An open letter to The Age, Herald Sun, Channel 9, Channel 7, Channel 10, the ABC, 3AW and Police media
This year, six people have been killed while riding a bike in Victoria. With 18 days still left in 2018, everyone is hoping no-more lives are lost.
In at least five of those cases, the media has reported the tragedy in a way that either de-humanises the person killed or could be viewed as victim blaming.
The way bike rider fatalities are reported upsets and angers many people. Clearly the person who has lost their life deserves to be treated with more dignity and respect. It’s time for the Victorian media to change and lead the way.
There are three small changes you could make when reporting on the death of a person riding a bike that would make a massive difference.
The first is stop using the word accident. It makes it sound inevitable: like nothing could’ve been done to avoid it. Until the authorities have sorted out what happened, best practice is to use the word crash. Of course, if charges are laid, then the language can change to reflect the crime.
The second is stop referring to the person killed as a cyclist. It makes it sound like they were a sub-species, perhaps not even human. If it’s not appropriate to identify the person by name when the fatality is reported, it’s far better to describe them as a person riding a bicycle. We are all people first, how we choose to get around should be second.
The third is reporting that ‘a vehicle hit a person riding a bike’. It’s even worse to say a ‘cyclist hit a car’. There was a person driving the vehicle. Our vehicles can’t drive themselves —yet. It’s much better to say the other party to the crash was ‘a person driving a car’.
You could dismiss this as mere semantics. You could just keep doing the same thing and think that actions speak louder than words. But when you work in media you know better than anyone that the pen is mightier than the sword.
To put it simply, all we’re asking that instead of reporting that “a cyclist was killed in an accident when they were hit by a car”, you write “a person riding a bike was tragically killed in a crash with a vehicle driven by a person”.
Of course, even when reading the modified report of a fatality, the pain, loss and despair of losing another person riding a bike on our roads is still there.
But changing the way we report it, adding some compassion and sensitivity helps take away some of the anger towards the media. It’s just one less thing to cope with at an awful time.
Craig Richards, CEO - Bicycle Network
Anthea Hargreaves, General Manager Public Affairs - Bicycle Network
This letter has been circulated to all major media outlets in Victoria.