BBC apologises as smokers campaign for Jon Gaunt

Smokers’ lobby group Forest has won an apology from BBC Radio Northampton after a presenter compared smokers to alcoholics.

Bob Walmsley, host of the station’s consumer affairs programme, was discussing Redbridge Council’s decision to ban smokers from fostering – the same topic that saw Sun columnist Jon Gaunt sacked from Talksport yesterday for calling a councillor a Nazi.

The apology was made by Walmsley 48 hours after an interview last week with Forest spokesman Neil Rafferty.

During the interview Walmsley compared placing a child with foster parents who smoke to placing a child with alcoholics and said that smokers were unfit parents.

Walmsley told listeners: “I gave an opinion comparing alcoholics to smokers. This was an unfair comparison to make and if this has caused offence I am genuinely sorry about that. It was not my intention.”

Rafferty said: “We’re more than happy for presenters to play devil’s advocate but Bob Walmsley crossed the line and exposed his own prejudice. His statements were ill-informed and offensive to smokers across the country.

“I welcome his apology and the fact that BBC Northampton dealt with our complaint so promptly and efficiently. But sadly, in my experience, too many BBC local radio presenters are breaching the corporation’s editorial rules on impartiality, particularly when it comes to the controversial issues surrounding tobacco. They are using licence payers’ money to further the anti-smoking agenda and that is not acceptable.”

Forest is petitioning for the reinstatement of Gaunt, who was sacked yesterday following a remark he made on 7 November to Redbridge councillor Michael Stark in a heated discussion about plans to ban smokers from becoming foster parents when he called Stark an ‘ignorant pig’and a Nazi.

Gaunt issued an on air apology following the Nazi slur, and claimed he meant to say ‘health Nazi”.

In a letter to the station director of Forest Simon Clark said that whilst he doesn’t condone Gaunt’s ‘heat-of-the-moment Nazi jibe’he points out that it is a term that can be misconstrued.

He said: ‘In the context of this particular discussion, however, it is clear that it was used as shorthand for ‘health Nazi’ (or ‘health fascist’) which is a fairly common expression these days, and was not intended to be anything more sinister.”

Gaunt has said that he is considering legal action following his dismissal. In a statement yesterday he said that 48 complaints were made against him last year to Ofcom, none of which were upheld, which has left him “bemused” as to the station’s decision to sack him.

“They [Ofcom complaints] were celebrated by TalkSport who issued a press release congratulating me for being the most controversial presenter in the country.

“I am particularly disappointed by their decision when I apologised for the incident to both the audience and the councillor. The councillor has accepted my apology and agrees that we all need to focus on the bigger picture.”

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