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UK Regulator Says Speed Camera Criticism Violates Broadcast Rules
UK broadcast regulator Ofcom finds station broke rules by allowing radio host to refer to speed camera operators as maggots.

Graham Mack
Britain's broadcast regulator found a radio station in breach of licensing rules after a local personality criticized speed cameras on the air. Graham Mack, at the time the morning host on Bob FM, triggered government officials on May 4 by referring to speed camera operators as "maggots" while questioning the motives of photo enforcement officials.

"There's no such thing as free speech in Britain," Mack wrote on Twitter after learning of the Ofcom ruling on August 28. "The thought police strike again."

UK cameras generate 2 million tickets worth £200 million (US $260 million) each year. While discussing the program during the May 4 program, a caller referenced a particularly sneaky tactic used by a photo radar van operator to maximize the number of tickets issued. Mack responded by giving his opinion on the issue.

"[The speed camera operators sits] in the back of a van, catching hard-working, tax-paying people who are on their way to work to earn their living, to take their place in society, to make a bit of a difference, to you know, help the economy of this country so they can earn a living to put a roof over their head and pay taxes," Mack said. "Those are the people that this maggot thinks are criminals and is giving them tickets for going a little bit over the speed limit."

The Hertford-based radio station defended the former host's remarks as a "tongue in cheek" exchange that reflected the views of listeners in an entertaining way. It was the caller who referred on air to the camera operator as a "scumbag," and the host played off that remark.

"We had one the other day, he was a maggot in a van and kept catching innocent people but he didn't put his signs up," Mack said. "If there are no signs up, they are not allowed to nick you... It's just a revenue generating thing... If it was about road safety, they would be nicking all the idiots on the road. But they're not doing that, they're nicking people that are going about their business, going to work."

This exchange was found to be a breach of Rule 2.3 of the code of conduct for broadcasters, which governs the use of offensive material on-air.

"In Ofcom's view, the language used in this segment was critical and derogatory and had the potential to cause offense," the agency ruled. "In our view the repeated derogatory language and the suggestion that the operators' sole purpose was to generate revenue, rather than ensure road safety, amounted to considerable criticism and hostility. In addition, the language and criticism were reiterated and endorsed by the presenter without any challenge. For these reasons, Ofcom considered that this item was likely to have exceeded listeners' expectations."

Mack left Bob FM in August to become the program director at Fix Radio in London.

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