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Complaint from Communicorp over Irish Times article on George Hook controversy won't go further

It was judged that the Irish Times publication of a right to reply from Newstalk was “sufficient remedial action”.

THE PRESS COUNCIL of Ireland has made a decision on a complaint from Communicorp, the Denis O’Brien-owned radio group that runs Newstalk, about an article in the Irish Times that criticised the organisation in the wake of the George Hook controversy.

In its judgement, the Press Council said that the Irish Times’ publication of a right to reply “represented sufficient remedial action on its part to resolve the matter”.

While Communicorp had argued the article was “fundamentally flawed and poorly researched”, the Irish Times stood over the article and that the piece represented the opinions of the writer Fintan O’Toole and “appeared on a page with large opinion heading”.

Context

George Hook was suspended from Newstalk last September after he drew widespread condemnation for comments he made about rape during a broadcast of the High Noon programme.

The presenter ended a monologue on the issue of rape with the question “is there no blame now to the person who puts themselves in danger?”.

In a column around that time, Irish Times journalist Fintan O’Toole pledged that he would not be appearing on Newstalk in future, claiming it had become “the most flagrantly sexist public organisation in Ireland”.

O’Toole went on to state that private citizens should not be complicit in “an operation that is staggeringly and systemically sexist”.

Newstalk’s managing editor Patricia Monahan wrote a right to reply in the Irish Times defending the station and calling O’Toole’s article “an outrageously unfair attack”.

In an email to Communicorp staff seen by TheJournal.ie, Communicorp’s CEO Adrian Serle said that Newstalk also sought an apology from The Irish Times but that the paper refused to do this.

Furthermore, Communicorp said that no Irish Times journalists should appear on its stations, which include Newstalk, Today FM, Dublin’s 98FM and Spin 1038.

Hook has subsequently returned to the air waves this year, with a new weekend show.

Complaint

In its complaint, Communicorp said that the article breached a number of codes of practice of the Press Council of Ireland, including truth and accuracy, distinguishing fact and comment, and fair procedures and honesty.

The Press Council said: “A right of reply by the Managing Editor was published on 16 September.

Communicorp subsequently submitted a complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman stating that on careful reflection it had decided to seek a retraction and apology for the comments contained in the article which, it said, stated on a national platform that Newstalk, and by clear implication its senior management team and staff, were flagrantly, systematically and staggeringly sexist.

Responding to these claims, the Irish Times said that it stood over the article, and said O’Toole’s opinions were drawn on statements of fact, and “it outlined some of the facts on which it said the article was based,” the Press Council said.

The Irish Times also acknowledged that Communicorp was entitled to disagree with those opinions which is why it published the right to reply from the Newstalk managing editor.

Communicorp, meanwhile, said the newspaper’s response dealt with none of the issues in a real way, and questioned the facts on which the newspaper said the article was based.

After a referral from the Press Ombudsman, the Press Council of Ireland convened a sub-committee to look into the case.

This sub-committee judged that the “publication of the right of reply by the Irish Times represented sufficient remedial action on its part to resolve the matter”.

It said that it took account of the length of the right of reply and its prominent position in the newspaper in determining this action.

Read: Newstalk ‘failed to act in a timely fashion’ after George Hook rape comments

Read: George Hook to return to Newstalk with an early Saturday morning show

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Sean Murray

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