Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Sticks and Stones can break my bones, but only words can hurt me

Today's media outrage involves award-winning TalkSport radio presenter Jon Gaunt.

During a recent broadcast Gaunt called a councillor a Nazi, during a heated live on-air debate about Redbridge council's plans to not allow smokers to foster children.

Gaunt had meant to call the interviewee a 'health nazi' apparently, and did apologise on-air.

However, the damage has been done and following complaints he has now been suspended, pending an investigation.

We spend a great deal of time in Media Studies deconstructing language and its uses. We examine how a range of texts, both word-based and moving image, can and might be interpreted or mis-construed by different audience segments.

The Gaunt saga is proof, if proof were needed, that the pen/spoken word/choice image will always be more powerful than the sword.

Broadcasters in particular are governed by more stringent laws regarding what can and can't be said. To break the rules of taste and decency, especially in an age of heightened sensitivity, seems to be leading to ever more severe consequences.

The libertarians, of course, find this a tricky one. We can keep arguing that the right to free speech means the right to say whatever the hell we like. Although, as MPs debated in Parliament yesterday, there needs to be some balance in British broadcasting between what is populist and what is gratuitous.

It's a never-ending merry-go-round of lunge and parry, as advocates on both sides of the debate aim to make their justifications, either for renewed censorship, or unrestricted freedom of expression.

The best way foward lies somewhere between the two. In the light of the whole Brand/Ross fiasco, it does seem like a sense of perspective has, perplexingly, been lost.

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