— BBC producers took “unnecessary risk of giving George Hook a platform”.
— Vast bulk of Belfast public want cycle paths even if it mean less space for cars.
BBC Northern Ireland are under fire for the way it covered a report showing wide public support for segregated cycle routes, which resulted in Newstalk presenter George Hook implying cyclists were Nazis. Hook previously expressed his hate for cyclists on air.
The segment on cycling was aired on Nolan Live on BBC One NI on Wednesday night. It was billed as covering the release of a report showing that 81% of respondents from Belfast want protected cycle routes, even when it could mean less space for other road traffic.
Staff from UK cycling charity Sustrans, which published the report, were invited onto show and seated in the front row. But the staff and the report were ignored and, instead, another audience member, who complained that cyclists take up too much road space was interviewed.
Journalist Malachi O’Doherty, who was on the show’s panel to speak in support of cycling, replied that cycling was not a cult. This promoted Hook to compare cyclists to Nazis.
“They used to wear brown shirts, sing the Horst Wessel song, and have a sign,” said Hook as he made a Nazi salute on the Nolan Live show on BBC Northern Ireland last night. In response to criticism, Hook said today:
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The comment was made in response to hate speech against a member of the audience – that was totally lost in a four minute segment
— George Hook (@ghook) November 16, 2017
Hook was recently moved to a weekend radio slot on Newstalk following victim-blaming comments he made on rape. He is currently on leave. Hook used to use his radio show to regularly complain about cycling and has previously expressed hate for cyclists on his show and on TV.
“I hate cyclists with a passion,” said Hook when on TV3’s Ireland AM in 2015. Asked why, he said: “Because I hate criminals, and they break the law routinely.”
Jonathan Hobbs, a cycling campaigner who runs NI Greenways and edits Bikefast.org, said: “The BBC have shown a serious lack of editorial judgement with this piece on the Nolan Show. This was pitched as a segment about the excellent Bike Life 2017 report which showed massive public support for dedicated bicycle routes to make cycling safer for everyone, with the attendant benefits to reduced congestion, less pavement cycling, more money for the health service and a range of environmental and economic benefits.”
He added: “The first mistake was bringing such a delicate public health and transport issue into the bear pit of the Nolan Show, and then immediately toss out the subject in favour of populist baiting around cyclists’ behaviour. The atmosphere in the studio was ugly. The second was taking the unnecessary risk of giving George Hook a platform on this issue, and we saw the result.”
“Instead of discussing the growth of cycling in Belfast, the facilities required to grow it more, the failure of government to invest the necessary funding and priority over the last decade, we’re talking about a blowhard making a Hitler salute. The BBC aims to ‘inform, educate and entertain’ but this segment fell far below their standards,” said Hobbs.
Peter Walker, a political journalist for The Guardian who regularly writes about cycling, said that the coverage from the BBC was not new. On Twitter he said: “Latest instalment in ‘sections of the BBC have a major problem with cycling coverage, especially Stephen Nolan'”.
Thankfully the good people of #Belfast have more sense than @ghook on @BBCNolan & 4 out of 5 want safe protected cycle lanes #BikeLife2017 #cycling Read more https://t.co/dqDvhTxEaD @nigreenways @deptinfra @BelfastBikes @BelfastLive pic.twitter.com/kxMiuwTvt4
— Sustrans NI (@SustransNI) November 16, 2017
In a statement for the launch of Bike Life, Gordon Clarke, director of Sustrans Northern Ireland, said: “Bike Life shows that most people in Belfast think cycling is a good thing and are far more supportive of bold and ambitious plans for cycling than decision makers often think. They want dedicated space for people on bicycles even when this means taking space away from cars.”
The show of support from the Belfast public follows the Citizens Assembly in the Republic voting to shift transport funding away from roads and to prioritise public transport and cycling.
Of its 75 members, 70 or 93% voted to suggest to government that the number of bus lanes, cycle lanes and park and ride facilities should be greatly increased in the next five years and much greater priority should be given over to these modes over private cars.