Tables turned on Nolan as Allister grills him on BBC pay

Stephen Nolan tweeted this picture of himsel and Jim Allister MLA in the studio
Stephen Nolan tweeted this picture of himsel and Jim Allister MLA in the studio

The tables were turned on radio and TV host Stephen Nolan as he faced a grilling from the barrister turned politician Jim Allister over the size of his BBC pay packet.

In a role reversal, the politician posed the questions and the radio show host gave the answers.

The unusual interview came after the BBC disclosed the size of Mr Nolan’s pay packet – his licence-fee funded salary is somewhere between £400,000 and £449,999, one of the highest in the entire corporation and the highest in BBC NI.

Mr Allister pulled no punches as he tried to get to the bottom of the true scale of Mr Nolan’s earnings from the BBC.

The most difficult questions for the broadcaster centred on the money paid to his production company, something which was not disclosed by the BBC on Wednesday.

Mr Nolan insisted the information regarding his production company was commercially sensitive and it would be the BBC’s decision to make it public.

He told Mr Allister: “I will put up no opposition to them publishing that information and what would be fair then would be for the BBC to decide to publish the amounts that they give to every independent production company in Northern Ireland. If they decide to do that, that’s for the management of the BBC to decide.”

Amid repeated questions, he continued: “I am so not hiding behind the BBC that I am publicly saying to the BBC today that if they wish to publish any of the information you have asked me for, I will support them doing so – it is a management decision.”

Mr Allister, the leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice party, claimed his stance was in contrast to his reputation as a “champion of transparency”.

“You don’t want your listeners to know how much you are really benefiting from the BBC yet you are the champion of transparency, you are the presenter and journalist who grills much more lowly paid people than yourself on all of these matters, but when you come to be asked the questions – how much of this money is coming from the BBC? – you hide behind the BBC, you run away, Mr Nolan. Why are you running away?”

Mr Nolan said he was an “entrepreneur” who had set up a company trying to create new television ideas.

“Do you judge me badly by being a guy without a silver spoon in my mouth who is trying round the clock to build a business – that’s what I am doing,” he asked Mr Allister.

The MLA replied: “I think entrepreneurs are much needed in this society but when you have somebody who is a champion and makes himself a champion of transparency and is in receipt of public funds through BBC licence fee-payers then I think those licence fee-payers are entitled to know how much of their money is finding its way into the pockets of Stephen Nolan, and that’s what you are avoiding telling us.”

Mr Nolan again told the politician that he was unable to reveal the details but would be willing to do so if the BBC were to disclose what they pay other production companies.

“You are an intelligent man and you know the difference between ‘want’ to tell you and ‘able’ to tell you,” he said.

“If the BBC want to disclose commercially what they pay into all the commercial production companies in Northern Ireland and throughout the UK I will put up no opposition and I will be treated the same.”