Newstalk failed to act in ‘timely fashion’ after George Hook’s rape comments, says BAI

Two complaints on remarks by Paul Williams about Jobstown protesters

Newstalk presenter George Hook caused ‘undue offence’, the BAI’s complaints committee said. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Newstalk presenter George Hook caused ‘undue offence’, the BAI’s complaints committee said. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

 

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has upheld a complaint against Newstalk for George Hook’s comments about rape last September, saying the broadcaster “failed to take corrective action in a timely fashion”.

A majority of the BAI’s complaints committee found Hook’s remarks on his High Noon show September 8th, which caused “undue offence”, did not adhere to the regulator’s code of programme standards.

The committee noted that in a discussion of an ongoing UK court case about rape, the issue of the personal responsibility of women to avoid being raped was described by the presenter as “the real issue” in this matter.

“The committee considered that the manner and context of raising the issue of personal responsibility in the context of a specific case of alleged rape caused undue offence and there was a strong possibility of causing distress to audience members who might personally identify with this issue,” it ruled.

On the show, Hook said: “When you 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 ... then is surprised when somebody else comes into the room and rapes her.”

He went on to say: “Is there no blame now to the person who puts themselves in danger? There is personal responsibility. You then of course read that she passed out in the toilet and when she woke up the guy was trying to rape her. There is a personal point of responsibility, because it’s your daughter and it’s my daughter.”

Offensive and harmful

The complainant said it was not appropriate for Hook to blame an alleged victim of sexual assault for being raped. She said the presenter’s opinion that the victim is responsible for assault was “offensive and harmful”.

The complainant also told the BAI that “nobody would suggest that men who are mugged walking down Grafton Street in Dublin are responsible for being mugged”.

It was not appropriate for the presenter to blame women and their parents for rape rather than the rapist and their parents for how they raised them, the complainant added. She said she was personally disappointed and disgusted by the presenter’s comments and criticised the station for not apologising until the day after the remarks were broadcast.

Newstalk, which is owned by Denis O’Brien’s Communicorp radio group, accepted the comments should not have been made. After the next-day apology by the station and Hook, the presenter made an on-air apology the following Monday, acknowledging that his remarks could have had an impact on victims of sexual violence.

He was suspended from Newstalk at the end of that week and it was later concluded that the weekday High Noon show would come to an end. He returned to the station last month with a show called Hook’s Saturday Sit-In.

The committee acknowledged that the broadcaster subsequently undertook remedial action and had accepted the substance and validity of the complaint. It also noted that the presenter explicitly stated that he does not condone rape.

“However, the broadcaster had a responsibility to take greater care to prevent the possibility of undue offence and harm, including taking timely corrective action where content is likely to have caused offence,” it said.

“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. Given this and given the content of the programme, the committee has decided to uphold the complaint.”

Jobstown ‘vitriol’

A further four complaints against broadcasters were upheld or upheld in part in the BAI’s latest complaints bulletin. Two of these involved remarks by Newstalk Breakfast presenter Paul Williams about protestors at Jobstown, in which he directed “vitriol” at Solidarity TD Paul Murphy.

The committee ruled that Williams had taken “no steps to guard against the use of coarse and offensive language” when he described the Jobstown protestors on-air last July as “assholes”, “bastards”, “thugs” and “bullyboys”. It also found the programme had not been in compliance with the BAI’s code of fairness, objectivity and impartiality in news and current affairs. One complaint was upheld, while a second one was upheld in part.

Although the presenter apologised for his language on air shortly after, the committee said Williams had an editorial responsibility to adhere to the regulations.

“The comments amounted to what was essentially a partisan diatribe by one presenter against an individual elected representative, his party and parties who hold what is described as left-wing political positions and which the presenter clearly objects to on a personal level.”

The BAI committee also upheld a complaint against RTÉ’s Morning Ireland for describing Kevin Myers as a Holocaust denier, saying this misrepresented his views and lacked fairness.

A complaint by biotechnology company BioAtlantis against RTÉ One television show Eco Eye was upheld in part after the committee agreed that its handling of the impact of mechanical seaweed harvesting did not include a sufficient range of perspectives on the topic to meet the requirements of fairness, objectivity and impartiality.