Sunday Times threats to cyclists perfectly acceptable?

I, like many others, made an official complaint to the Independent Press Standards Organisation regarding the comments by the Sunday Times ‘journalist’ where he expressed a view that ‘stretching a piano wire at neck height’ was ‘tempting’ when it came to dealing with cyclists.

Since this was published there has been an attack on a cyclist using this method, there has also been an axe attack on three cyclists, and a knife attack, as well as a number of other cases of spitting, close punishment passes, and stones etc being thrown at passing cyclists.

However, the IPSO has decided that the article does not breach any of its code of conduct and although their findings and my complaint will be passed to the Sunday Times, it has basically meant that it is perfectly acceptable for the press to incite further violence and hatred towards a fairly defenceless minority. Cyclists are people like everyone else. They aren’t perfect, of course they aren’t, but they are trying to go about their business in difficult times, safely and without fear of attack. Nobody should be subjected to violence or intimidation, and least not because they happen to choose a bicycle as their means of transport.

I am, to be frank, pretty disgusted with the response. It may not breach their ‘code’ but that doesn’t excuse the language or sentiment that has been expressed and the damage it has done to the relationship between the media and cyclists, and cyclists and the general public.

It is appalling that this is allowed to continue, and does so even whilst people are in hospital and at home recovering from unprovoked attacks. For the Sunday Times to accept no responsibility for these assaults, when they were clearly prompted and justified by its staff writer is simply appalling and further assaults and attacks will now be seen as ‘justified’ in the eyes of some of their readers.

I have pasted the full response below for you to read for yourselves:

Dear Complainants,

I write further to our earlier email regarding your complaint about an article headlined “Auntie’s doing her job again. All it took was thousands of deaths and a useless cabinet”, published by The Sunday Times on 24 May 2020.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) has received a number of complaints about this article. In order to be able to respond in a timely manner, we have prepared a response which deals with the various concerns raised by complaints.

When IPSO receives a complaint, the Executive staff review it first to decide whether the complaint falls within our remit, and whether it raises a possible breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice. We have read your complaint carefully, and have decided that it does not raise a possible breach of the Editors’ Code.

First, I should make clear that our response deals only with the concerns raised under the Editors’ Code of Practice. We noted that many complainants expressed concerns that the article could incite violence against cyclists as it stated that “it’s tempting” to “tie piano wire at neck height across the road”.  Other complainants were concerned that this phrase constituted hate speech. However, 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.

Many complainants said that the article breached Clause 3 (Harassment) as it constituted harassment towards cyclists and could potentially encourage further hatred and harassment from members of the public. However, Clause 3 generally relates to the way journalists behave when researching a news story and is meant to protect specific individuals from being repeatedly approached by the press against their wishes. As the concerns we received did not relate to this, the terms of Clause 3 were not engaged.

Many complainants also said that the article breached Clause 12 (Discrimination) because it discriminated against cyclists. Clause 12 is designed to protect specific individuals mentioned by the press from discrimination based on their race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or any physical or mental illness or disability. It does not apply to groups or categories of people.  The concern that the article discriminated against cyclists in general did not relate to an individual, nor did it relate to a protected characteristic listed under Clause 12. This meant that it did not engage the terms of this Clause. For more information about Clause 12 and how it works, this blog may be of interest.

Some complainants said the article breached Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) because it encouraged members of the public to injure cyclists. Clause 10 relates to the obtaining of information by journalists through clandestine means or by deploying subterfuge – for instance, by using undercover reporters.  As the complaints that we received did not relate to this, and therefore the terms of Clause 10 were not engaged. 

Many complainants expressed concerns that the article was highly offensive, inappropriate and irresponsible. We should note that the Editors’ Code does not address the issues of taste or offence. It is designed to deal with any possible conflicts between newspapers’ right to freedom of expression and the rights of individuals, such as their right to privacy. Newspapers and magazine are free to publish what they think is appropriate as long as the rights of individuals – which are protected under the Code – are not infringed upon. Accordingly, concerns that the article was offensive and inappropriate did not engage of the terms of the Editors’ Code.

We would like to thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider the points you have raised, and have shared this correspondence with the newspaper to make it aware of your concerns.

You are entitled to request that the Executive’s decision to reject your complaint be reviewed by IPSO’s Complaints Committee. To do so you will need to write to us in the next seven days, setting out the reasons why you believe the decision should be reviewed. Please note that we are unable to accept requests for review made seven days after the date of this email.

Best wishes,

Sebastian Harwood

Cc

The Sunday Times

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