Press watchdog slams “dangerous dickheads” anti-cyclist article

New Zealand’s Media Council says article was “inaccurate, unfair” and “unbalanced”

New Zealand’s press watchdog, the Media Council, has ruled that a newspaper article that appeared under a headline that referred to cyclists as “dangerous dickheads” was “inaccurate, unfair” and “unbalanced.” For those of us in the UK used to seeing regular anti-cyclist diatribes going unchecked in the mainstream media, it’s a refreshing decision, albeit one from the other side of the world.

The article was published in the New Zealand Herald on 23 October last year under the headline, “Dangerous dickheads”: Cyclists caught crossing centre line, taking up whole roads.

It was based on dashcam footage from a car, and quoted a passenger in the vehicle describing cyclists as “dangerous dickheads” and “ignorant assholes” because the cyclists were riding four abreast on a narrow, winding rural road, meaning the driver had to stay behind them “for a few minutes at less than 30km/h.”

According to complainant James Powers, the article was anti-cyclist and “plumbed new depths in aggression, non-facts, supercilious attitude and gutter journalism.”

He highlighted that the cyclists had not put other road users at risk and that the driver of the vehicle had clearly been made aware that it was unsafe to overtake, even if the cyclists had been in single file.

Citing road casualty figures that showed that 18 cyclists were killed and 556 were injured on New Zealand’s roads in 2017, he said: “In the light of this I don’t believe that close passes are justified and the Herald appears to be promoting this life-threatening behaviour.”

The newspaper said that it had attempted to contact local cycling groups both before and after the article was published, but the Press Council pointed out that there was no mention of that in the article itself and that “Readers were given no indication that the paper sought comment from anybody else.

“If anything it accentuated the sole viewpoint given by repeating another one-sided story about a similar incident earlier that month and effectively declaring it to be a matter of fact with an unattributed caption line reading: ‘Dangerous cyclists caught crossing centre line, taking up whole rural roads’.

The Press Council said: “It was stated the cyclists were riding four abreast, but the dash-cam footage showed the passing activity of one of the riders led to them being four abreast.

“The footage showed only one cyclist (rather than a number of them) briefly crossing the centre line and apart from that the group remained on the left hand side of the road and did not take up the whole road as was stated in the story.

“Were the cyclists riding dangerously? The passenger thought so and the paper was within its right to report her as saying so but there is nothing to indicate any attempt was made to balance the story.”

It added: “On these grounds the Media Council has found the article was in breach of principle 1 (accuracy, fairness and balance).”

The newspaper has published an article reporting the decision, but the original article – amended to reflect the upheld complaint – remains on its website.

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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.

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