BBC show Newsnight Scotland accused of anti-cycling bias in studio discussion

Head of Sustrans Scotland crticises remarks by BBC programme's presenter

by Simon_MacMichael   February 12, 2013  

Amsterdam Bicycles (Jorge Royan, Wikimedia Commons)

The head of Sustrans in Scotland has criticised Newsnight Scotland, and presenter Gordon Brewer in particular, for showing what he terms “a clear bias against cyclists” and failure “to steer a balanced debate” in an edition of the programme broadcast last Thursday which looked at whether Scotland could learn lessons from the Netherlands when it came to cycling.

John Lauder, the sustainable transport charity’s national director for Scotland, also took the broadcaster to task for its choice of guest, Alan Douglas, a motoring journalist who contributes to BBC TV and Radio Scotland and the Scotsman newspaper, among others.

The actual report on Newsnight Scotland (available on iPlayer), in which BBC journalist David Miller looks at how the Dutch have managed to achieve such high levels of cycling isn’t itself the cause of contention.

The report included contributions from Mr Lauder himself and Scottish Transport Minister Keith Brown, who is planning to visit the Netherlands to learn about the Dutch approach to cycling first hand.

It also featured Dr Dave Brennan, one of the organisers of last April’s Pedal on Parliament ride, which will be repeated on Saturday 18 May, who was accompanied by the BBC on a trip to Amsterdam to study Dutch infrastructure.

It’s the studio discussion afterwards that has provoked Mr Lauder’s ire, however.

It began with Chris Oliver of CTC Scotland outlining how much catching up Scotland had to do with countries such as the Netherlands in terms of cycling provision, calling for 5 per cent of the national transport budget to be given over to two wheels.

In a letter published in The Herald, Mr Lauder outlined his criticism of the reaction to the report and Mr Oliver’s comments by the presenter, who seemed to view Amsterdam as having a Mediterranean climate compared to Edinburgh, and Mr Douglas, who was firmly opposed to more money being spent on Scotland.

Mr Lauder wrote:

The Newsnight Scotland broadcast on the BBC on February 7 demonstrates that the corporation really has fallen from grace.

The presenter, Gordon Brewer, showed a clear bias against cyclists and failed to steer a balanced debate. Mr Brewer was misinformed when harping on about how the bad weather in Scotland will always hold cyclists back. The main reason why people do not cycle is because of the real or perceived safety risk, something that Mr Brewer's guest, motoring journalist Alan Douglas, clearly does not take seriously.

BBC Scotland must source better-informed guests, as the level of ignorance shown by Mr Douglas was embarrassing. Stating that there has always been a culture of cycling in Holland merely proved his lack of knowledge on the topic – Holland was not a cycling nation 30-40 years ago. They have worked hard to achieve the levels of cycling they have now.

Then for Mr Douglas to say that when it comes to extra investment, cycling must take its place with everything else (implying money would be better spent on more nurses, healthcare and welfare) proves he fails to see the bigger picture. Two-thirds of the Scottish population are overweight or obese and rates of diabetes are soaring. Encouraging more people to cycle can help address these issues and reduce the need for more investment in the NHS. As we all know, prevention is better than cure.

Mr Lauder’s letter, published yesterday, attracted a reply today from one Gilbert Mackay of Newton Mearns, who said:

I'm not sure John Lauder of Sustrans is correct when he writes that the Netherlands did not become a cycling nation until 30 to 40 years ago (Letters, February 11).

Dutch football fans are famous for goading German supporters with chants of "Give us back our bicycles", referring, apparently, to thefts by occupation troops during the Second World War.

For the record, I am a cyclist and always stop at red lights.

In fact, both men are correct. In common with other European countries and the UK, the bicycle was the leading form of personal transport up until the post-war recovery years, when cars became more widely affordable than they had been, leading urban planners in the UK and elsewhere to put four wheels at the centre of their policies.

In the Netherlands as in Denmark, however, such policies were reversed during the 1970s, leading to the cycle-centric culture that prevails today.

23 user comments

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Anyone looking to BBC-scotlandshire for reasoned , balanced debate - or even quality programming - is destined for disappointment

This borders outpost of the Westminister Government's Public Relations team takes it's orders on a strict script - then usually screws even that up

Buddha said:

Believe nothing, No matter where you read it,
Or who has said it, Not even if I have said it,
Unless it agrees with your own reason
And your own common sense.

mad_scot_rider's picture

posted by mad_scot_rider [564 posts]
12th February 2013 - 9:13

6 Likes

The BBC's commitment to fair, balanced and objective reporting has long been discredited. Lazy reporting is the order of the day - and when it comes to cycling programming the situation is calamitous - where is the cyclists' equivalent to Top Gear on the BBC for example?

Mike
-------__0
--- --- \_ \¬
------ (+) / (+)______ better by bike!

Mike McBeth's picture

posted by Mike McBeth [73 posts]
12th February 2013 - 10:31

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To be fair, I don't think the BBC was too much at fault here. Journalists do tend to ask `hard' questions of their guests.

I watched the discussion and couldn't believe what a poor performance the CTC rep in the studio delivered. I don't think he managed to refute a single one of the idiotic points made to him. Maybe he just wanted to avoid confrontation, but he came across like a rabbit caught in headlights.

posted by AleT [53 posts]
12th February 2013 - 11:47

5 Likes

What, there is a Newsnight Scotland now? What is wrong with normal Newsnight? Does Paxmo know?
Maybe the BBC should spend more money on shows set around the country and broadcast them across the whole network.



I am stronger than Mensa, Miller and Mailer, I spat out Plath and Pinter.

bikeboy76's picture

posted by bikeboy76 [1395 posts]
12th February 2013 - 12:37

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bikeboy76 wrote:
Maybe the BBC should spend more money on shows set around the country and broadcast them across the whole network.

Scotland *is* a country Wink

Even before devolution, much of what got discussed at Westminster and in the wider media had little relevance to Scotland (in areas such as education), and that's only increased since the Scottish Government was installed, transport being a case in point.

Easy mistake to make though when it comes to Scotland and Wales... every day you find examples of people on the news and other programmes who really should know better talking about issues specifically affecting England as though they apply equally to Scotland and Wales, which increasingly they don't.

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8405 posts]
12th February 2013 - 12:57

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Pathetic really.

But then anyone who expects balanced journalism from the BBC these days is deluded. Copied and pasted stories, zero research, and a lefty bias caused by a couple of decades of soho/Boho lentil-weavers and then complete craven submission to the Labour government means that they don't even realise how far out of touch with the facts they are.

Boardman CX Team '14 | Cannondale CAAD8 '12 (written off, SMIDSY) | Scott Sportster '08

Gizmo_'s picture

posted by Gizmo_ [931 posts]
12th February 2013 - 13:02

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You'reforgetting about that other wee country as well Simon. 'Norn Iron' to us that live/ come from there. Mind you Scots, Welsh and English forget we exist At Wits End Wink

giff77's picture

posted by giff77 [1063 posts]
12th February 2013 - 13:57

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A "lefty bias". Yes that would explain it.

posted by The Rumpo Kid [590 posts]
12th February 2013 - 13:58

6 Likes

Simon_MacMichael wrote:
Scotland *is* a country Wink

Interesting that they illustrate this story with a picture of Amsterdam, where they have very similar nomenclature issues with Holland/Netherlands. Well the last time I checked I still live in the UK and elect just one MP.

I thought Newsnight was interesting enough with international affairs VTs, macroeconomics and the odd mauling to justify itself; perhaps an extra political program for Scotland would be better than a replacement. Or should they replace Eastenders with Morningsiders?

I will restrain myself further on this particular subject for a vigorous off topic debate in about 18 months.



I am stronger than Mensa, Miller and Mailer, I spat out Plath and Pinter.

bikeboy76's picture

posted by bikeboy76 [1395 posts]
12th February 2013 - 14:43

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Lefty bias ffs Laughing

posted by paulfg42 [379 posts]
12th February 2013 - 15:21

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Everyone is wrong Big Grin The Netherlands has always been a cycling nation. Cycling just didn't decline as much post-WWII as it did in the UK but over the period where all the Dutch cycle infrastructure was built, cycling didn't increase much if at all. As for why it fell faster, ending up at a lower level in the UK, the Dutch attribute it to the much better public transport systems in the UK rather than the car. The report comparing cycling in Dutch and UK cities, if you want to read it, is available at http://www.fietsberaad.nl/library/repository/bestanden/The%20Dutch%20Bic... and the relevant section is around p24 and p34 of the pdf.

posted by Tony [80 posts]
12th February 2013 - 18:37

6 Likes

giff77 wrote:
You'reforgetting about that other wee country as well Simon. 'Norn Iron' to us that live/ come from there. Mind you Scots, Welsh and English forget we exist At Wits End Wink

Quite right, my bad... some of the specific instances I had in my mind when writing that were GB rather than UK specific though. Not that I'm claiming that as a defence Wink

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8405 posts]
12th February 2013 - 19:08

3 Likes

bikeboy76 wrote:
Simon_MacMichael wrote:
Scotland *is* a country Wink

Interesting that they illustrate this story with a picture of Amsterdam, where they have very similar nomenclature issues with Holland/Netherlands. Well the last time I checked I still live in the UK and elect just one MP.

I thought Newsnight was interesting enough with international affairs VTs, macroeconomics and the odd mauling to justify itself; perhaps an extra political program for Scotland would be better than a replacement. Or should they replace Eastenders with Morningsiders?

I will restrain myself further on this particular subject for a vigorous off topic debate in about 18 months.

You live in England, which is a country, as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are; it's just none of them are independent, sovereign states in their own right.

Picture of Amsterdam chosen because that's a lot of what the Newsnight Scotland programme focused on.

I'd say Netherlands/Holland a little different because nowadays that's more a linguistic/geographical confusion (and one made by foreigners) rather than a constitutional one.

Scotland does get the wider bits of Newsnight as the rest of the UK does - there is then the Scotland-sepcific segment at the end.

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8405 posts]
12th February 2013 - 19:35

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No bother Simon. Back on subject I find that the Scottish govt makes much posturing in regards to sustainable transport be it public transport or cycling and yet no substance. There is plenty there for the weekend leisure cyclist but for the commuters there is very little on offer. For me living in Paisley I encounter about 1mile of cycle lane over a 30 mile round commute (not that I'd ever use it until better infrastructure is laid down) and while they may want to see more people take to cycling until they sort out infrastructure for the cities there is going to be very few take up travelling to work by bike.

giff77's picture

posted by giff77 [1063 posts]
12th February 2013 - 21:50

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Alan Douglas is one of the most fact free journalists I've ever heard, kind of a poor man's Jeremy Clarkson without the charm Devil I'm constantly amazed that anyone so ill informed can be wheeled out (sorry!) in the guise of an expert as BBC Scotland regularly do.

But let's not get carried away with ourselves, the weather is a legitimate concern. I try to cycle the 26 miles round trip to work from outside Glasgow to the city centre as often as I can, but without a decent waterproof jacket, windproof longs, baselayer, gloves, buff etc it would be miserable as hell. And that's just during the summer months! The alternative of jumping into the car in my work clothes, listening to the radio in the warmth is often just too attractive. I'm as evangelical about cycling as the next person on this site, but we do need to accept that cycling in freezing cold rain into a strong wind isn't everybody's idea of fun.

posted by FMOAB [238 posts]
12th February 2013 - 22:25

6 Likes

Simon_MacMichael wrote:
You live in England, which is a country, as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are.

Wikipedia: wrote:
Although the United Kingdom, as a sovereign state, is a country, England, Scotland, Wales and (more controversially) Northern Ireland are also referred to as 'countries', although they are not actual sovereign states.

I live in The North as it is called on road signs. I have already had the pleasure of Americans and Germans telling me I am Scottish anyway, though I am English. I would call Scotland a 'nation' - think Rugby - though as Wikipedia states we are both right due to the vague definition of 'country.' However, when I say country I think you know I am talking about the UK. As a Middle Briton I try to be inclusive; it rains on you, it rains on me.

I do recall that Scotland entered the union willingly (unlike Wales or Ireland) owing to your unfortunate interest in Panama.



I am stronger than Mensa, Miller and Mailer, I spat out Plath and Pinter.

bikeboy76's picture

posted by bikeboy76 [1395 posts]
12th February 2013 - 22:56

3 Likes

I do recall that Scotland entered the union willingly (unlike Wales or Ireland) owing to your unfortunate interest in Panama.

Let's not go there please, we get enough of this on other forums or I may feel the need to retaliate by starting another thread on compulsory helmet use

posted by FMOAB [238 posts]
12th February 2013 - 23:29

5 Likes

bikeboy76 wrote:
Simon_MacMichael wrote:
As a Middle Briton I try to be inclusive; it rains on you, it rains on me.

I'm guessing the BBC bloke in the programme the article's about would argue it rains in Edinburgh more Wink

Anyway, line drawn under discussion.

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8405 posts]
13th February 2013 - 1:23

4 Likes

giff77 wrote:
No bother Simon. Back on subject I find that the Scottish govt makes much posturing in regards to sustainable transport be it public transport or cycling and yet no substance. There is plenty there for the weekend leisure cyclist but for the commuters there is very little on offer. For me living in Paisley I encounter about 1mile of cycle lane over a 30 mile round commute (not that I'd ever use it until better infrastructure is laid down) and while they may want to see more people take to cycling until they sort out infrastructure for the cities there is going to be very few take up travelling to work by bike.

here here!

posted by a_to_the_j [81 posts]
13th February 2013 - 10:13

2 Likes

bikeboy76 wrote:
Simon_MacMichael wrote:
You live in England, which is a country, as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are.

Wikipedia: wrote:
Although the United Kingdom, as a sovereign state, is a country, England, Scotland, Wales and (more controversially) Northern Ireland are also referred to as 'countries', although they are not actual sovereign states.

I live in The North as it is called on road signs. I have already had the pleasure of Americans and Germans telling me I am Scottish anyway, though I am English. I would call Scotland a 'nation' - think Rugby - though as Wikipedia states we are both right due to the vague definition of 'country.' However, when I say country I think you know I am talking about the UK. As a Middle Briton I try to be inclusive; it rains on you, it rains on me.

I do recall that Scotland entered the union willingly (unlike Wales or Ireland) owing to your unfortunate interest in Panama.


If having a Rugby Football team were a definition of "Nation", Ireland (North and South) would be a single Nation.

posted by The Rumpo Kid [590 posts]
13th February 2013 - 14:03

4 Likes

Well I am in Manchester, so yeah it is raining right now, sorry Edinburgh, that is one record you don't get. Big Grin

I concur, no more constitutional debates or I will have to get my Venn diagrams out. Nerd



I am stronger than Mensa, Miller and Mailer, I spat out Plath and Pinter.

bikeboy76's picture

posted by bikeboy76 [1395 posts]
13th February 2013 - 14:29

3 Likes

Good link there, Tony, very informative reading, thanks for that!

http://www.fietsberaad.nl/library/repository/bestanden/The%20Dutch%20Bic...

posted by vbvb [290 posts]
13th February 2013 - 21:54

4 Likes

You can't blame the BBC, they helpfully explain why all normal people hate cyclists.

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20130212-why-you-really-hate-cyclists

(Page may not work in any nation of the UK as it's a commercial BBC site, but road.cc may report on it)

posted by PhilipW [20 posts]
14th February 2013 - 1:32

2 Likes