Liberty to support “shock jock” Jon Gaunt in battle with talkSport radio

25 November 2008

Gaunt is bringing the legal challenge after his contract as a freelance presenter with the station was terminated on 19 November, two weeks after he called 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. Gaunt admits his emotions ran high during the interview because as a child he spent two months in care following the sudden death of his mother.


In a letter sent to talkSport radio on behalf of Gaunt, Liberty Director Shami Chakrabarti said:


“…As someone who has been on the receiving end of Jon Gaunt’s blunt polemic in print and on the radio, I believe that the airwaves of a great democracy would be the poorer for his absence. I urge you to reinstate Mr Gaunt’s programme without delay and have offered him support in the unlikely and unfortunate event that recourse to the Human Rights Act proves necessary.”


Gaunt, also a columnist for the Sun newspaper, has a reputation of being a controversial figure on radio and last year received 48 individual Ofcom complaints. His controversial interview with the Redbridge Council representative took place on 7 November, followed by an investigation on 17 November by UTV Radio (talkSport’s parent company). Gaunt received a notification letter terminating his employment on 19 November.



Contact: Jen Corlew on 0207 378 3656 or 0797 3831 128


Notes to Editors


1. Jon Gaunt called Liberty Director Shami Chakrabarti the “most dangerous woman in Britain,” in his column in the Sun newspaper on June 19 2007. He frequently disparaged the human rights group on “The Jon Gaunt Show.”


2. Last month, BBC Radio Two radio presenter Russell Brand resigned and BBC TV presenter Jonathan Ross was suspended after a controversial broadcast of Brand and Ross abusing the elderly actor Andrew Sachs and disparaging his granddaughter Georgina Baillie was aired on 18 October.


3. Full text of letter from Liberty Director Shami Chakrabarti to talkSport Radio dated 24 November 2008:


“I am writing on behalf of Liberty (the National Council for Civil Liberties) in relation to the termination of Jon Gaunt’s broadcasting contract with talkSPORT and your parent company.


We understand that the grounds given for summary termination are Mr Gaunt’s on-air references to the “health Nazis” he felt responsible for banning smokers from fostering children in Redbridge. This strikes us as the most bizarre and disproportionate approach to someone who was no doubt contracted to excite political debate amongst a whole host of listeners who might not normally engage with news and current affairs programmes.


For present purposes, we make no comment on the substance of the childcare policy in question. However we must remind you that any court must read Mr Gaunt’s contract in the light of his right to free expression under Article 10 of the Human Rights Act. Whilst this is far from an absolute right (particularly in the context of broadcasting), to be meaningful it must extend to contentious as well as consensual speech and we find it hard to envisage how your actions could possibly constitute a proportionate and lawful response to the present facts.


Whilst we appreciate that recent weeks have been a delicate time for all broadcasters, we see Mr Gaunt’s case as materially different from the now notorious example of privacy intrusion and broadcast bullying that the BBC has done its best to grapple with. Further, whilst Mr Gaunt’s style may not be to everyone’s taste, it is our view that no reasonable listener could have construed his comments in context as accusing the subjects of involvement in or association with Nazism.


From a personal point of view as someone who has been on the receiving end of Jon Gaunt’s blunt polemic in print and on the radio, I believe that the airwaves of a great democracy would be the poorer for his absence. I urge you to reinstate Mr Gaunt’s programme without delay and have offered him support in the unlikely and unfortunate event that recourse to the Human Rights Act proves necessary.”