Why boycott Newstalk over one show? Maybe, because the culture of news organisations can be seen in content

Last week George Hook blamed a rape victim for being raped, not the rapist, live on national radio. It was deplorable but it was not particularly surprising that Hook held such views; he was far from the only one judging by his defenders. The shock was that Hook was ignorant enough and Newstalk lax enough to let such views air. Unless they have been living under a rock, the response to such comments was inevitable.

hook

C. DFFH&B https://vimeo.com/18467380

As well as listeners saying they would be tuning-out, journalists and regular panellists announced boycotts of the station and there is a petition to remove Hook. I am not suggesting this is the right response to tackle these issues, both ‘silencing’ and  ‘challenging’  views like this in public forums have merits.

But there are those who express total bafflement with the calls to boycott the station. There are many who view the response as excessive.

However, the culture of a news organisation is revealed in the content they produce. News content is (among other things) an artefact produced by an organisational culture. The values and practices of that culture can be interpreted through examination of what it produces. It’s a standard anthropological approach.

But aside from academics, we should at least remember News of the World and the results of the Leveson Inquiry into the culture of British tabloids. The content of some British redtops was so systematically invasive and inaccurate it clearly pointed to a toxic culture of resistance to industry ethics. The evidence for this culture was in the articles published on the victims of crime and stalked celebrities.

Calling the boycott ‘nonsense’? Such a short memory.

Irish audiences are not just seeing one incident on one show on Newstalk.  They see that Hook, whose history of unsavoury remarks earned him that derogatory title of ‘shock jockey’, was hired to present a show. And does not help that the new Newstalk schedule for autumn was heavily criticised for the lack of women presenters from 7am to 7pm.

A boycott may not be the preferred approach for some, but it is not nonsense.  Newstalk is a national news broadcaster and has a responsibility to address concerns about the nature of their organisation in light of these comments, what enabled Hook to air them and why there no women on their prime time schedule.

Hook has apologised on air, saying he is deeply remorseful. He claims that he fully understands why these views were perpetuating rape culture. This is a positive step, particularly Hook’s articulation of his re-education. But it might not be enough to tackle the wider issue for audiences. The proof of sincere change is yet to be seen.

Newstalk launched an investigation, and it will be the quality of this that will tell most about the culture and content oversight at the station. It might be worth waiting for. But not everyone is willing because for them the writing is already on the wall.

Whatever about Hook’s slow crawl back to acceptability, for Newstalk it is this level of organisational transparency, not an individual apology, that the scandal needs to be addressed. And until the legitimate concerns are clarified, a boycott is not unreasonable.

 

 

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