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7821FW: [CF] Media reaction to Berkshire Rail Crash UK

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  • Simon Baddeley
    Nov 10, 2004
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      Re the letter sent by Douglas Salmon (below) to the BBC

      I heard an interesting lecture from a BBC journalist at the RoadPeace
      Conference in London last year, in which addressing this puzzle he spoke of
      the ³logic of journalism² in relation to these bizarrely disproportionate
      reactions. Anyone swimming in these waters as a campaigner needs to move
      away from (v. understandable) reflexive distaste and puzzlement to an
      appreciation of how news works.

      This journalist points out ­ though his figures have since been challenged ­
      that rail crashes were sufficiently frequent in the 1900s-1920s to be
      relegated to middle page, small print stories. The point he would make here
      is that this event is rare and therefore news. Road crashes are so frequent
      and ³normal² they have ceased to be headline material unless a celebrity is
      involved or there are exceptional numbers as in a motorway pile up though I
      have seen these relegated if ³only² one person has died.

      The point he made that interested me was that pressure groups of car drivers
      have ­ within the logic of journalism ­ managed to depict themselves as
      ³victims² of safety cameras and so gained more news attention than people
      not killed and not injured as a result of them. The same problem applies.
      The logic of journalism is that the work of fire prevention officers doesn¹t
      exist ­ yet it is work quite as significant, if not requiring similar
      courage, as the work of those who extinguish dramatic conflagrations.

      The ³logic of journalism² applied to the decision to withdraw the film ³The
      Railway Children² from TV schedules in the aftermath of the Berkshire crash.
      Despite your logic and my logic, it would have been be entirely ³illogical²,
      in these terms, to withdraw a film about cars or car advertising. It was
      still worth writing your letter though. I write every 6 months or so
      grumbling about the use of the word ³road accident², when it would be better
      to refer to ³crash² or ³incidents² until such a time that the coroner and
      the police define it as such. Until then our default assumption should be
      that we are investigating a crime for which someone is responsible. I do
      think this distinction is being picked up more and more.

      There is another argument that relates to the different public perceptions
      of public and private. When we travel on public transport (even though the
      trains and track are privatised we still intuit trains as ³public
      transport²) we¹ve different expectations of safety to those we attribute to
      safety in the private transport of the car (maybe this will begin to alter
      with universal road pricing spreading over Europe over the next decade).
      Most people know car travel is statistically more dangerous than train
      travel but they rate the danger as one they, as drivers, can avoid through
      the control they perceive themselves having in their car and don¹t when in a
      train (same applies to air travel anxiety). The lack of control means far
      more trust is placed in another to ensure the traveller¹s safety with
      resulting fear and anger if that trust is felt to have been betrayed by an
      individual, a company or indeed by fate. The car driver places the main
      burden of that trust in their own capacity to control their circumstances
      and so blame attached more easily to the person killed or injured in a car.

      Control and responsibility are sibling terms. A sardonic footnote to these
      reflections on car driver¹s allocation of trust in control is the speed with
      which some of them will divest themselves of the responsibility they value
      so highly as ³control² over their own fate, when they kill or maim someone
      outside their car.

      You will have caught my drift. We speak of car death and injury and
      frequently fail to distinguish whether the driver or their passengers are
      the victims or someone outside the car. The rage and despair and
      apprehension of those outside cars about car drivers is not unequivalent in
      its strength to those feelings expressed about the fate of train passengers
      in train crashes. It doesn¹t get heard so much though because compared to
      drivers (and their passengers) the voice of people outside cars is still
      muted by the clamorous protestations of those whose lives revolve around the
      car.

      Simon



      From: douglas salmon <dnsalmon@...>
      Reply-To: <Cycle-iseWM@yahoogroups.com>
      Date: Wed, 10 Nov 2004 09:40:17 +0000 (GMT)
      To: <Cycle-iseWM@yahoogroups.com>
      Subject: [Cycle-iseWM] road and rail and journalists

      Copy of my complaint to the BBC;


      > Would it be possible to ask why the Berkshire rail crash got so much coverage
      > on the BBC news ?
      >
      > Whilst undoubtedly tragic for the families and friends of the seven dead, that
      > is the same number of people who die on British roads, on average, every
      > single day of the year.
      >
      > Since the last time a rail passenger was killed in an accident involving a
      > level crossing, in 1986, seventy thousand people have died on the roads.
      >
      > Does the BBC news team even know how many people died last weekend ?
      >
      > Why are road casualties somehow less important than rail ?
      >

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