We hold that the media has an important role in helping us to educate the public about the benefits of cycling, both personal and for the community. The media can also encourage not-yet-cyclists to become competent and safe cyclists. The media also plays an important role in publicising the difficulties faced by people who cycle and exposing the poor quality of infrastructure in our streets compared to many other countries.
We wish to see the media adopt high standards of investigative journalism in dealing with the complex issues involved.
Cycle campaigning by its very nature involves dealing with controversial topics. Proposals from any group proposing reallocation of road space and the spending of public funds on improving infrastructure involves hard political choices. Furthermore, UK law does not always protect more vulnerable road-users. Decision-makers and law-makers have to weigh up competing demands, ranging from those cycling, walking and driving, as well as landowners.
Inevitably therefore, less-skilled journalists, who are unfamiliar with the art of proper investigative journalism, will exploit this contested political space to exaggerate this situation into one of conflict. Newspapers naturally thrive on controversy in order to sell newspapers and advertising, but this can and should be achieved through provoking intelligent, evidence-based debate amongst its readership, rather than cheap conflict.
We wish to work with local and national media outlets to promote a visionary move forward for our city, rather than encourage stagnation by reinforcing movement against the status quo. This status quo is a street environment that generally works poorly for those cycling, walking and driving alike. Our city could be a leader in modern transportation, and the media should act in the interests of its readers in promoting this.
This also means that reports of people being killed and injured in motor vehicle collisions should be placed in the context of road safety research. Such reports offer gory entertainment when they should be a moment of serious reflection of how we use our roads, vehicles, speed and automotive freedom. The media could be taking an investigative lead on real road safety issues.
Principles of media engagement
In engaging with the media, we will adopt the following principles:
- We will continue to ensure our statements are based on facts that are evidence-based and that we are able to substantiate.
- We will work to develop high levels of trust between ourselves and those working in the media.
- We will encourage the media to run positive campaigns and innovative stories, meeting good standards of reporting, on issues that we are working on. The Times newspaper’s ‘Cities Safe For Cycling’ series (2012-13) is a model of good practice in this regard.
- As a democractically-run organisation working to the principles of internal consensus, run by volunteers, we often cannot give an immediate response to a request for comments or be put on the spot. We will often request a deadline for response and call or write back with our views.
- In order to deter selective quoting, statements to the press will be published in full on our website/blog. These statements may also be flagged up in our social media channels. Such publication will be sometimes be done in advance of the likely date of publication by the media concerned, where we feel this will not breach trust.
- We will act to build our own social media presence and publicity operations. The traditional print media no longer operates the monopoly it once did. The advent of social media means that practitioners of lazy, poor-quality journalism, who employ techniques such as selective quoting or re-contextualising in order to whip up controversy, will learn that such tactics will become exposed, leading to loss of trust.
- Where the intention of the media or specific journalists appears to us to be one of creating an exaggerated ‘war’ between cyclists and motorists (never mind the fact that many people who cycle also drive), we are unlikely to engage or respond. We explicitly do not expect journalists to be biased towards cycling, just that there is objectivity, appropriate balance and proper reporting.
- We will make available volunteer time to work with student and internship journalists and educate them in the issues that are often complex, without the expectation of biased reporting.
- Journalists whose history is one of failing to undertake proper investigative journalism, and instead just quoting opposing groups unthinkingly (or even not bothering to seek such views), are unlikely to see much engagement from ourselves. By way of an example demonstrating proper investigative journalism, we would expect a journalist working on a story about a decision-maker referring to ‘dangerous cyclists’ to investigate whether the activity being referenced is genuinely dangerous, not merely to look for quotes for and against. Questioning the factual basis of claims made by any party ought to be standard operation for a responsible media operation working to high quality standards.
- Where media articles fail to meet good standards of journalism, we are unlikely to help publicise them (e.g. through social media), to avoid giving such articles more publicity than is deserved.
- Where the media are continually re-reporting the same story (e.g. “Cyclists not using cycle paths a waste of taxpayer money”) in order to whip up controversy rather than report anything genuinely new, if we choose to engage, we will increasingly point such journalists to standard quotations or policies, or increasingly bland statements, as we wish to use limited volunteer time to deal with the media in a productive manner.
- Continued supply of early information to journalists will be dependent on balanced coverage meeting good standards of investigative journalism.
- As an organisation working in the public interest, it is our obligation to defend our name against those in the media who wish to misuse our statements or material we publish.
- We will be continually and actively monitoring the press with a view to contacting the Press Complaints Commission or any successor where there is undue distortion.
Naturally all these will be subject to the constraints of volunteer time.