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Newstalk 'failed to act in a timely fashion' after George Hook rape comments

The BAI has upheld a complaint filed over comments made by George Hook on-air on Newstalk.

George Hook
George Hook
Image: Sasko Lazarov via Rolling News

THE BROADCASTING WATCHDOG has upheld a complaint made following comments made by broadcaster George Hook on Newstalk’s High Noon about the assault of a woman in the UK and the responsibility of women.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) also partially upheld a complaint made over on-air comments by Newstalk Breakfast presenter Paul Williams.

On air on 8 September 2017, Hook made remarks about the “personal responsibility” of rape victims and asked, “is there no blame now to the person who put themselves in danger?“.

The complainant said that it was not appropriate for the presenter to blame an alleged victim of sexual assault for the fact that she was raped. The complainant stated that “nobody would suggest that men who are mugged walking down Grafton Street in Dublin are responsible for being mugged” and that it is not appropriate for the presenter to blame women for rape rather than the rapist.

Newstalk noted that Hook and Newstalk issued an apology for the on-air remarks the following day. The broadcaster also noted that an internal process was undertaken and Hook had been suspended for a time.

Newstalk told the BAI that it did take strong remedial action following the comments made. It also said that all it can do is apologise again for the comments that were made, outline the steps taken to address them and note that it publicly apologised for the comments and accepted that they were “totally wrong and inappropriate”.

In its ruling published today, the BAI said that it decided to uphold the complaint.

The Committee was of the view that the broadcaster had failed to take corrective action in a timely fashion, action which may have ameliorated the undue offence caused.

Paul Williams 

Five other complaints to the BAI were upheld or partially upheld and six complaints were rejected.

The BAI has partially upheld a complaint about the language used by presenter Paul Williams on Newstalk Breakfast regarding the infamous water charges Jobstown protest of 2014.

The complainant stated that co-presenter Kieran Cuddihy read from an article in the Daily Mail newspaper on 27 July 2017, regarding an incident referring to then-Tánaiste Joan Burton being trapped in her car during the protest.

The complainant said that when Cuddihy had concluded reading the article, Williams then went on a rant using words to describe the protesters such a “bastards”, “assholes”, “thugs” and “bullyboys”. The complainant said this language was unacceptable from a journalist on air.

Newstalk responded to the complainant and said that the language used by Williams was inappropriate and apologised if it caused offence. An apology was read out on air at around 7.20am by Williams.

In its response to the BAI, Newstalk argued that the language was “justified for editorial and creative reasons, being the well-known style of the presenter and the heated topic being discussed”. Newstalk did, however, accept that the language used may have been unacceptable to some users.

In its ruling published today, the BAI said it decided to uphold the complaint in part.

The BAI committee said:

“It was the view of the committee that the manner in which the topic was handled by the presenter infringed on Principle 1 of the BAI Code of Programme Standards. This section of the Code does not prohibit the use of coarse and offensive language which may be in certain circumstances appropriate and justified.

However, in the case of this programme, the Committee considered the tone and vitriol of the presenter’s comments and the fact that they were largely directed at one individual (Mr Paul Murphy TD) and his supporters were not appropriate or justified on the basis of creative or editorial reasons or for other reasons.

Read: With ‘vulnerable’ children contacting strangers, government launches ‘internet safety resource’ for schools

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