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Explainer: Why has Newstalk decided to suspend George Hook?

The veteran host has made controversial comments before – so why was this time different?

THE NEWS, YESTERDAY morning, that Newstalk had decided to suspend its longest-serving host did not come as a surprise.

Both the station and George Hook had been under sustained pressure since his comments on the subject of rape the previous Friday.

The 76-year-old is no stranger to controversy, and has clashed with guests repeatedly over the years for his views on a range of topics. He’s even been criticised before for comments about rape – his use of the phrase “implied consent” drawing the ire of campaigners and abuse victims just two years ago.

So why was there such a strong reaction to his remarks on last week’s High Noon show?

And why has such pressure been mounting on his employers at Newstalk to end the former rugby pundit’s contract?

hook Source: Newstalk

What did he say?

Hook’s controversial comments about rape were made at the start of his lunchtime programme on Friday last, as part of the two-hour show’s opening monologue.

The presenter, as usual, began the broadcast by giving his two cents on a range of current affairs items. First up was a story in the Irish Independent about RTÉ targeting staff over 55 for early retirement: Hook complained that the national broadcaster, if it pursued the plan, would end up relying on broadcasters who are “wet behind the ears”.

He then turned his attention to a case in the UK in which a Commonwealth Games swimmer was accused of raping a 19-year-old woman.

Hook said:

She was passed around, went the story. And apparently she went to bed with one guy and he goes out and another guy comes in. She doesn’t want to have relations with the second guy but he forced himself upon her. Awful.
But when you then look deeper into the story you have to ask certain questions. Why does a girl who just meets a fella in a bar go back to a hotel room? She’s only just barely met him. She has no idea of his health conditions, she has no idea who he is, she has no idea what dangers he might pose.
But modern day social activity means that she goes back with him. Then is surprised when somebody else comes into the room and rapes her. Should she be raped? Course she shouldn’t. Is she entitled to say no? Absolutely. Is the guy who came in a scumbag? Certainly. Should he go to jail? Of Course. All of those things.

He went on to ask: “But is there no blame now to the person who puts themselves in danger?”

The presenter continued:

There is personal responsibility because it’s your daughter and it’s my daughter. And what determines the daughter who goes out, gets drunk, passes out and is with strangers in her room and the daughter that goes out, stays halfway sober and comes home, I don’t know. I wish I knew. I wish I knew what the secret of parenting is.
But there is a point of responsibility. The real issues nowadays and increasingly is the question of the personal responsibility that young girls are taking for their own safety.

90083227_90083227 Source: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

What was the reaction?

Reaction to his comments was swift and damning.

“Victim blaming at its worst,” is how Orla O’Connor of the National Women’s Council of Ireland described it.

Former senator Maíria Cahill – a victim of abuse and a subsequent cover-up within the Republican movement – wrote that she was “fuming”.

Cahill also posted the text of an email of complaint she was writing to Newstalk in which she wrote that Hook’s remarks were “dangerous in terms of encouraging rape victims to report their rapes”.

News sites began picking up on the criticism and publishing stories, and the backlash to the broadcaster’s comments was given extra impetus after Chris Donoghue – another long-serving presenter at the station – added his voice.

“Someone needs to go to town on Hook,” Donoghue wrote initially. “It’s a basic thing for everyone to stand for. Rape is never a victim’s fault,” he later added.

Other listeners took to Twitter to defend Hook’s comments and call for him to be allowed air his views. But there were also hundreds of posts criticising him, and a large number calling on Newstalk to remove him from the schedule.

What has he said about rape before?

Many outlets made mention this week of Hook’s previous comments on the subject of rape, back in 2015.

On that occasion, he was interviewing Labour senator and barrister Ivana Bacik about the case of Niamh Ní Dhomhnaill who was raped, while asleep, by her then-boyfriend Magnus Meyer Hustveit.

The interview took an abrupt left turn after Hook asked this question:

Hypothetically… you go into a relationship with somebody, be it marriage or be it you’re living with someone. So now you’re sharing a bed with somebody, yes, and obviously sexual congress takes place on a regular basis because you’re living with someone. Is there not an implied consent therefore that you consent to sexual congress?
Bacik replied: “George, that’s an outrageous suggestion… really, honestly I am surprised at you”. The presenter, in turn, told Bacik “that’s not my suggestion”, and the two discussed how up until 1990, marital rape was not a crime in Ireland.

“Even for you, that is a terribly dated and unbelievable assertion to make,” Bacik insisted.

Niamh Ní Domhnaill said in a statement she was “shocked to hear Mr Hook’s comments” and the broadcaster read a clarification the following day.

hook3 Source: TheJournal.ie

The reaction to Hook’s 2015 comments was more muted – and it’s worth pointing out that there are some important distinctions between the two sets of remarks: in 2015, his comment was posed as a question to a legal expert; the words that got him suspended yesterday came as part of a monologue at the start of his show – with no-one at the end of a phone or at the other side of his studio desk to explain what was wrong about his point of view.

What has happened since last Friday?

Newstalk – which is part of Denis O’Brien’s Communicorp empire along with stations like Today FM, 98FM and Spin – has been caught up in a media and HR storm over the last eight days.

The Dalata Hotel Group terminated its sponsorship deal with Hook’s show on Monday, and the backlash to the broadcaster’s comments spilled out onto the airwaves during Ivan Yates’ drivetime programme later in the day as singer Mary Coughlan walked out of an interview.

Hook had returned to the air at Monday lunchtime to read another apology, again telling his listeners he was “truly sorry”.

It emerged on Tuesday that staff had circulated a letter calling for the broadcaster to be taken off air, and telling management “misogyny should never be normalised”.

The story, first reported by TheJournal.ie, is likely to have increased pressure on station bosses. The letter was never officially handed over, but a meeting was called and staff told that “a process” to respond to Hook’s comments had been under way since the previous Friday afternoon.

Lawyers were reported to be involved in the process. Hook continued in his role and presented his shows on Wednesday and Thursday as normal.

What else has been happening at Newstalk recently?

The response to Hook’s comments isn’t happening in isolation. Newstalk has come in for criticism recently after a weekday schedule shake-up resulted in a prime-time (7am to 7pm) roster without a single female presenter.

Bernice Harrison of the Irish Times said the current roster of presenters resembled a “backslapping old boys’ schools fundraiser”, while Orla O’Connor of the Irish Women’s Council said it appeared Newstalk was “going backwards” when it came to gender balance.

The workforce has also endured a number of cuts and redundancies in recent months – affecting staff at executive, editor, correspondent and reporter level. The atmosphere at the station in the wake of the Hook controversy has been described as toxic.

Dil Wickremasinghe, who presents the Global Village show on Newstalk, made reference to what she described as “unsupportive” treatment of female presenters at the national station in a statement released on Twitter on Thursday night.

“Although I enjoy my work as a broadcaster immensely and have some incredible colleagues at Newstalk, I have been deeply unsatisfied with the management of Newstalk as I felt the station has been unsupportive and unwelcoming of female presenters,” Wickremasinghe wrote.

It is common knowledge that insufficient effort has been made over the years to address the lack of female representation during prime time. As a result, female presenters are segregated to the weekend schedule. I believe this culture is connected to George Hook’s comments.

Wickremasinghe said she would not be appearing on Newstalk while Hook remained on air.

What will happen now?

Hook was suspended from his programme yesterday morning – the news dispatched via a brief emailed statement and on Twitter.

Crucially the two-line statement noted that “The process regarding his comments last week is ongoing.”

The veteran host is unlikely to return to the airwaves anytime soon – and Communicorp has taken the heat out of the situation for the moment by suspending him.

It emerged, before the announcement was made yesterday, that Tesco had ceased advertising during Hook’s programme. Newstalk – a wholly commercial broadcaster – will be keen to finally resolve the matter and calm the concerns of other nervous advertisers well before Christmas.

Sean Moncrieff – who has presented as part of the afternoon schedule, alongside Hook, for over a decade – wrote on Twitter yesterday morning:

This has been an incredibly difficult week at Newstalk. But I’m immensely proud of the professional and brave staff here.

Read: Newstalk staff letter demands Hook be taken off air immediately >

Related: ‘A victim is never to blame’: Chris Donoghue addresses Hook rape comments on Newstalk show >

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