Auntie’s Bloomers Update

After my previous post about the BBC East Midlands Today ‘road tax’ debacle, I decided to submit an abridged version. Today I received a response, which I reads like it has been sent out to everyone who submitted a similar complaint.

Dear Dr [C.]

Thank you for contacting us regarding ‘East Midlands Today’ from 12 April on BBC One.

We understand you felt the report on the death of Karl Austin following a collision with an HGV was biased against cyclists.

We have forwarded your concerns to Kevin Hill, Assistant Editor for ‘East Midlands Today’. He has replied as follows:

“Thank you for contacting us about our story involving Karl Austin who was killed while taking part in a time trial on the A50 in Derbyshire. I was producing East Midlands Today on that day and I’d like to offer some background information which should give you a fuller picture of our decisions.

“In the light of recent deaths, the sole purpose of the interview was to discuss the use of busy main roads for cycling time-trials and every question was asked in that context. Many people have judged the entire interview on one selective clip posted on several internet sites including YouTube.

“In that clip our presenter puts forward a common criticism many motorists have of cyclists that since they don’t pay “Road Tax” how do they justify using the highway? “Road Tax” was a colloquial reference to Vehicle Excise Duty. With hindsight we accept the question should have been phrased more carefully. It would have been better to ask: “Many motorists will say they’re taxed to drive their car and they’re not allowed to race on the roads – why should cyclists?

“The interviewee – John Stewart – was given the time to correct the misconceptions about “Road Tax”, pointing out that the tax no longer exists, that VED doesn’t pay for road maintenance and that cyclists pay all sorts of other taxes.

“You may not be aware that this was the second time we had reported on Karl’s death. On March 6, the lorry driver accused of careless driving pleaded guilty when he appeared before Derby Magistrates. In that night’s programme we carried a report on the case, then followed it with a studio interview about the growing demands for greater safety measures to protect cyclists. I believe this sequence put the issue of cycling safety into context for our viewers. It also painted a picture of Karl as a talented, experienced cyclist who would be deeply missed by his family and friends.

“On April 12, we featured a report about the sentence given to the lorry driver who caused Karl’s death. This was followed by an interview with Mr Stewart, who organised and took part in the time trial in which Karl was killed. The reason for looking at this subject was simple: many people are just unaware that time trials can be held on almost any public road. At a time when there are high-profile calls for greater safety for cyclists – as discussed at length in our March 6 programme – the idea of using a dual carriageway for a timed race appears to be contradictory.

“I have re-examined all our coverage of this story including the interview with Mr Stewart and I don’t believe it was an aggressive line of questioning. It was certainly challenging but Mr Stewart responded calmly and robustly. I do not agree with those people who have accused us of insulting Karl’s memory. On two separate occasions, our court reporters have carefully explained that Mr Austin loved his sport, was highly-regarded as a competitor and would be missed by his family. We have remained in contact with Mr Austin’s widow and father and I will be talking to them again over the next few days to discuss any concerns they may have had over our latest coverage.”

We hope this allays your concerns, thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

Kind Regards

BBC Complaint

It is depressing to see the ‘colloquialism’ excuse being rolled out so quickly. Wikipedia defines a colloquialism as:

A colloquialism is a word, phrase, or paralanguage that is employed in conversational or informal language but not in formal speech or academic writing.

Which to me suggests that it should not be used in a news programme, at least not by the presenters. However, a colloquialism is not really the same as referring to something by a misleading name. ‘Road tax’ isn’t a colloquialism, it is a misnomer which is designed to make a link between a tax and a service which simply doesn’t exist.

In that clip our presenter puts forward a common criticism many motorists have of cyclists that since they don’t pay “Road Tax” how do they justify using the highway? “Road Tax” was a colloquial reference to Vehicle Excise Duty. With hindsight we accept the question should have been phrased more carefully. It would have been better to ask: “Many motorists will say they’re taxed to drive their car and they’re not allowed to race on the roads – why should cyclists?

To infer the latter meaning from the actual line of questioning would require a hell of a lot of reading between the lines. Even the corrected question doesn’t need to be asked because the answer is obvious; people racing on bikes are still travelling more slowly and pose less danger than typical motorists do when not racing. Whilst I have no particular interest in sport cycling, it seems to me to be a much less frivolous use of our ‘busy main roads’ than motorists driving unhindered for a distance of a quarter of a mile to buy milk. Not to mention much, much less dangerous to others.

It is also a shame that the BBC refers to those participating in a specific type of cycle-sport as ‘cyclists.’ The combination of creating a link between paying VED and a greater sense of entitlement to the road, whilst framing all cycling as some kind of frivolous leisure activity serves only to increase the strength of the motoring lobby’s position. It also endangers cyclists on the road by creating the idea of the hard-pressed motorist who pays for the roads being inconvenienced by ‘tax-dodging cyclists’ who are ‘only on the road for sport’ in the minds of its viewers.

Will the BBC now be willing to entertain all spurious links between specific taxes and services? Shall I look forward to watching smokers complain about tax-dodging non-smokers borrowing the books they wanted from the library? Perhaps it will have to wait until the tobacco lobby has spent a few decades using the phrase ‘library tax’ in their advertising unchallenged by the relevant authorities.

The BBC has acknowledged the gross factual error in the programme, but has not offered to make a correction on air. Instead, either deliberately or not, it has used public funding to further the goals of the motoring lobby and to contribute to a lie which at best encourages a SMIDGAF attitude in motorists and at worse leads to a culture in which the sorts of assaults and intimidation we have all experienced or heard of from fellow cyclists are allowed to proliferate.

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8 thoughts on “Auntie’s Bloomers Update

  1. Just think you’re a little too critical of the Beeb. If every error of theirs is greeted with “They’re using public money …” then we play into the hands of the Murdoch / Sky brigade. (Don’t get me started on many cyclists’ uncritical admiration of Sky for putting money into getting their logo all over the GB team’s kit.)

    • In general I am a big admirer of the BBC and I enjoy much of it’s output, some of which wouldn’t be possible if we only had commercial TV. However, the issue of misrepresenting a tax on vehicle pollution as a payment for the use of the roads is something which keeps coming up again and again on various BBC programmes, including yesterday on a radio segment on Addison Lee where Carlton Reid was a guest. Perhaps they are merely choosing to reflect the level of prejudice and/or ignorance amongst the general public with regards to cyclists, but I would expect a public broadcaster in particular to not act against the public interest and against the safety of a nullified minority in this way. I have a problem with the attitude the BBC has repeatedly shown to people who just want to get around on a bike, not the institution itself.

  2. I don’t expect accuracy or quality from the BBC’s news dept.

    The corporation is overwhelmingly a mass market manufacturer of junk TV and pop music radio like Eastenders, Car Booty, Top Gear and the Chris Moyles show, and its tabloid style news service is aimed at the same uncritical and gullible people who enjoy this rubbish.

    I quite like having a TV in my home, mainly so I can watch football on Sky. I’d cancel my BBC subscription if I could without getting a fine and a criminal record from the state for declining to pay for its broadcasters grim output.

    It’s annoying to have to pay the state to feed the masses the rubbish that the BBC makes, but what can you do?

  3. While I would happily pay the licence fee just to have any programmes which involved David Attenborough as well as to listen to most output from Radio 4 and the World Service.

    Our personal tastes are not the point though Pete. The said reporting is sloppy and creates the wrong impression. Challenging it is to be applauded.

    • I’ve no objection with anyone happily paying the licence fee.

      I just don’t think everyone should be forced to pay it.

      We don’t live in the 1950s. Encryption of the BBC is entirely possible.

      I find the BBC to be mainly a provider of junk TV and radio to the mass market.

      Should the state be funding huge amounts of junk TV at the same time as claiming it is worried about the obesity crisis and wants us all to get out and exercise more by cycling and running etc?

      While the state ensures the funding of a mega-large junk broadcaster to the tune of £3.5 billion per year, encouraging mass couch-potatodom, we cannot really take any of its half-hearted public health campaigns very
      seriously.

      • You’re the couch potato, Pete! You said you just wanted to watch football on Sky! Get a life, get a bike, cycle to you local football team and watch live football!

        • I cycle about 8000 miles per year, and I’m as fit a fiddle at 52.

          This is not incompatible with watching football on Sky.

          I’ve also been a season ticket holder at Maine Rd and COMS for the last 28 years, and have watched City for 46 years. The vast majority of those matches I cycled to, and now only go by car as my 81 yr old dad can only cycle short distances and not the full 10 miles to the stadium.

          As for the BBC, we cannot expect too much from it as cyclists. It needs to keep the licence fee popular with the broad mass of the public to ensure they’ll continue to pay it without any bother.

          And as cycling is such a minority activity in the UK that means the BBC isn’t really interested.

        • Apologies, Pete! When I re-read my comment it does appear rude; sorry!

          Gosh! 8,000 miles is easily twice my annual mileage. You’re a younger man though (I’m well into my bus pass). I’m a season-ticket holder at Northampton Town and, like you, I cycle to home matches.

          I wonder if you visited Sixfields, home of the Cobblers, on the only occasion City played here. It was the one season you were down in the third tier. Finished 2 – 2 and you equalised in the dying moments through Shaun Goater. Hats off if you cycled here from Manchester!

          I was at the Etihad Stadium last Sunday morning as part of the Brompton 2012 World Championship Launch Event. After a happy hour on the track at the Velodrome and then a breakfast, we pedalled off on a roundabout route to the city centre with the first photo opportunity here: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=423152537713974&set=a.420207701341791.111680.133884966640734&type=3&theater

          As for Sky, I never watch it! Partly because I don’t like the idea of handing over money to the Murdochs but mainly because I’ve never seen the point of watching football when you don’t support one of the teams playing. As I was born in Aberdeen, married a wife from Sunderland, and have lived in Northampton for 27 years, you’ll see that the three teams I follow have meant living a life of suffering. And don’t tell me about the international giant that is Scotland! But it’s proper football and I can’t see the point of watching the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea on Sky.

          Back to cycling – when I go to support the Cobblers this afternoon v Gillingham, I’ll go on my Brompton which the stewards allow me to take into the ground! My experience for the home-to-match journey is car slowest, bus better, Brompton fastest.

          Anyway, forgive me for rambling on (and I seek Dr C’s forgiveness too) but hats off to you and I’ll keep a sneaky eye on Monday evening’s score! Best wishes!

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