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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 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 joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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robike | 3 years ago

I would like all readers here to contemplate methods to selectively disadvantage motorists that can be deployed while cycling.  One opinion often expressed with regard to close passing, is that motorists do not see cyclists (or pedestrians) as likely to cause damage to their shiny cars. They will give more room to a parked car than to a moving cyclist because if they messed up steering a bit and hit a car they would incur greater damage (both physical and monetary).

I have wondered if it is possible to get something like an imitation garden spade, actually made of foam rubber with parts in metallised finish, to tie across the pannier rack. It needs to be something that is instantly recognisable so they don’t hesitate in giving more space.

Anything better than a spade and, where can I get one?

Nigel_2003 | 3 years ago

"One voice among many"... So on that basis they'd be happy with publishing a eugenics opinion piece from Hitler as long there were a few dissenting views...

The piano wire technique was developed for use by troops and resistance forces, particularly during WW2 I believe. Encouraging its use in a non-wartime situation surely flirts with terrorism - particularly in the context of intimidating/terrorising cyclists, which the article can reasonably be said to be aimed at...

I'm sure if I wrote a satirical letter to a cycling site/magazine suggesting waking up Sunday Times journalists with a handy petrol bomb the better to cook their Brunch they'd see things rather differently... Rather than that though I'd encourage direct letters to the newspaper and to senior figures at companies who advertise with them. That being said, in general I think the Times group are generally well enough disposed to cyclists and just need to direct their (paid) columnists to be more responsible.

As or IPSO, it beggars belief that they reject any responsibility for action because the matters involved are "too serious" for them to address...

brooksby | 3 years ago

The Sunday Times really doesn't know when to stop digging that hole, does it?

henryb | 3 years ago

Where does the photo of barbed wire stretched across a path at the top of this article come from? Was it set up for the article?

bdsl replied to henryb | 3 years ago

It looks like it originally came from this 2016 tweet by BikesyUK: "Nightmare. Barbed wire traps set at cyclist neck height on Kentish trails around Wormshill. Please RT."

handlebarcam | 3 years ago

I bet Rod Liddle will, the next time he wakes up surrounded by empty vodka bottles and with a deadline looming within hours, write a piece about how he fought and won against the cycling stasi who were trying to censor him. Because he, like all whining dimwit columnists who look like potatoes and complain every week in national newspapers that their voices aren't being heard, thinks he's some kind of iconoclast. When really any sense he has of being an outsider is because he knows he lacks the talent of previous generations of satirists who were accepted by most of the establishment because they were actually funny. Try as he might, he'll never be Jonathan Miller or Peter Cook. Just as everything Jeremy Clarkson has ever done screams "I wish I had the surreal wit of Stephen Fry but I'll never lose the label of just being a jobbing motoring journalist."

David9694 | 3 years ago

Satire? On whom, of what?

That sort of comment can only serve normalise murderous behaviour. 

A pity I can't boycott it coz I never bought it in the first place.

cactuscat | 3 years ago

It's just a joke, like on top gear

Simon E replied to cactuscat | 3 years ago
1 like
cactuscat wrote:

It's just a joke, like on top gear

True comic genuis (and I don't use that term lightly).

srchar replied to Simon E | 3 years ago
1 like

Stew would be embarrassed and bewildered to learn that he is possibly my favourite human being outside my family.

the little onion | 3 years ago

I'm going to send bombs to the houses of Sunday Times journalists, because once one of them wrote something I didn't like. I'd like to watch their spouses and children die in pain. But that's just a joke. Satire, even.


(Actually, that's defensible as satire because it is so clealry over the top. The point about Liddle's comment is that it is too real to be satire, because people do regularly attack cyclists, including using the precise method he discusses in his column).

eburtthebike replied to the little onion | 3 years ago

Yup.  Satire isn't satire if it's true.

noun: satire
the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues."

So apart from the facts that it wasn't funny, ironic, exaggerated or ridiculous, yeah, it was satire.

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