Sunday Times continues to defend Rod Liddle ‘piano wire’ article

Newspaper tells Cycling UK that columnist is “is one voice among many on the paper” – so that’s okay, then?

The Sunday Times has continued to defend an article by Rod Liddle published last month in which he said he found it “tempting” to stretch piano wire across roads used by cyclists, with the newspaper telling the charity Cycling UK that the columnist “is one voice among many on the paper.”

> ‘Tempting’ – Sunday Times columnist Rod Liddle on stretching piano wire across road to target cyclists

Cycling UK had written to the newspaper to complain about the article, saying it was “inflammatory, in seriously poor taste, and implies that a seriously dangerous and criminal act is somehow an acceptable course of conduct.”

The newspaper subsequently published a letter of complaint from the national cycling charity, but has now published a formal response.

It said: “Rod Liddle is one voice among many on the paper. He's often satirical and his remark wasn't intended to be taken seriously.

“We're sorry it's caused offence, and we understand your concerns: this is why we published Cycling UK's forthright and highly critical letter – which was, in fact, substantially longer than the passage it complained about – on our pages.

“We didn't hide from your criticism: we gave it a platform. And we intend to take it on board when editing future editions.”

The newspaper also claimed that its coverage of cycling “has been, and remains, overwhelmingly positive,” highlighting a column backing cycling in its motoring section from Grand Tour presenter James May.

It claimed that the former Top Gear co-presenter’s piece was “just the latest in scores of positive pieces: and our sister paper The Times has actively campaigned to make cities safer for cyclists.”

What it didn’t say, however, was that May was filling in for his co-presenter, and regular Sunday Times columnist, Jeremy Clarkson, who has been regularly featured on road.cc over the past decade and more for his anti-cyclist comments even though, away from the camera and the keyboard, he often gets around by bike himself.

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns, said: “Print what you like, as long as the columnist was being satirical. That seems to be the ‘Liddle defence’ for implying that a seriously dangerous and criminal act is somehow acceptable," he said.

"But satire is a weapon best used by the powerless to mock the powerful, and there’s a time when satire ends and comments about how tempting it is to assault someone sound like encouragement to do so.

"It’s therefore disappointing that the Sunday Times hasn’t acknowledged that this line has been crossed.

“The apology for any offence caused rings hollow, as it fails to address the potential consequences of Liddle’s words or provide assurance that any lessons have been learned.”

Earlier this month, the Independent Press Standards Office (IPSO) said that it had rejected complaints over Liddle’s column.

> Press watchdog rejects complaints over Rod Liddle “piano wire” column

The regulator said the article,published at a time when unprovoked attacks against cyclists including through the use of booby traps such as wire, did not infringe the Editors’ Code of Practice.

IPSO said it “noted that many complainants expressed concerns that the article could incite violence against cyclists,” and that others maintained that it “constituted hate speech” due to the reference to piano wire across the road.

“However,” IPSO said, “both hate speech and incitement are potentially criminal matters which are dealt with by the police. If you believe that the article was inciting hatred or violence, or constituted hate speech, then you may wish to contact the police about these concerns as IPSO cannot offer advice on criminal matters.”

Other complaints were rejected because they did not fall within the provisions of the Editors’ Code, with some issues complained about falling with the remit of the police, IPSO said.

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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