The backlash that ensued after George Hook’s remarks on rape have had significant results, Daniel Forde, investigates.
UPDATE: As of 25th September, George Hook has been removed from his normal lunchtime weekday slot. He will return to Newstalk in December on a weekend slot. Hook has apologised, saying it is “unacceptable to suggest that blame could be attributed to victims of rape”.
Since Friday 8th September, George Hook has become the subject of much public furore. On his Friday show, High Noon, the Newstalk broadcaster made comments concerning a recent UK court case where a former Commonwealth Games swimmer raped a 19-year-old girl. Hook said on air “Is there no blame to the person who puts themselves in danger?” referring to the victim. These comments attracted controversy, with many calling Hook’s views abhorrent. Notably, this is not the first time that Hook has made controversial statements regarding rape. In a 2015 interview with lawyer Ivana Bacik, Hook questioned if there was not “implied consent” between two people living together, again referring to a recently determined case. Hook has since issued an apology, stating that he was regretful of his remarks.
Despite the apology, a large public outcry has arisen against Hook. The National Women’s Council of Ireland and the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre both condemned his comments. Sharon O’Halloran, the CEO of Safe Ireland also called his position “untenable.” Even more serious is the backlash from Hook’s fellow colleagues. Dil Wickremasinghe, the presenter of Newstalk’s Global Village, who has experienced sexual abuse, announced that she would not appear on air, in protest, until the 23rd September. Chris Donoghue, another Newstalk presenter, described Hook’s comments as “disgusting” on Twitter. 20 members of Newstalk staff also drafted a letter calling for Hook to be taken off the air.
Hook’s comments have even been condemned by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who described them as “unacceptable.” Protests over the comments began outside Newstalk’s Dublin offices on 14th September. Perhaps the greatest indicator of how serious the controversy has become, is the withdrawal of Hook’s sponsors. On Monday, Dalata hotel group terminated its sponsorship of High Noon, with Tesco cancelling its advertising on the show on Thursday.
It should be noted however that there is also an undercurrent of feeling that the reaction to Hook’s comments has been disproportionate. The most public example of this is Pat Kenny’s defence of Hook, calling him “a decent man.” Further comments over Facebook display the general feeling that while Hook made a severe misstatement, he should not be so severely upbraided.
All this has culminated in Newstalk’s decision to suspend Hook. Whether this means the end of his career is still uncertain. Perhaps then the most fitting summation of this entire incident is Hook’s words themselves. Rape is an emotional subject and commenting on it requires some caution. If Hook was unaware of this he should not have been given the discretion to speak, and if he was aware of this he should have been more careful. His decision to speak publicly implies some recognition of the potential consequences. Therefore, if as he suggests, “there should be blame to the person who puts themselves in danger,” is this not a situation where he has been hoisted by his own petard?