Controversial radio presenter Jon Gaunt is to go to court today to uphold his right to freedom of expression after he was censured for calling a local councillor a “Nazi” and an “ignorant pig.”
The case concerns a heated exchange between the disc jockey and a guest on his radio show during a discussion about whether good parents could be smokers.
Mr Gaunt's outburst led to his dismissal from talkSPORT after the industry regulator Ofcom upheld complaints against him for breaching the broadcasting code.
In his ground-breaking case Mr Gaunt is being supported by the human rights group Liberty who will argue that there is a difference between causing an offence and causing public or personal harm. Lawyers for both Mr Gaunt and Liberty are expected to say that the finding against talkSPOR and its shock jock presenter was out of proportion to the comments made.
On the eve of the case Mr Gaunt said: “The right of every British citizen to speak his or her mind, free of the fear of sanction from faceless government-appointed bureaucrats is a right that we must all protect and preserve.”
He added: “It cannot be right that in this century, after generations of Britons gave their lives to preserve free speech, that a radio commentator is still not able to express his views about a professional politician without those words being subject to the approval and vetting of an unelected group of men and women in the Ofcom building.”
In November 2008, Redbridge Council announced a policy prohibiting smokers from fostering or adopting children. Councillor Michael Stark defended the policy and was invited onto Jon Gaunt's talkSPORT radio show on 7 November 2008. As a former foster child himself, Mr Gaunt expressed the view that it was more important for children to have a good parent than a non-smoking parent. In the heated debate that followed, Mr Gaunt referred to Councillor Stark as a “health Nazi”, a “Nazi” and an “ignorant pig”. The shock jock then offered an apology for the comments; however a few days later the management at talkSPORT sacked him.
Last night his lawyer, Martin Howe, described the case as constitutionally important: “With an election looming and with our political leaders going head to head with presenters it is crucial that the media has a free reign to test and probe without looking over its shoulder to the bureaucrats at Ofcom.”
Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, said: “Jon Gaunt's job is fierce debate on the radio. Whilst he apologised for any offence, talkSPORT and Ofcom went completely over the top. People fought the real Nazis so that we could enjoy our freedoms; the Human Rights Act is there to protect us from the speech police.”
A spokesman for Ofcom said: “This case is not about freedom of expression, it is about a broadcaster who crossed the line when bullying an invited guest on-air. Parliament has given Ofcom the responsibility to ensure that whilst standards in programmes are maintained, rights to freedoms of expression and speech are protected.
“Ofcom regularly makes decisions under the Broadcasting Code that respect and balance these principles. In this case, Jon Gaunt’s interview was found to be a breach of the Code.”