I am not one of those who is disappointed that Jon Gaunt has lost his legal action aginst Ofcom, which upheld complaints against him after he described a local councillor as a “Nazi” during a radio interview.
Never mind Gaunt’s opportunistic attempt to cite the Human Rights Act in his defence (there are few who have done more to demonise this law), there was simply no evidence that the ruling breached his right to free expression.
After all, it was not Ofcom that forced his departure, but his then employer, TalkSport (Gaunt now fronts the Sun’s online radio station, SunTalk). And while, in my view, Gaunt has an absolute right to free speech, he does not have an inalienable right to broadcast his opinions on national radio.
Ofcom merely ruled that Gaunt’s description of Councillor Michael Stark, who defended the local authority’s decision to ban smokers from becoming foster parents, as a “Nazi”, a “health Nazi” and an “ignorant pig” was offensive and unjustified.
But the Gaunt ruling is not just a defeat for the right-wing blowhard, it also a blow against the “Foxification” of UK news. Several tabloid journalists expressed the hope that a victory for Gaunt would clear the way for a more aggressive, opinionated form of broadcasting.
The Sun’s Kelvin MacKenzie, for instance, wrote: “In a few weeks’ time 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.”
MacKenzie added: “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.”
But the threat is not over yet. In a speech tailor-made to woo the Murdoch empire, David Cameron promised that “Ofcom as we know it will cease to exist”. So far, Cameron has shown little desire to act on this pledge, but the Gaunt case is a reminder, if needed, of why we need Ofcom.