Bye George!

In #rabble14, Blog, Culture, Illustration, Politics, Print Editionby Paul DillonLeave a Comment

Above: Illustartion by Mice. That’s next year’s totally inappropriate Halloween mask sorted so.

George Hook is a long time Blueshirt supporter who made a good living from greasing the gears of the establishment and the fine craft of being a reactionary wind up merchant on prime time radio. We drafted in Paul Dillon to look at how the Hookie monster eventually fell from grace and the far bigger picture of who runs the meeja.

George Hook is as mainstream as it gets. No one said the favourite word of the middle classes “Rohnan O’Gar-rah” quite like him. He was the perfect media darling for a particular type of middle Ireland, pro-establishment listener or reader. He liked their favourite stuff (rugby) and he had the right politics.

It was great the way he would lean in close to the mic, and give out about about the trade unions, and then lightly say “okay, what sport do we have at the weekend?”

He loved business and the right type of business. The sort of private entrepreneur, like Denis O’Brien or Michael O’Leary, who could “run the public services better than (quick pause) “civil servants”. Best of all, he did that in a populist, anti-establishment way. He made billionaires sound like heroic rebels, and reduced the people who actually do the jobs to part of the problem.

He’s been there, insulted that and worn the blueshirt. He has a long term close association with Fine Gael. Indeed, so close he wanted to stand for them in a general election, but as a “Michael Collins Fine Gael candidate”. He frequently describes himself as “an old blueshirt”. He used to do a podcast with the two ultimate Fine Gael insiders: PR men Billy O’Herlihy and Frank Flannery. He even whooped up the FG troops with locker room blather about “winning a cup final” at at the start of the 2011 election in the Aviva stadium.

Imagine a solid as a rock, right on, committed lefty who was close to or in a radical left party, enjoying hours of access to mainstream media, presented as a voice of common sense? No, I can’t either.

His media career came late. He was 56 before he made a media breakthrough. Before that, he was a rugby trainer and he had a business which failed with spectacular debts.

He made his name first as a rugby commentator in RTE, making his debut as a guest in 1997. Later, he became a columnist with The Irish Independent. Who else! It wasn’t long until Hook had extended his reach beyond RTE sport, and soon you felt a bit like Father Jack when he said “him again” and launched a missile at a the TV.

But it was Newstalk (who else again) who gave him his best platform yet. Along with Ivan Yates, he became the station’s biggest profile anchor. He hosted a drivetime show, The Right Hook which he “retired” from in 2016, before returning, phoenix like, with a new lunchtime show.

He has majored on being the whole political correctness gone mad theme. “Hasn’t it awl-gonne-to farrr!” This opened up a firing range of options. He also championed the pro-free market ethos of a media group whose founder Denis O’Brien made 300 million in the late 90s from the sale of mobile giant Esat Digifone. Remember that?

That was the same licence which was the subject of the Moriarty tribunal. According to the tribunal’s report “payments and other benefits…were furnished by and on behalf of Mr Denis O’Brien to Mr Michael Lowry, and that these were demonstrably referable to the acts and conduct of Mr Lowry in regard to the GSM process that inured to the benefit of Mr O’Brien’s winning consortium, Esat Digifone.”

It’s great how that free market works, isn’t it?

It was his lunchtime High Noon show that was to prove his undoing (for now, at least). During his opening monologue on Friday the 8th of September, shortly after he mused on staffing at RTE, Hook turned his attention to the case of Commonwealth game swimmer Otto Putland.

The story, which had just broken, was that a jury had cleared Putland of one count of rape, but failed to reach a verdict on the second count after more than four hours of deliberation. According to ITV news, there is the potential for a retrial.

According to the Journal, these were Hooks comments:

“She was passed around, went the story. And apparently she went to bed with one guy and he goes out and another guy comes in. She doesn’t want to have relations with the second guy but he forced himself upon her. Awful.

“But when you then 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. She has no idea of his health conditions, she has no idea who he is, she has no idea what dangers he might pose.

“But modern day social activity means that she goes back with him. Then is surprised when somebody else comes into the room and rapes her. Should she be raped? Course she shouldn’t. Is she entitled to say no? Absolutely. Is the guy who came in a scumbag? Certainly. Should he go to jail? Of Course. All of those things.”

He went on to ask: “But is there no blame now to the person who puts themselves in danger?”

The presenter continued:

“There is personal responsibility because it’s your daughter and it’s my daughter. And what determines the daughter who goes out, gets drunk, passes out and is with strangers in her room and the daughter that goes out, stays halfway sober and comes home, I don’t know. I wish I knew. I wish I knew what the secret of parenting is.

“But there is a point of responsibility. The real issues nowadays and increasingly is the question of the personal responsibility that young girls are taking for their own safety.”

The backlash was immediate and massive. Thousands of tweets were sent calling for Hook to be taken off air. Crucially, news talk colleagues like Chris Donoghue called time. Newstalk held out for a week, before releasing a statement, saying that “George Hook has been suspended from his duties.”

So what then does all this mean.

National Union of Journalists General Secretary Seamus Dooley is in a good position to know. He has spent decades in the industry, first as journo himself, but for two decades as a fighter for the rights of journalists and media workers.

“There are a number of worrying aspects about Communicorp’s actions following George Hooke’s unacceptable comments. His comments were crude, crass and indefensible. The decision to ban all Irish Times journalists from all Communicorp companies was by far the most worrying. It exploded the myth that the company’s stations operate independently and exercise independent editorial judgement.

George Hook had no association with Today FM, for example yet the ban extends to both national commercial stations owned by Communicorp. The ban was announced by the Chief Executive and was clearly based on a company wide view of The Irish Times with no regard for editorial values.”

For Dooley though, the fallout can not be understood without re-examining who owns and operates media in Ireland.

“The BAI needs to reexamine the decision to allow Communicorp own both Newstalk and Today FM and the company’s approach should inform the decision on the renewal of both licences. The NUJ has been banging the drum about media ownership for many years. It is no coincidence that the Chairman of INM Lelsie Buckley has been the most outspoken critic of the current, inadequate restrictions on media mergers.”

The public backlash against Hook is a signifier of the new landscape: the national conversation is no longer one way. All eyes will be on Hook when he returns to a new weekend slot in December, while Dr Ciara Kelly has gained a weekly residency at the station.

Hook is returning to a changed media landscape, where he is likely be challenged and held accountable.

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