#GeorgeHook: This Was About Power, Not Free Speech

As Communicorp bans all Irish Times Journalists from appearing on its programming, Tyler McNally revisits the George Hook controversy and builds upon his previous claim that this is about power, not free speech.

Last month, I talked about George Hook and the calamity he caused at Newstalk over his dangerous remarks in relation to an instance of rape. Somehow, I’m talking about him again as Newstalk continues to sit at the epicentre of growing media controversy.

On September 22nd, it became clear that Hook was going to be moved to a weekend slot in December. Despite the money lost from advertising as well as over a week of consistent negative press coverage; Hook didn’t really lose anything for his outrageous comments, others have paid dearly for them instead.

Despite good ratings for her show, Dil Wickremasinghe’s Global Village was axed at the beginning of October, no reason has been given but it is widely believed that this was an act of retribution, for when Dil refused to broadcast until Hook was removed from the air last month. The casualties do not end there as Communicorp, the corporation that owns both Newstalk and Today FM, has banned ALL Irish Times Journalists from its stations. When Denis O’Brien (Aye, that Denis O’Brien) was approached by Kitty Holland from the IT, he stated that the decision to ban all IT journalists wasn’t his, but went on to say Fintan O’Toole was a ‘bully’ (O’Toole’s article on Hook’s comments is the reason why the IT is persona non grata apparently)

Free Speech & Legitimacy

The impassioned defenders of free speech who sprung to Hook’s aid must be on an off peak holiday, as they have been silent as a single corporation effectively bans journalists it doesn’t like from non state owned broadcasting (Newstalk and Today FM dominate private broadcasting).

Despite all the commentary pointing to the people demanding Hook’s removal from the air being a threat to free speech, perhaps now we can all reflect and agree that this was never about free speech; it was about power and a changing Ireland.

For Newstalk this was always about the profits Hook brought in through advertising, which is why he wasn’t removed until big spenders pulled out. Commentators defended him because they feared the mob more than they feared their baron bosses, they feared the precedent that sacking Hook would set, so soon after Myers was removed under similar circumstances of bigoted talk.

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear” – Antonio Gramsci

In the storm of his own creation, Hook has become a haunted symbol of an old Ireland. An Ireland of ‘common sense’ values, strict catholicism and respect for institutions (no matter how corrupt). In Ireland’s Interregnum, between old and new, many of those defending Hook’s comments have been on the wrong side of the winds that have been blowing in recent times.

In the last five years, mass movements have ushered in Marriage Equality, beaten water charges and are set to force a referendum on repealing the hated 8th Amendment. The State and subsequently the media, must see their world as caught in an ‘upside down’, a strange inversion of what once seemed familiar. The once docile masses, are now angry mobs and increasingly distrustful of both the State and the media – going so far as to question the legitimacy of both.

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‘Separate Church & State’ – a popular slogan in the Repeal movement.

Next year’s referendum on the 8th amendment is likely to force this growing power struggle out into the open again, not just with a mass movement facing off against the Church and a reticent state but an old media hegemony facing off against the new. This isn’t to say that the old view will be replaced with something incredibly anti-capitalist and progressive, it’s more a reminder that a media hegemony held up by contrarians like Myers and Hook – cannot last in the same Ireland that demands a repeal of the 8th, an end to Garda corruption as well as an end to corporate handouts and austerity.

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