The BBC documentary "War on Britain's Roads" is a serious contender for the most sensational and irresponsible piece of journalism of the year. The programme makers appear to have never heard of such quaint notions as balance and objectivity.
Last night the BBC broadcast its controversial documentary, War on Britain's Roads. The programme makers, Leopard Films, in a blatant attempt to sensationalise a serious issue, constructed cyclists and motorists as two warring tribes, engaged in a life and death struggle.
In order to achieve this construal of cyclists and motorists as warring tribes, the programme relies heavily on YouTube videos and comments. The approach completely ignores the rather mundane observation that the Internet is full of exaggerated positions, hyperbole, empty rhetoric and downright falsehoods. Anyone relying on YouTube videos and comments for their view of the world will inevitably end up misconstruing it, as the programme all too clearly demonstrates.
The so called documentary stereotypes cyclists as irresponsible, reckless and criminal, a danger to themselves and everyone around them. The programme takes anti-cyclist sentiments and presents them as though they were unchallengeable axioms. When a London taxi driver tells the viewer about cyclists jumping red lights, it is presented as though motorists and pedestrians never ignore traffic signals. Such selective bias is a hallmark of the propagandist.
Footage from a six year old commercial film by the American documentary maker Lucas Brunelle of cycle messengers racing through the streets of London is presented as though it were normal cycling behaviour. Such footage bears as much relation to the behaviour of ordinary cyclists as a car chase sequence from an action movie does to the driving of ordinary motorists. This single piece of de-contextualised misrepresentation in itself completely negates any claim to genuine journalism.
Worse still, the programme represents cycling as though it is inherently dangerous. This is simply false, as the statistics all too clearly show. However, the documentary is as light on facts and as it is heavy on emotive images and language. Hardly any statistical data is represented, and that which is mentioned is provided without the context that would render it meaningful. The fact is cyclists live longer than comparable non-cyclists, and that includes traffic injuries. If cycling was inherently dangerous, the statistics would be reversed.
Yet, in response to criticism, the BBC claims the documentary is "fair and balanced". A spokesperson for the BBC said: "The programme is intended to be a serious examination of the relationship between cyclists and other road users." Nothing could be more false. The documentary is a worthy heir of the work of Leni Riefenstahl.