A radio presenter sacked after calling a Conservative councillor a “Nazi” and an “ignorant pig” live on air has launched a High Court action today over his right to free speech.
Sun columnist Jon Gaunt, who made the comments on his Talksport radio show in November 2008, is seeking to challenge a decision by Ofcom that upheld complaints against him under the Broadcasting Code.
The case arises out of an interview by Gaunt with councillor Michael Stark about Redbridge Council’s decision to ban smokers from becoming foster parents.
Stark defended the decision on the grounds that the welfare of young children should be put ahead of the needs of foster families.
But Gaunt, who was in care as a child, accused his interviewee of being a “Nazi” and an “ignorant pig” and also a “health Nazi”, arguing that children in care would be deprived of the chance of finding a foster home under the new policy.
At the end of the show, Gaunt made an on-air apology to his guest but was then suspended pending an investigation. Talksport later announced that it had terminated his contract.
Gaunt is seeking a judicial review claiming his fundamental right to free speech and to criticise a professional politician has been infringed by Ofcom’s findings.
His lawyers describe the case as “ground breaking”, saying it will be the “first time that a known media personality has brought a direct legal challenge against Ofcom for stifling his rights to free speech during a live broadcast”.
In a statement, 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.
“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.
“If I lose my case today, then it will be a sad day for our society.
“It means that no matter how poor our politicians are, they can expect Ofcom to protect them from the scrutiny and the words used by any radio or TV presenter.”
His solicitor, Martin Howe, said: “This is a constitutionally important case. Freedom of the press and media is axiomatic to modern democracy, and Britain proudly boasts the longest standing democracy in the Western world.
“With an election looming and with our political leaders going head to head with presenters, it is crucial that the media has a free rein to test and probe without looking over its shoulder to the bureaucrats at Ofcom.
“Freedom of speech is at the heart of Britain. Britain without free speech would be akin to Britain without cricket and the Archers. It runs in our veins. It defines us.”
Human Rights group Liberty intervened in the case because of its wider importance to free speech.
Director Shami Chakrabarti said that Gaunt’s job “is fierce debate” on the radio, adding: “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.”