Sunday, 26 August 2018

The day that the BBC threw Geraint Thomas under the bus

The story goes that recent changes to the IR35 rules governing individuals working as limited companies came about after a senior civil servant lost an argument with a contractor about an IT project. Supposedly, new legislation impacting on the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people was conceived out of revenge for being embarrassed in front of his staff.

Maybe that's an urban myth, maybe it's the truth, maybe it's a bit of both... but it came back to me earlier when I read on the BBC News that Geraint Thomas had "called for helmets to be made compulsory for all cyclists in the UK".

Whilst I don't agree that compulsory helmet laws are a good idea (Chris Boardman explains why far better than I can here), I do have some sympathy for Geraint.  He is getting so much abuse on Twitter today that his name was a trending topic in the UK for four straight hours.  From the comments on the BBC Tweet of their own article, I somehow doubt that's because people were reading the article behind the paywall at the Sunday Times.

The article on the interview he gave to the Sunday Times Magazine is 37 paragraphs long.  In it he talks about his relatively late ascension to the top of his sport, how he is having to adjust to his new fame, riding the 2013 Tour with a fractured pelvis, winning gold at consecutive Olympics, missing his wife, wanting to start a family... even his views on Brexit.  And then there's this:
"I’ve never ridden a bike in London, apart from in a race. I’ve watched from a taxi and it does seem a bit crazy. I would certainly make helmets compulsory. I always wear a helmet, I’ve put on a helmet more times than I’ve buckled a seatbelt. Helmets have come on a lot — well ventilated, not too hot, you don’t look stupid — no reason not to."
That's it.  That one paragraph.  One paragraph out of 37.  Hardly a "call" for new legislation as the BBC reports, more an unplanned, off-the-cuff answer to an unexpected question during an hour-long interview.

It seems strange that the BBC has chosen to limit their summary of this interview to only this one section... not even a mention of Geraint Thomas (winner of the Tour de France, three times World Champion, and winner of two Olympic Golds) saying that he feels like a European and didn't want Brexit.  You'd think that would be a fairly big story for a newly minted 'National Treasure'.

Except no, it's not that odd for the BBC at all.

"Cyclists. Why are they scum and how do we control them?" is a fairly regular topic of discussion for the BBC's many and varied local radio phone-in shows.  Of course, I'm paraphrasing for effect... except no, I'm not really.

This was BBC Radio Scotland last week:

As the Tweet says, that was their topic on Cycle to Work Day... a day intended to promote the benefits of cycling, and they decided to have a phone-in to talk about being startled by cyclists on the pavement.

A week earlier and it was BBC Cambridgeshire asking for views on the frustration caused by cyclists on the roads:

It's not a new bias for the BBC either. The author and journalist Peter Walker has written about it several times over the years (Why does the BBC feel it's okay to demonise cyclists? and The BBC has a problem with cyclists and it doesn't want to talk about it to link to just two).

Sustrans lodged a formal complaint with the BBC in 2017 over a TV show which included anti-cycling bias that they described as "highly offensive and potentially dangerous". The BBC's lacklustre response is in the link.

So when I saw the outrage directed at Geraint Thomas this morning I clicked like on a couple of the wittier responses, then I read the actual interview instead of relying on the BBC's interpretation.

Because if one embarrassed civil servant can change tax law to win an argument, is it really so inconceivable to think that an angry exchange between a BBC Executive and the cyclist they've just close passed on their morning commute could ultimately lead to an editorial decision to throw Geraint Thomas under the proverbial bus?


EDIT: Predictably proving the point, Radio Wales are having a phone-in tomorrow morning to discuss compulsory cycle helmets.

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