FW: [CF] Media reaction to Berkshire Rail Crash UK
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
From: douglas salmon <dnsalmon@...>
Date: Wed, 10 Nov 2004 09:40:17 +0000 (GMT)
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------ End of Forwarded Message
> 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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