Shock-jock Jon Gaunt has lost his High Court challenge over media regulator Ofcom's decision to uphold complaints against him.
Gaunt was sacked by talkSPORT and censured by Ofcom after calling a Redbridge Council representative a 'Nazi', a 'Health Nazi' and an 'ignorant pig' during an on-air discussion about the Council's ban on placing vulnerable children with foster parents who smoke.
He argued that Ofcom infringed his right to free speech under article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights but the High Court has ruled his interview was "offensive and abusive"Gaunt was supported in his claim by human rights and civil liberties group Liberty despite having once, in a Sun column, described its director Shami Chakrabarti as "Britain's most dangerous woman".
Ofcom today welcomed the High Court’s judgment that it was right to find the interview by Gaunt in breach of the Broadcasting Code. It said: "In the judgment handed down today, the Court dismissed both Jon Gaunt and Liberty’s claims that Ofcom’s decision was an unlawful interference in the radio presenter’s freedom of expression. The Court described the interview as a ‘rant’ and added it was both ‘offensive and abusive’. The Court 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.’ Ofcom’s Decision ‘did not constitute a material interference to [Jon Gaunt’s] freedom of expression at all,’ the Court also said."
Liberty said in a statement: "Although the Court accepted that the language used by Mr Gaunt was ‘political speech’ and thus deserving of the highest level of protection under Article 10 of the Human Rights Act, it found that Ofcom’s finding was justified because Mr Gaunt had “lost his rag” and the later part of the interview had become abusive shouting.
"Mr Gaunt and his legal team at Howe and Co have announced their intention to challenge today’s ruling, which if allowed to stand may have a chilling effect on robust political interviews."
- Polly Toynbee in the Guardian had suggested that if Gaunt had won his case it would have "let presenters rant and rail more, sliding into Foxification" of broadcast news.
- George Eaton on the New Statesman website shares Toynbee's view in a post: Jon Gaunt's defeat is a blow against a British Fox News. He notes that Kelvin MacKenzie had predicted in his Sun column a few weeks ago: "I expect my colleague and friend Jon Gaunt to win a major victory in the high court which will change the radio and TV landscape ... with broadcasters allowed to express views for the first time. They might at last be able to make money out of news (at the moment they lose a fortune), just like Fox so successfully does in the United States."
- You can read the full High Court ruling here