Complaint to Newstalk about George Hook broadcast 8 Sept 2017
Friday, September 15th, 2017
To Ms. Patricia Monahan, Managing Director, Newstalk.
15 September 2017
Dear Ms. Monahan,
I write on behalf of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre to complain about George Hook’s comments in relation to the responsibility of victims for being raped and the subsequent treatment of those comments by Newstalk.
The harm caused by Mr. Hook’s statement
You are by now fully familiar with the entirety of the passage which gave rise to the subsequent public outcry when Mr. Hook commented last Friday 8 September on a British case which, as it happens, remains unresolved.
The statements, about which this organisation has already expressed concern, suggested that modern day social activity implies that a young woman should not be surprised when an unknown man comes into a room and rapes her. Having asked the rhetorical question “But is there no blame now to the person who puts themselves in danger?” He went on to answer it himself on the airwaves, and also speaking as a father, by saying that there was personal responsibility. He said that now, and increasingly, the real issue was the question of personal responsibility of young girls.
For balance, we note that he said that the actions in that case were ‘awful’, that the girl should not be raped, was entitled to say no and that the person who carried out the action should go to jail.
However, the harm that he did, as a broadcaster who posed the question in that context, and as a parent, was to say that the victim of a rape was partially responsible. This, as he and Newstalk later acknowledged, is actually and factually incorrect. Rape is always the responsibility of a rapist alone. He peddled a pervasive and harmful untruth when he suggested otherwise.
In our expert opinion, based on expertise, knowledge and experience, his words may have a real and harmful impact on any person who wants to report rape. A person or people may not report the crime on the basis that the broadcaster reminded them, on the national airwaves, that they might well be questioned as to whether they are to blame if they report – to a father, to anyone. Being aware that they may be blamed themselves is a well-known, and well-established, barrier to reporting sexual violence.
It is hard enough for victims of rape to report anyway. His comments may prevent some people from ever reporting sexual violence and may delay others. Rape is a brutal invasion of a person in the most intimate way. It is normally carried out by someone known to the victim. It creates shock, horror, and is a profound assault on a person’s dignity. There must be no barriers to a person reporting sexual violence – for victims’ own health, to avail of any necessary medical treatment and in order to ensure that those who rape others are brought to account. In particular, a delay in reporting may result in vital evidence being lost.
Mr. Hook’s comments, on the national airwaves, on a Friday afternoon were highly irresponsible, dangerous and harmful. We believe that they were in breach of several of the Principles of the BAI Code of Programme Standards, in particular Standards relating to respect for community standards, the importance of context, protection from harm, protection of children’s interests and protection of the public interest.
We further submit that the harmful actions were compounded by the failure of the High Noon Programme team, and more broadly the Newstalk broadcast station, to take adequate remedial action.
The presenter was not acting in a vacuum. He had a production team who had, we presume, conducted research and directed material towards him. There were other staff monitoring and producing the programme. Neither they, nor anyone else in Newstalk took any action on the day or during the programme to try to repair the damage done or to present a factually accurate account, to counter the inaccurate account given. By way of contrast, had the broadcaster given an opinion which appeared to be defamatory, or in breach of the rules around contempt of court in the Irish courts, or indeed had the topic been that of abortion, we believe that it is safe to assume that the production team for the show, or at least the wider Newstalk authorities would have sought to remedy the situation. That did not happen despite protests about the content becoming very prominent within hours. This may mean:
- A ) that Newstalk itself shared the harmful and inaccurate opinion expressed; or
- B) that Newstalk did not recognise the harmful statement for what it was; or
- C) it was careless or reckless as to the harm caused coming only to a realisation of the extent of the concern about the statement a full 24 hours after the broadcast.
Any or all of the above situations give rise to our complaint that Newstalk was not acting as a responsible broadcaster and failed to comply with its obligations as a licensed broadcaster, including failing to comply with the BAI Code of Programme standards in:
- A) not immediately denouncing the harmful inaccurate opinion;
- B) failing to set the record straight by taking all necessary steps to ensure that people understood the core concept of who is responsible for rape; and
- C) issuing an early apology.
In this regard, we note the absence of any national media guidelines or protocols and we will be writing separately to you about this.
We also note the apologies made by Newstalk on Saturday 9 September and by Mr. Hook on Monday 11 September. We recognise the need for them and their value. However, this complaint is necessary because of the gravity of the statements made by a senior presenter on the station on a popular programme. We have spent much of the past week reminding people that rape is a serious and violent crime which happens when non-consensual sex takes place. We have had to re-iterate that no-one other than the person violating someone else is responsible. We have had to say that it is entirely wrong, inaccurate and irresponsible to try to link the fact that a person is vulnerable or at risk with any responsibility at all for the crime. Of course, we do this regularly anyway. But it is a measure of Mr. Hook’s and Newstalk’s influence and reach that it has consumed so much time since he made his comments.
The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre is formally complaining, pursuant to the process prescribed by the BAI.
In addition, we seek a Right of Reply to correct the factual inaccuracies contained in the piece.
CEO, Dublin Rape Crisis Centre