Monday 11 February 2013

The Bias of Newsnight Scotland

You may have noticed from my previous blog post I was a little angry. You'd be right. I was angry with Keith Brown and his governments inability to understand what modernisation should really mean for Scotland, and that they are probably going to try backtracking on their target (or non-target) to get 10% of journeys made by bike by 2020. Turns out that he is in disagreement with Nicola Sturgeon on the issue of vision/targets. It would appear to be a target after all. It will be interesting to see how that pans out....

For anyone who has watched the Newsnight programme (if that link no longer works you can see it here), you will understand that my anger was not restricted to Keith. It was after the Amsterdam item finished that the presenter of Newnight, Gordon Brewer introduced two guests Chris Oliver of CTC Scotland, and Alan Douglas, an ex-presenter, newspaper features writer and car/driving enthusiast..

Both Brewer and Douglas appeared to be very anti-cyclist (that was the appearance, the underlying reality may be different)

First let me deal with Brewer. When you are the programme presenter, is it not your job to enable the debate, help drive it forward, but stay neutral? Is that correct? Isn't it also the presenters job to be well informed on the debates he is hosting?

Yet, Brewer goes into a long winded attack during the debate on how we've all missed something and that it rains all the time here, there are gales, a different climate, oh and we have hills. All this aimed at Oliver, who understandably was a little surprised by this approach.

So was Brewer informed? No.

Brewer had one last chance for revision had he actually watched the Amsterdam item. I suspect that Brewer was in fact having a wee natter with Douglas at the time, as he failed to miss one glaring problem with this line of was bl**dy cold and wet when I was filming in Amsterdam! So much so that by the end of the shooting, the cameraman couldn't feel his fingers, I was starting to loose the feeling in my fingers (and I had thick gloves on), David Miller's trousers were soaked through and Gerrit, our Dutch guide was visibly shivering!

To be fair, we had been cycling around for a good few hours, and most folk in Amsterdam would not have be cycling for that long at any one time, so we were a special case.......but that's the point. During my time cycling around in the cold and the rain I saw hundreds and hundreds of cyclists cycling around, without film crews following them. They were using their bikes, despite it actually being colder there than it was in Glasgow that day. I've got plenty of helmet camera footage to prove this, which I'll edit when I get a chance.

There is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes! The people of Amsterdam had the right clothes.

As for hills, well, it just so happens that the the two closest and cheapest cities to get to from Glasgow were Copenhagen and Amsterdam, so when the BBC wanted to organise a trip these were the two options offered.  I'd have been more than happy, perhaps happier if we went elsewhere. Switzerland and Austria aren't known for being particularly flat and tropical and yet they both have several areas where cycling modal share is at or above 15% (see here for out of date and thus probably low figures). Hilly, doesn't put people off cycling, safety does.

So it would seem that research is something that Brewer does not do before asking daft questions, and that he's not one for neutrality.

Now onto Douglas.

Let's face it, Douglas made some controversial comments. He suggested that cyclists don't use the 'wonderful' facilities provided for them, and that 'plenty' of money has and is already being spent on cycling. He also asked a question, do we want more cycle lanes at the expense of nurses etc...He wasn't holding any punches.

What is my response?

Let's talk.

I invited Douglas to meet with me for a chat about his thoughts and feelings on the subject and he accepted. I'm hoping he will explain the reasoning behind his comments. I will also take him for a look at some of the 'infrastructure' that I am expected to use on a daily basis. I'll explain to him why I often chose not to use it. It will be interesting to hear and see his response.

I'll be meeting him over the weekend, and then I'll share my thoughts on our meeting here on this blog. I'll also offer Douglas to post a guest blog here too. He may or may not chose to do so.

I've been sharing the Mind of Helmet Camera Cyclist here for a good few years now. Perhaps it is now time to see if we can understand the Mind of Cycling Sceptical Driver 


  1. You're right that the approach of the BBC presenter was more troubling than that of Douglas, who was, of course, brought in to provide an opposing argument.

    Not just Brewer's repeated non-point about it 'raining all the time' (strong evidence that he hadn't even been watching the clip, as you suggest). He didn't challenge Douglas with a tough question, at any point.

    Bizarrely he even turns to Douglas and says, by way of a question, 'what about this argument [from cycle campaigners] that we have to spend a fortune?'

    Interesting wording for someone who should be impartial. It's not a 'fortune', relative to the overall transport budget. Only someone who is predisposed to view cycling as a minor mode of transport would refer to that size of investment in such a way.

  2. I tweeted Douglas several times with what little evidence I had at hand that contradicted what he had said. I didn't think he had been particularly rude about bikes, just bloody ignorant.

    People like Brewer and Douglas like to preach about what they experience at the end of their nose, but the truth often extends further out than that, as we have all seen in Europe.

    Its almost like a childish tantrum, the way some reject cycling as an option just because of the cold, the wet or a hill. I also tweeted Douglas some videos of Netherlands riders in the rain and the cold.

    Douglas failed to reply. I take it because I am from the South that its just a little too far from the tip of his nose for him to notice.

  3. The BBC should really be renamed the British Preservation of the Status Quo Broadcasting Corporation as time and time again they come down in favour of the motorist in any cycling debate. Maybe it's because they make so much money selling Top Gear to every country in the world?