Legal Media

Gaunt loses OfCom litigation

By | Published on Wednesday 14 July 2010

Judges have dismissed a legal attempt by controversial radio presenter Jon Gaunt to have a ruling by media regulator OfCom overturned.

As previously reported, media regulator OfCom ruled that Gaunt had breached broadcasting codes when, during a heated interview on TalkSport in 2008, he called the Head Of Children’s Services at Redbridge Council, one Michael Stark, a “nazi”, a “health nazi” and an “ignorant pig” over plans to ban smokers from fostering children. TalkSport had already fired Gaunt over the incident ten days after the interview, they having received numerous listener complaints in addition to the 53 formal complaints made to OfCom.

But Gaunt disputed that he had breached OfCom’s own codes, and argued that their ruling breached his right to freedom of expression under the Human Rights Act. The media regulator countered that the HRA was irrelevant, but in January a judge ruled that there was enough of a case under human rights legislation that Gaunt’s claim should go to a court hearing.

That court hearing happened this week, but the radio man’s case was quickly dismissed by the two judges overseeing the claim.

They noted that Gaunt’s show was “political and controversial” and that Stark, as an elected official, should be prepared for a “rough ride”. They also conceded that both the interviewer and interviewee’s human right to freedom of expression should be protected in this context, but not, the judges ruled, to the extent that it “gratuitously offensive” remarks should be tolerated. OfCom rules that banned such remarks, therefore, did not impinge on Gaunt’s human rights.

According to Radio Today, one judge hearing the case said: “The broadcast was undoubtedly highly offensive to Mr Stark and was well capable of offending the broadcast audience … The essential point is that the offensive and abusive nature of the broadcast was gratuitous, having no factual content or justification”.

Needless to say, OfCom welcomed the ruling. And even Gaunt, who was fighting the case on a point of principle (he’d been fired by TalkSport before the OfCom ruling, and has another job now, presenting online radio shows for The Sun), managed to give the ruling a positive spin, saying the judge’s decision did back up his basic argument that the media regulator couldn’t use broadcasting rules to restrict a radio host’s freedom of expression.

He concluded: “I invite anyone to listen to the tape and make their own judgment, but in my opinion it clearly illustrates that I used that term [‘nazi’] completely in context after Councillor Stark clearly insulted me and the kids who are still in care in this country”.