Newstalk controversy reached ridiculous levels

Newstalk controversy reached ridiculous levels

Last week I reviewed some of the new programmes on Newstalk, but even then trouble was brewing on one of the regular shows, George Hook’s High Noon. The controversy reached ridiculous levels last week, culminating in the suspension of the presenter.

There were lots of toys being thrown out of prams, followed by the mob with torches and pitchforks. On Monday singer Mary Coughlan walked out of an interview with Ivan Yates on The Hard Shoulder because she objected to comments by George Hook. Strange enough. Tuesday’s news on RTÉ reported a letter from around 20 Newstalk staff calling for Hook’s removal, but curiously we didn’t get to hear who signed that.

Newstalk presenter Chris Donoghue had been first out of the traps criticising Hook, and later in the week Dil Wickremasinghe said she wouldn’t do her Global Village show in protest. Social conservatives were thinking they had won the jackpot. Newstalk’s afternoon presenter Sean Moncrieff tweeted about Newstalk staff being “brave” during this “incredibly difficult week” (for who?). Brave? Brave is jumping into a river to save a drowning person. Brave is standing up to the mob, but Newstalk didn’t.

Tuesday morning’s It Says in the Papers (RTÉ Radio 1) reported Irish Times journalist Fintan O’Toole saying he wouldn’t appear on any Newstalk show. Then another IT journalist Una Mullally said the same and on social media those who were not their fans were cheering up.


On the same slot last Thursday came reports that Newstalk was fighting back and considering not having any IT journalists on their shows at all. Those of a conservative inclination were celebrating, but it didn’t last. The pressure to have journalists who express nothing but the ‘acceptable’ opinions became too strong. The arrogance of the self-righteous knew no bounds and it looked like the patriarchy was being replaced by the ‘mediarchy’.

I heard Hook’s original comments about rape and thought they were over the top and poorly expressed (a side effect of the opinionated, ‘shock-jock lite’ approach to radio). He apologised unreservedly, but in essence he had raised a question about people’s responsibility for their own safety – specifically young women meeting strangers in bars and going back to their hotel rooms. In the process he lambasted the awfulness of rape and rapists. Because the Newstalk website removed the item from the ‘listen back’ facility, people are judging Hook on incomplete and out of context quotes, hardly in line with natural justice.

A seriously incomplete recording of Hook’s comments was played on last Thursday’s Today With Sean O’Rourke, when David Quinn had a bust up with Ruth Coppinger TD, on the controversy and the broader issues (like the irresponsible ‘hook-up’ culture).

Coppinger was in censorious mood, having a problem with “very right-wing and dangerous views” being on radio. So, is it simplistically left-wing good, right-wing bad? I was glad to see Quinn using the opportunity to highlight Newstalk’s bias on social issues, including their celebration of the marriage referendum result. “We’re all celebrating that,” said Coppinger, showing what bubble she is floating around in and blissfully erasing the near 40% who voted against.


If Newstalk is on for taking steps to curb objectionable broadcasting they could start with their bias on the Eighth Amendment issue. On The Pat Kenny Show on Wednesday we got a detailed interview with Dr Rhona O’Mahony, Master of Holles St Hospital. There was much about serious skill shortages, HSE problems and at the end a conversation about the Eighth Amendment.

I liked her approach of saving as many lives as possible in difficult pregnancies, and in the case of problems arising after viability (a moveable feast!) she was in favour of doing all possible to keep the baby alive, but she was still in favour of repealing the Eighth to make it easier to deal with issues pre-viability (effectively taking away the equal right to life of those unborn babies).

I found her arguments here unconvincing and worrying. There were no challenging questions from Pat Kenny, and in fact some of the time, effectively, he was actually helping her to elucidate her opinions.

Suspiciously, this interview ended shortly before the news headlines and lo and behold her call for repeal of the Eighth Amendment was the main news item – nothing about the serious health service issues that comprised two thirds of the interview.

Is this not just blatant campaigning?


Pick of the week
Sunday Morning Live

BBC 1, Sunday, September 24, 10am
Thought-provoking debate and instant audience reaction on the big ethical talking points of the week.

Jerusalem: The Making of a Holy City

BBC 4, Tuesday, September 26, 10pm
Historian Simon Sebag Montefiore presents a three-part series illuminating the history of Jerusalem.

Ministry of Hope

RTĖ One, Thursday, September 28, 10:15pm
A chaplain brings faith, hope and love in the Mater Hospital.