Stephen Nolan denies showing ‘lack of support’ for striking BBC colleagues
However BBC colleagues say host spoke ‘very strongly’ against picket action at union meeting
BBC Northern Ireland’s biggest star, Stephen Nolan, has denied showing a “lack of support” for his striking colleagues.
Around 200 BBC journalists took part in a 24-hour strike on Friday as part of a dispute with management over cuts to jobs and programmes.
Mr Nolan is understood to have raised concerns about the strike at a private union meeting on Thursday.
On Friday, he did not join the picket lines nor indicate any public show of support through social media for colleagues.
However, all BBC NI programmes, including The Nolan Show on Radio Ulster/Radio Foyle, were scrapped on Friday as a result of the strike.
During the industrial action, many senior BBC NI figures, including some of the organisation’s other best known presenters, joined the picket lines outside BBC headquarters in Belfast and Radio Foyle in Derry, or used their Twitter accounts to show their support for the strike.
However, all of the 12 tweets or retweets posted on Mr Nolan’s Twitter account on Friday were in relation to his new TV show, Feed Yourself Fitter.
The Sunday World contacted Mr Nolan on Saturday and put questions to him in relation to his stance towards the strike.
He said our questions suggested a “misunderstanding” and added that a statement would be issued on his behalf by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ).
In the statement issued to the Sunday World on Saturday afternoon, Séamus Dooley, Assistant General Secretary of the NUJ, said there was “100pc support” for the strike at BBC Northern Ireland on Friday.
“No one passed the picket lines in Belfast and Radio Foyle and the action was one of the most effective staged by any union, in terms of impact on production and public profile,” he said.
“Our highest profile members supported the strike, including Stephen Nolan, by not making themselves available for work.”
However, the Sunday World spoke to several BBC sources who were critical of what they described as Mr Nolan’s “lack of support” for the strike.
“He spoke very strongly against the strike at Thursday’s meeting,” said one source.
“It was clear he did not think the strike should go ahead.
“A lot of people were very angry about what he said.”
Other sources confirmed Mr Nolan had raised issues around the strike at Thursday’s meeting.
They said there was also disappointment the presenter of the “biggest show in the country” did not join the picket line in Belfast or show support for the strike on his Twitter account, which has 265,000 followers.
Mr Dooley said a “range of opinions” were expressed at the online union meeting on Thursday.
It is understood around 130 of the BBC staff at the meeting voted in favour of the strike, with a small number either voting against it or abstaining.
“The purpose of the discussion was to discuss tactics in the light of significant progress,” said Mr Dooley.
“Members did not feel sufficient progress had been made to cancel Friday's strike action and reaffirmed plans for the strike.
“The NUJ is a broad union and in a chapel of 200 members it would be surprising if there were not differences of emphasis and approaches.
“The purpose of the meeting was to provide members with an opportunity to give their views and many availed of that chance.
“Following confirmation that the strike would go ahead all members, without exception, accepted the outcome.
“Stephen Nolan, as a long-standing NUJ member, has authorised me to confirm that he took part in the strike action.
“His support and the support of all NUJ members at BBC Northern Ireland is appreciated."
Friday’s strike took place in opposition to planned job losses and cutbacks within BBC NI.
Last November, the BBC said it was planning to axe 36 posts in Northern Ireland in an attempt to make £2.3m of savings and invest more money in online services.
According to the most recent BBC annual report, BBC NI has a workforce of about 600.
The BBC said it hoped "the majority" of post closures would be achieved through voluntary redundancy.
There have also been recent cuts to programming in both Radio Ulster and Radio Foyle.
That includes the daily breakfast news programme on Radio Foyle, which has been cut from two hours to just 30 minutes, and the weekly Inside Business programme on Radio Ulster.
Following Friday’s strike, which led to no coverage of the first day of the local government elections in Northern Ireland, Mr Dooley said the NUJ’s priority now is to engage with BBC management to “resolve the range of issues concerning our members across Northern Ireland”.
Among the high-profile supporters of the BBC NI strike was Eamonn Holmes who joined the picket line in Belfast for a short time on Friday.
The former UTV and now GB News presenter wrote on Twitter: “Local news .... it's where it all starts. It's where we all started. Don't let them rob you of knowing what's going on in your area. Support these strikes.”
Meanwhile, BBC Northern Ireland announced its long-standing Dublin correspondent Shane Harrison is to step down after more than 30 years with the BBC.
Mr Harrison started his career with the BBC in December 1986.
In 1988, he became a reporter for Spotlight, before taking on the Dublin job in 1992 in the early stages of the peace process.
He said: “It has been a great privilege to work for the BBC and to serve its audiences.
“I’m truly grateful to those who trusted me to share their stories which were often harrowing.
“But there were also fun moments along the way and I will always feel fortunate to have worked with so many great colleagues.”
Kevin Kelly, BBC Northern Ireland Interim Head of News and Current Affairs, said Mr Harrison’s contribution “cannot be overstated”.
“Often reporting on difficult stories, he consistently demonstrated integrity and compassion, earning the respect of colleagues and viewers.
“A true professional, but also a great friend and colleague who will be missed by us all, and I wish him every success in the future.”
Mr Harrison is the latest big name to walk away from BBC Northern Ireland.
Last month, veteran political correspondent Stephen Walker also announced he was stepping down.
He had been a fixture on our screens for decades after starting off as a BBC reporter in 1989 with Radio Leeds, before joining BBC NI in 1991.
It is not known if the departure of the two senior journalists are connected to the recent announcement about cutbacks at BBC NI.
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