Legal office for human rights group Liberty, who backed Jon Gaunt’s high court appeal against an Ofcom ruling that said he breached the broadcasting code, argues on Index on Censorship that the high court’s decision was not a complete loss for the “shock jock”.
Gaunt lost his appeal against the industry regulator, which censured him last year for calling local councillor Michael Stark a “health nazi” in an interview about children in care.
Corrina Ferguson from Liberty says the high court has laid down some important principles with regards to freedom of expression, but failed to follow its own rules:
It is difficult to understand why calling someone a Nazi once (and in a measured tone) could be deserving of the highest protection as political speech, but saying it again with more force is not protected at all. There are of course limits on free speech and it would be nonsensical to protect absolutely one person’s right to speak freely when it would have a grave impact on the rights of others – incitement to murder being an obvious example. But there is no right not to be offended.
It is very much hoped that this aspect of the judgment will be improved upon in the Court of Appeal. There is a real danger that allowing the regulator to intervene in this type of case will have chilling effect on robust political interviews. The Human Rights Act protects shock jocks as much as flagship political commentators and free speech is no more worthy with extra syllables.