Tuesday, 4 November 2008

London cycling fatalities and BBC News

On 21 October I emailed BBC News and asked:

Can you explain why BBC London News does not regard the killing of cyclists in the capital as newsworthy? Yesterday the ninth London cyclist to be crushed to death by a lorry this year died As far as I can tell this fatality was ignored by BBC TV London news, by the BBC news website, and by all other forms of BBC news. If this child had been stabbed to death you would have made it a major news item. But road violence in the capital, which is far greater than that resulting from terrorism or knife crime, is consistently marginalized, or, as in this case, rendered invisible by BBC News. Do please enlighten me as to why you believe BBC News is comprehensive and objective when you blank out this kind of violence.

Yesterday I received this reply:

My name is David Larner and I am the BBC Information Complaints Co-ordinator with responsibility for the BBC's English Regions therefore this matter has been escalated for my personal attention.

It is not true to say that BBC London "ignores" or "blanks out" news. As you will appreciate, with the finite resources available choosing the stories to include in our time-limited bulletins, the order in which they appear and the length of time devoted to them is a subjective matter and one which we know not every viewer and listener will feel we get right every time. Our editors have to constantly make judgements as to the most newsworthy matters to cover on any particular day where many different reports compete for limited airtime and resources and difficult choices have to be made. These choices are not an exact science but BBC News does appreciate the feedback when viewers and listeners feel we may have overlooked a story.

On the subject of cyclist deaths involving lorries, this is a topic which BBC London has covered and indeed just this morning BBC London News reported the launch of a new safety campaign by the Metropolitan Police and Transport for London to highlight the number of fatal accidents between lorries and cyclists. Within this item, we reported that Officers are to stage a demonstration during rush hour, that eleven cyclists have died on London's roads so far this year and that some 80% of fatal cycling accidents are those involving lorries.
I hope this helps to not only explain the background but also that this is an issue which BBC London takes very seriously. I can only apologise if you personally feel a wrong editorial choice was made on this occasion in not reporting a particular incident.

Yours sincerely
David Larner Complaints Co-ordinator BBC Information

My response to this is that Mr Larner does not seek to deny that BBC News failed to report this death. As far as I am aware BBC News has also failed to report every other cycling death in London this year. At the same time it has reported every knife murder in London this year.

What is ‘news’ is indeed subjective. And I continue to find it revealing that BBC News repeatedly fails to report cycling deaths, whereas it finds space for utterly trivial stories which demonise cyclists. For example, Angry cyclist in bookshop rampage (which is local newspaper material, and not something that merits a slot on the national news).

Next time BBC News fails to report the death of a cyclist in London, email them and challenge their standard of reporting. You could also ask them to stop referring to road crashes by that blame-reducing term 'accidents'.