In defence of “the Oik”
Long-time readers will know that I do not have a very high opinion of Jon Gaunt, the former BBC London talk show presenter. I posted this after hearing his treatment of an NHS official who was defending the security situation at a low-security mental unit in Enfield, north London, from which a schizophrenic man who had pushed people under a train while ill had escaped (he subsequently returned of his own free will). Put simply, he sounded like a juvenile oik, haranguing a lady who knew what she was talking about when he didn’t. That post has attracted 151 comments, which makes it one of this blog’s most popular posts (of course, I know some blogs attact twice that number in a much shorter space of time).
Another telling thing was the number of new callers to the show the week after he left BBC London. After being shunted up country by the BBC, he had to leave because of a conflict of interest involving his ongoing column at the Sun, so he went to TalkSport, owned by Kelvin McKenzie, a former editor of the Sun. Now, he has been sacked from there as well, after calling a councillor in Redbridge (the borough surrounding Ilford in east London) a “Nazi” and an “ignorant pig” for supporting a ban on smokers fostering children.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I don’t believe that people like Gaunt should be allowed to run talk shows at all, because they work people up into a self-righteous frenzy with heavily biased commentary. Listening to them, you would think the whole country is made up of right-wing lunatics, but in truth, a lot of people simply cannot stand radio phone-ins, particularly those driven by loud-mouthed bully boys. This is all before you get into the limitations of the medium itself, such as the preponderance of professional drivers (because they are probably the majority of people who can listen to daytime radio, along with housewives, the unemployed, travelling salespeople and anyone who works from home), and the occasional calls from “ordinary Joes” who actually sound like they’ve been put up to it by the BNP. I do think that phone-in radio has its place, but it needs to be balanced, so that people with dissenting opinions do not feel intimidated, or just switch channels.
However, I happen to sympathise with Gaunt on this particular issue. He spent time “in care” as a child, and knows that institutions are often no fun, and certainly no substitute for a proper family in most cases. I agree, and although I have not been in a “home”, I have been in a boarding school and I know what rotten places they can be. Smoking is not a good thing, but plenty of people have been brought up by smokers, including two of my cousins, and turned out to be perfectly well-adjusted people, even if they do fall into the habit. Since we would not take children into “care” just because one or both of their parents smoke, we should not detain children in “care” because there are no willing and able foster carers available other than smokers, or spouses of smokers. (There should be some rules, though, such as that they should not smoke in the house.)
Whether that makes it acceptable to call a councillor a “nazi” is another matter, but terms like “health fascist” are part of the stock in trade in the right-wing media, so it should have been no real surprise. As I said earlier, I am not sorry to see him go, but after all the unpleasantness which he has put out over the years, I do regret that this is what it takes to finally get rid of him (and I do not think he has anywhere on radio left to go, at least immediately).
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