are paid by their production companies. This is code for privatisation, a mantra of the neo-liberal ‘orthodoxy’; it always seems to be more expensive than direct public service provision.

  • murdockp

    If Stephen Nolan continues to hold our politicians feet over the fire and provide the only opposition these politicians have whilst they self serve themselves and their supporters from the great Westminster Cash machine, he is worth £1m a year in my book as he will have saved us all a hell of a lot more than the cost of his wages.

  • murdockp

    how does this even make sense, TV is a commercial enterprise, sky, ITV etc. Channel 4 produces no content whatsoever and completely relys on production companies. Even channel 4’s news is produced by others.

    With out production companies there would be no TV to watch on these channels and in order that the BBC has full schedule content it has to buy from the production companies as well.

    That is how TV works, it has bugger all to do with privatisation.

    If they can get paid the pay they receive, good luck to them. The state gets 40% of it back in tax in any case.

  • Jeffrey Peel

    Last time I looked they were still being paid. They all feed from the same trough. We provide the trough and its contents.

  • Jeffrey Peel

    So make it a level playing field. Make the license fee a voluntary subscription. Like Netflix or Sky.

  • Korhomme

    The beeb was originally a public service broadcaster, not a commercial enterprise. The entry into the market of commercial rivals has rather changed that. You may recall that the ITV franchise for Scotland was described as ‘a licence to print money’ which, together with power, is the basis for much of ‘commercial’ TV.

    The beeb used to produce all its own content, bar cinema films; that has substantially changed; production companies, private enterprises that exist to make a profit, do a lot on both TV and radio.

    These changes began around the time of the introduction of neo-liberal economics, as did the vast increases in remuneration.

    The average pay in NI is around £23k, considerably less than what Nolan receives. In what way is he worth so much more? (And if the average is £23k, then half of the people must get less than that.)

    Nolan will be paying 45% income tax; and while high earners do provide much of the income tax take, those less well off contribute considerably more through indirect taxation — something that is very difficult to avoid or evade — and considerably more as a percentage of their income.

  • BBC pay stories are a bit like the clothes worn by the Royal Family, good for vacuous inches of column filler. Are they paid significantly above their market value, it is hard to imagine that they really would be, and I don’t think I’ve seen an figures showing that they really are, certainly not when you take into account audience figures.

    Production Companies are not charities, if they have a popular show then they should get the money for it. That seems to stand to reason. Is there some credible moral argument that they should wear a hair shirt? If there is, I certainly haven’t heard one.

    Having said that, I must say I’m depressed to learn how much dosh Nolan is getting. Can’t we find anyone better than him to talk to Northern Ireland? Surely there has to be somebody.

    The gender pay gap has to factor in audience figures: calling Stats-man O’Toole please.

  • Jeffrey Peel

    I wrote the article above free of charge. Is that not public service?

  • Jeffrey Peel

    I wrote the article above for Slugger, not the BBC.

  • I think that the post truth era makes the importance of broadcasters like the BBC all the more obvious. If they don’t exist, if there is no agenda independent organisation, and no organisation which is not driven by filthy lucre, what are you left with? Two quick examples are the Daily Mail (with it’s sidebar of hypocritical shame) and Fox Lies. You can go beyond that into Steve Bannon land.

    I live in France, and I really appreciate the state funded French Broadcasters here. They take the time to make really interesting emissions about important subjects. They make me see that the BBC is not unique. It’s an idea that is appreciated and replicated in different cultures. Commercial broadcasters have their place, but be warned, if money rules then culture and truth are devalued.

  • Damien Mullan

    To be fair the U.S. does have a Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), paid from primarily by appropriations from Congress set out in the legislation that setup PBS in the late sixties, as well as supplementary funds for collaborative productions by the donations of philanthropic foundations. The most acclaimed documentary productions, like Ken Burn’s groundbreaking ‘The Civil War’ series which aired in 1990, are often produced by PBS. Their American Experience output is arguably the greatest catalog of American history and biographical documentaries to be found anywhere on the U.S. media landscape.

    All that said, PBS has a News service, is, much like the BBC, not know for groundbreaking investigative journalism, that appears to be the preserve of well established print media. The New York Times and The Washington Post are blazing a trail in this respect, as is CNN correspondents as well. They are all commercial entities, the competition to beat the rest to the next big scoop is a very big incentive, as is no doubt the essentials of professional journalism itself.

    The BBC and PBS I view more as platforms, comfortable looking at the daily schedules produced from Number 10, the White House, The Pentagon, and deriving their stories from that, those all need to be covered of course, and in-depth too, but being overly slavish to the demands of rigid platform programming can often come at the cost of serious labour intensive investigative journalism.

    It’s commercial journalism that is at the cutting edge in the age of Trump and ‘alternative facts’ and ‘post-truth’. Both commercial and public service journalism and broadcasting are not mutually exclusive, they are in a free and liberal society a prerequisite for maintaining that freedom and liberty.

  • Granni Trixie

    It says much about Jeff Peel that he does not seem to get the significance of the gender dimension of the story – and lack of diversity dimension he might have added. It is a case which demonstrates more clearly than others that “equal pay for work of equal value” does not prevail in the BBC. It also shines a light on what is important and valued in the BBC – sport being the most obvious (blokes world, geddit? ). But even then that national treasure,Claire Balding does not do as well financially as her male collegues. And even the big women beasts who analyse politics daily get paid less.

    However we cannot criticise Stephen Nolan for benifiting from a system he did not create. He alone from Ni apparently learnt how To break into the elite circle which takes some doing. And Even in dealing with a story impacting on him personally he is astute and risk taking amd its paying off. Go Stephen go.

    PS in the name of you know what how did Charlie from Casualty get into the top echelons? Now I’m trying to think of a hit he had with his sister in the 6Os (“Elaine and Derek” – weren’t they from Bangor?). Anybody know,it’s bugging me.


  • Korhomme

    There is merit in looking at the beeb’s funding in the future. The present system was fine when the BBC had a monopoly, but no longer. It does seem odd to require people to pay what is effectively a tax for a channel they might never want to watch.

    There’s also the problem of government ‘interference’ in the BBC, demanding at times that things are done/not done to suit political imperatives. The BBC also now funds the foreign radio services, which some might well see as a propaganda channel.

    Quite how this would be achieved while retaining at least a pretense of independence at the beeb isn’t easy to formulate.

  • CB


  • SeaanUiNeill

    All of Elaine and Derek’s records are on here:

    And regarding ” how did Charlie from Casualty get into the top echelons?” I think he is represented by JAA, who are highly professional theatrical and literary agents who handle the careers of what are called “celebrity actors.” They manage people such as Martin Shaw, Ewan McGregor and Robert Powell for starters. Such well connected and highly professional management can negotiate for remarkably high sums. Glad my fading media career is still useful for some things……….

  • the rich get richer

    Nolan learned a lot from Ian Paisley…..The money these big fellas milked from the brits is eye watering…………

  • hgreen

    Whatever they are paying Andrew Neil it’s too much.

  • Mac an Aistrigh

    Doesn’t he have a UK wide programme on Radio 5 as well?

  • Jeffrey Peel

    Which I mentioned in the article…

  • CB

    Pretty much agree with that, although would add that it’s unlikely he’d get a better offer elsewhere. Some on the list are potential targets to be poached, but can’t see it with him.

  • Zig70

    If Chris Evans salary doesn’t drop drastically next year then there is something very rotten as he nearly killed top gear. The idea that you couldn’t find someone of his skills is just balls. In many ways this is linked to Brexit and Director salaries with the lack of investment in personnel development from apprentice to top level. There are probably lots of little Stevie Nolans if they got the direction and chance. BBC’s fawning over the monarchy and neoliberal anti Corbyn agenda has annoyed me this year but that’s probably more my issue. To Caesar and all that. Just more lamentable that RTÉ is so rubbish. Teleshopping at breakfast for Gawds sake. Be careful what you wish for.

  • Mac an Aistrigh

    So you did. Sorry!

    But are it’s listening figures really that insignificant?

  • Mac an Aistrigh

    Not that I listen to it much myself.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Right, so, lets say there’s a pay-purge of sorts and the names (big or small) either head off elsewhere or remain having had the great bluff called.

    Then what?

    The money will be channeled into something else that anti-BBC folk will have little or no interest in.

    Regarding Nolan, for man whom many here think is over valued we sure do talk about him a lot…

  • Granni Trixie

    I suppose so. Thanks a lot.

  • whatif1984true

    I listened to Nolan on Radio Five he had a joint show with Pienaar the BBC Political correspondent. It showed how poor Nolan is. Pienaar did all the talking, at one stage nolan said nothing for 15/20 minutes. Nolan is very weak on the national stage.
    BBC NI pay him big bucks as a reflection of how poor all their other programming is, without the ‘noise’ of Nolan they would be exposed for the poverty of output they have.

  • Slater

    Which NI media outlet will pay £500,000 p.a. for Nolan?
    There is no talent market.
    The BBC is a monopoly with limitless free money.
    It pays what it feels like paying to its own.

  • Croiteir

    Gis a job – I can do that – put a word in

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Sadly, I’m not a member of the Groucho Club……..