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Gotcha! Triumphalism in The Sunday Times

What lovely people they must be at The Sunday Times, gleefully proclaiming a ‘victory’ for motorists after recent research showed that the numbers of cyclists on the roads was falling sharply – the declining numbers said to be due in no small part to the fact that an increasing number of riders feel intimidated by the speed and aggression of motorists.

            Small wonder cyclists feel that way. Other recent surveys show that as many as a third of motorists do not even regard cyclists as ‘people’ with as many as one in ten motorists admitting to deliberately trying to cut up cyclists on the roads, steering directly into them or trying to pass as close as possible in order to frighten and intimidate. The effect of this bullying – and its all too often lethal consequences – that of monstering cyclists off the roads, is a good thing, according to The Sunday Times; A Victory for Motorists.

             The kindest thing one can say about a piece of crap journalism like this is that it is unprofessional, biased and ill-considered, and not the sort of thing that would pass muster on any reputable publication, and least not in the days when journalism was a respectable profession; certainly it would ever have slipped passed the editors or copy editors of any the newspapers or magazines for which I have ever worked.

            Indeed the reportage is so crass it is hard to know just where to begin, but lets choose the use of the loaded term ‘victory’ as a starting point. For there to be a victory there needs to be a contest, a campaign or even a war, as is the implication in this story – and a war with very real casualties too, virtually all of them on one side. Indeed were one to report on a battle in which one side suffered scores of casualties, horrific injuries, killed and wounded, while the other side – heavily armoured and with overwhelming force – suffered nary a scratch, ‘massacre’ might be the term one would use rather than ‘victory’ and triumphalism in the reportage would rightly be considered to be in extremely poor taste. One thinks of the infamous ‘Gotcha’ headline during the Falklands War.

            Let’s look past that the loaded phrasing and triumphalism for a moment and look at the larger social question. Should the relationship between various road users be characterised as a war in the first place? Is that not rather inflammatory? I guess it comes down to how the editors of The Sunday Times see their roles and the role of journalism – should it be to present balanced coverage, strive for social justice and speaking up for the underdog, or is it to play agent provocateur and pour oil on troubled flames? Someone should remind them that motorists and cyclists both have a perfectly legitimate enshrined right to be on the roads. That vulnerable road users fear for the lives and are increasingly staying home, declining to exercise their rights because they don’t dare is nothing to celebrate. It’s precisely the kind of injustice the noblest of newspaper editors used to campaign against – and should be all the more so today with climate change and carbon emissions being the big news stories of the day.