Shock jock loses free speech case

By Ian Dunt

TalkSport radio shock jock Jon Gaunt has lost his case in the high court over an angry interview in which he branded a local councillor a “health Nazi”.

The comment came during a 2008 interview with Redbridge councillor Michael Stark, who supported the local council’s ban on placing children with foster parents who smoke – even if they only did so outside the home.

Mr Gaunt called Mr Stark a “Nazi”, a “health Nazi” and an “ignorant pig” during the interview and was given a slap on the wrist by Ofcom, who ruled the interview breached the Broadcasting Code.

Today’s high court ruling backed up that decision, although for complex reasons.

While the high court did not believe the use of the word “Nazi” was problematic, it did object to the abusive shouting which characterised the latter half of the interview.

The court said that while the word Nazi can refer to a general political position, its use in the interview was more narrowly defined, and referred instead to the imposition of a viewpoint on someone else.

In the context of the interview, the term “may be seen as an emphatic and pejorative assertion that Mr Stark was, in the matter of smoking and fostering children, one who imposes his views on others. It was not, in the context, a description of Mr Stark’s wider political or ideological position”.

As political speech, the phrase was therefore protected under Article Ten of the Human Rights Act. But the Ofcom ruling was considered justified because Mr Gaunt “lost his rag” and engaged in abusive shouting.

Corinna Ferguson, legal officer at human rights group Liberty, which intervened in the case because of its wider importance to free speech, said: “There is a great deal to welcome in today’s judgement and Ofcom should reflect on the close scrutiny it will face from now on.

“The Human Rights Act protects ‘shock jocks’ as much as flagship political commentators and free speech is no more worthy with extra syllables. However, we are not convinced that the court has fully applied its own logic and hope that this can be improved upon in the court of appeal.”

A former Sun reporter, Mr Gaunt is a right-wing commentator who regularly appears on broadcast news channels.

His team intends to appeal the decision.