When we heard last week that Channel 5 was airing a documentary tomorrow evening called Cyclists: Scourge Of The Streets, we feared the worst – after all, advance publicity for the show said that it would examine a so-called “war of the wheels.” An article by Guardian journalist Peter Walker today, who has seen the programme in advance of its TV screening, confirms we were right to be apprehensive.
Walker doesn’t pull his punches in his assessment of the show, calling it “undoubtedly the worst, most scaremongering, inaccurate, downright irresponsible programme on cycling I’ve ever seen.”
He says it “is, in effect, 45 minutes of hatred, misinformation and outgrouping against people who just happen to sometimes use two wheels to get about.”
As we pointed out last week, it’s not the first time that a televised ‘documentary’ has tried to sensationalise the perceived conflict between road users on bikes and those in motor vehicles – the BBC’s 2012 programme, The War On Britain’s Roads, being perhaps the most well-known example.
According to Walker, though, this is even more unbalanced – “uniquely damaging,” as he puts it, with “the overall tone is shockingly hostile and provocative” and the only balance provided by PC Mark Hodson of West Midlands Police, who helped pioneer its award winning close pass initiative.
His wide-ranging criticism of the programme, made by Firecracker Films, falls under a number of headings.
Cyclists are portrayed as an outgroup, the narration of the documentary is “openly hostile and aggressive,” once again there is the reinforcement of the misconception of some kind of “war” between different road users, and too much of the show is given over to people “openly hostile” to cyclists – in particular, London cab drivers, as well as the self-styled ‘Mr Loophole’ lawyer Nick Freeman.
The latter, you may recall, went for a bike ride around London with so-called ‘cycling vigilante’ Dave Sherry – besides PC Hodson, the only person appearing in the documentary to put things from a cyclist’s perspective, and whom Walker says “seems almost as fervent a self-publicist and irritant as Freeman, often delighting in the furious reaction of motorists.”
The lack of balance also results in some myths about cycling going unchallenged (it’s possible, of course, that organisations representing cyclists may have been approached to contribute to the programme but, given past experience of such shows, declined to participate – we know of at least one campaigner who was approached but did not take part).
We’ll watch the programme ourselves tomorrow evening when it airs at 9.15pm and bring you our reaction – and more – on Wednesday.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.