Tuesday 24 October 2017

Former Newstalk broadcaster says George Hook's controversial comments were 'foreseeable, inevitable and manageable'

'Truly sorry': Newstalk show host George Hook Photo: David Conachy
'Truly sorry': Newstalk show host George Hook Photo: David Conachy
Catherine Devine

Catherine Devine

A former Newstalk broadcaster has said that the controversy surrounding George Hook was "foreseeable".

Today, it was announced that George Hook was suspended by Newstalk as the fallout from his controversial on-air comments about a rape case in the UK continues. 

Mr Hook's comments on his show on Friday of last week were made while he discussed the case of a woman (19), who alleges she was raped by a former member of the British swim team.

"Is there no blame to the person who puts themselves in danger?" he asked.

Speaking on RTÉ's Sean O'Rourke show, broadcaster Sarah Carey said that George Hook's controversial comments were "foreseeable, inevitable and manageable".

"I was so happy working (at Newstalk) for six years. My colleagues were smart and funny and brilliant...In relation to this particular crisis I think it was foreseeable and it was inevitable and I think it was manageable. There was an article on the Guardian on the foot of the Kevin Myers incident, because we were hearing a month ago a similar thing. It was making the point that when you make controversial opinion your business strategy, then this is an inevitable business risk. If you live by the sword, you die by the sword.

"I think it was (foreseeable). I presume that what has been happening this week, obviously I have no inside knowledge of this, is that George's lawyers have been saying 'well this is what you asked me to do, you asked me to be controversial'. Then you get controversy and if you justify that on commercial grounds and then the sponsors start pulling the sponsorship, you lose your sponsorship. All media organisations have this idea that if you get a reaction then you're popular. The result is Trump and Brexit. This effects the civic discourse. It's not just about one station and one man this week."

Síle Seoige, who worked at Newstalk for three years, took to Twitter this afternoon to voice her opinion on the matter.

"While I don't agree with (what seems like) a George Hook witch-hunt, I agree that what he said was ignorant, irresponsible and damaging; as a broadcaster he should know better and today Newstalk FINALLY made the correct decision to take him off the air...for now."

Today, on Newstalk George Hook was replaced by Dr Ciara Kelly, who addressed Mr Hook's absence briefly.

"As many of you know, George is off today" she said before adding that herself and the production team of High Noon were "very proud to be making great radio".

"And yes for those of you who haven't noticed, I am a woman."

The CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Noeline Blackwell, said that Newstalk needs to ensure that this never happens again.

"We are continuing with our complaint to Newstalk. We never took the view that George Hook was the key issue. The key issue is that the message was allow to go on air. We want to know what systems Newstalk have in place and we want to know how this happened."

Ms Blackwell also criticised the length of time it took Newstalk to act.

"The real harm was done as the message went blaming rape victims. It made women doubt the reception that they would get if they reported a rape. Newstalk didn't do anything to contradict that claim that was made. Somebody needed to come on the radio and say it was wrong. The damage has been done.

"Suspending George Hook isn't good enough. Newstalk took too long to deal with this issue and we are anxious to see the outcome of this investigation."

On Monday, singer Mary Coughlan walked out of the Newstalk studio mid-interview in protest. The singer said her three daughters were behind her decision to walk out of a live Newstalk show in protest at the remarks made by Mr Hook.

Last night, Newstalk presenter Dil Wickremasinghe said she would not host her show this weekend in protest at the comments and the alleged failure by management to act in the case.

In a statement, Ms Wickremasinghe said she was "appalled and disgusted" by the comments made by Mr Hook on his show on Newstalk last Friday.

Ms Wickremasinghe, who said she will return to her 'Global Village' show on the station on Saturday September 23, was also strongly critical of station management.

When contacted by Independent.ie, Ms Wickremasinghe refused to comment on whether she would return to her show after Mr Hook was suspended.

She has accused bosses of being "unsupportive and unwelcoming" of female presenters.

Describing her reaction when she heard Mr Hook make the controversial comments, Ms Wickremasinghe said: "My immediate reaction was this time he has gone too far and surely the station will react appropriately and at the very least suspend him immediately from the airwaves until a decision is made regarding his future."

She added that "victim blaming is unacceptable, irresponsible and dangerous".

A number of complaints have been made to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland regarding Mr Hook's comments, including one from the Women's Council of Ireland.

On Monday, the Dalata Hotel Group withdrew its sponsorship from Newstalk as it could not "support any radio station that allows inappropriate and hurtful comments to be made".

The sponsorship for High Noon is believed to be worth about up to €250,000.

Earlier this week, Mr Hook issued an unreserved apology on air.

"I made comments about rape on the programme that were totally inappropriate and unacceptable and I should never have made them," he said.

During the week, Pat Kenny defended his Newstalk colleague, describing him as "a decent man" who is "genuinely contrite". 

Mr Kenny said: "I listened to his apology and he meant it, he is genuinely contrite. He is devastated by this. He realises what he said didn't come out right and accepts that some people were hurt.

"George has been with the station from the very beginning. He has always been a controversialist, that's why people listen to him.

"The comments are not reflective of him. He is a decent man with children and was musing over a topic.

"He has entertained people for 13 years and it would be sad that people would take his mis-speaking on the radio as the real representation of George the man," he added.

Mr Kenny also stressed that he was "not in any way trying to espouse the point of view that [Hook] articulated".

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