“By reading some news headlines and the articles that come with them, you might be forgiven if you think the cars were already self-driving,” said British journalist Laura Laker, one of the editors of new guidelines to be released to journalists writing about road accidents .
He has collected numerous articles on road accidents that do not attribute the agency to motorists.
“It is important to remember that collisions involve vehicles driven by people,” he said.
Search Google for agency-free reporting of traffic accidents and you will find many examples.
“The car overturns in the event of an accident” reported GloucestershireLive on September 27. Previously, one family had a “lucky escape” after “the car leaves the road and hits a tree on the country road”, reported the Leicester Mercury. “The car exits the scene of the accident, then collides with a house,” said the website for a Canadian television channel.
The editors who featured those articles and the reporters who provided the copy neglected to include the agency. And this is bad and wrong, he says again, expert-led media guidelines which states that “editors should mention human actors in a collision”.
Accidents have causes and these causes are invariably due to inadequate driving; often dangerous driving. Yet journalists around the world sometimes shy away from attributing actions to humans when accidents – many of which are obviously criminal or turn out to be criminal – involve motorists.
There is no news of autonomous assault rifles or swords going to stab themselves – there is always an agency: “Gunman on a rampage”; “Knife-wielding killer confronted by the police.”
The new UK reporting guidelines, released today, were drafted by journalists and academics and recommended by police, lawyers and expert groups such as the UK’s National Union of Journalists and the media monitoring organization IMPRESS .
Subject to public consultations until 8 November, the guidelines were produced by the Active Travel Academy (ATA) of the University of Westminster and aim to “help journalists, broadcasters and publishers improve public debate on road safety. “, reads a statement from the ATA.
“While there are already guidelines for reporting suicides, children and refugees, no one specifically guides best practices on reporting traffic accidents,” the statement continued.
Crash, not accident
Planes do not accidentally hit the ground, they crash. However, such language is not always used for road accidents: they are often described as “accidents”, as if no one was at fault. Campaign groups have been lobbying for a neutral vocabulary on road accidents for many years: “accident, no accident” is a common mantra-is research published last year showed that the main language used in media reports often translates into so-called “victim guilt”.
“Simple changes to how we talk about accidents can help shift the needle on public support for safer roads,” he said. Kelcie Ralph, one of the academics behind the research.
In previous research, Ralph found that traffic accident news articles referred to a vehicle 81 percent of the time, but only referred to a driver 19 percent of the time.
“Tragic events are often described as unavoidable accidents rather than the result of very avoidable criminal behavior,” said Chris Boardman, UK cycling policy advisor, who is also Greater Manchester’s Commissioner for Pedestrians and Bicycles.
“Words really matter; they paint a picture and affect both how we feel about a topic and how seriously we take a crime, “he added.
Death on the streets Author Dr. Robert Davis said, “If we want to have guidelines on a whole variety of issues, then it makes sense to have them in transportation. This is particularly true in matters where human, often criminal, action can easily harm fellow citizens “.
“Good reporting should inform,” said John Ranson of the National Union of Journalists’ ethics council.
“But too much media coverage of road collisions affected and reinforced lazy generalizations.”
The co-chair of the UK parliamentary group on cycling and walking agrees. Congressman Tory Selaine Saxby said, “We have media reporting guidelines for a whole range of serious social problems, so it’s important that road collisions are included.”
The guidelines are “long overdue” because “language is important,” said attorney Martin Porter QC:
“It may seem harmless to talk about vehicles accelerating, running lights or people running over, so it does not imply any human responsibility, but the ripple effects contribute to increased danger on our roads and to failures throughout the justice system.”
The Guidelines for reporting road accidents have four strands:
- Impartiality: “Editors should not use the term accident when describing road collisions: collisions or accidents are more accurate, especially when the facts of the accident are not known.”
- Discrimination: “Publishers must avoid using negative generalizations from road users and must not use language that is dehumanizing or that could incite violence or hatred towards a road user in commentary and news coverage.”
- Precision: “Coverage of perceived risks on the roads should above all be accurate, based on fact and context. Editors should mention human actors in a collision and avoid referring to personal protective equipment, such as high visibility and helmets, except when demonstrably relevant. ”
- Reporting of crimes: “Publishers must avoid portraying dangerous or criminal behavior on the roads, such as speeding, as acceptable, or those who are caught breaking the law as victims.”
Journalists, Laker said, should make sure they always include the agency in all traffic accident stories.
Laker, who works as a freelancer for ATA, said: “Ultimately, if enough people in the road safety industry agree that this is the right way to report, then it becomes best practice,” he stressed.
“We will ask the media to follow these guidelines and, if they don’t, we can ask why not.”