What distinguishes the BBC from the rest of thiscountry’s media? There’s the lack of advertising, and the lack of aproprietor with specific business interests to defend. But perhaps themost important factor is its editorialguidelines, which are supposed to ensure that the corporationachieves “the highest standards of due accuracy and impartiality andstrive[s] to avoid knowingly and materially misleading our audiences.”
Here’s a few of the things they say:
“Trust is the foundation of the BBC: we areindependent, impartialand honest.”
“We will be rigorous in establishing the truth of the story andwell informed when explaining it. Our specialist expertise willbring authority and analysis to the complexworld in which we live.”
“We will be open inacknowledging mistakes when they are made andencourage a culture of willingness tolearn from them.”
Woe betide the producer or presenter who breaches these guidelines.Unless, that is, they work for Top Gear. If so, theyare permitted to drive a coach and horses – or a Hummer H3 – throughthem whenever they please.
Take, for example, Top Gear’s line on electric cars. Casting asideany pretence of impartiality or rigour, it has set out to show thatelectric cars are useless. If the facts don’t fit, it bends them untilthey do.
It’s currently being sued by electric car maker Tesla afterclaiming, among other allegations, that the Roadster’s true range isonly 55 miles per charge (rather than 211), and that it unexpectedlyran out of charge. Tesla says“the breakdowns were staged and the statements are untrue”. But the BBCkeeps syndicating the episode to other networks. So much for”acknowledging mistakes when they are made”.
Now it’s been caught red-handed faking another trial, in this caseof the Nissan LEAF.
Last Sunday, an episode of Top Gear showed Jeremy (we’reonly entertainment so our recommendations are as full of exrement as Iam) Clarkson and James (time for me to drink myway across the UK)May setting off for Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire, 60 miles away.The car “unexpectedly” ran out of charge when they got toLincoln, and had to bepushed. They concluded that “electric cars are not the future”.
But it’s clearfrom Clarkson’s Lists that he will whore out his reputation just to geta self serving edge with whomever he fancies at the moment.Here’s a recent and from what I can tell, fairly accurate review ofClarkson’s abilities found out on the “Ultimate Car” forum:
People enjoy Clarkson’s hard opinions and dry senseof humour. However, they seem to forget that he knows nothing about howcars handle, nor has after 20 years of drivingsupercars has any skills behind the wheel. A good example is when heput the current ZR1 against an Audi R8 and constantly said that the ZR1was impossible to drive faster than the R8. Then in the hands of thestig it blitzed the R8.
I also remember him slagging off the Carrera GT calling it bland anduninteresting, reviewing it against the Enzo Ferrari.
AND Clarkson’s comments are aboutgetting readers/viewers attention and to sell his column, mag, book,video, tv show.
This guy has driven every major badassultimately exotic supercar on this planet andhe puts a Mazda CX7 on his top 25? Nothing against the CX7, is a nice SUVor crossover,or whatever, I drove it myself when I was checking them out a fewmonths ago while considering one for my wife, but come on… JeremyClarkson’s top 25?
In short, JeremyClarkson seems to emerge as the combined Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaughof the automotive entertainment industry. He’s full of unsupportabletheories and doesn’t hesitate to lie or dissemble to raise his ratingsor further his agenda. So long as you don’t actually believe anything he or his show have to say then you’ve lost nothing. If you start believing in his fairytales, you’ll soon be lost in their fabricated world.
But it wasn’t unexpected: Nissan has a monitoring device in the carwhich transmits information on the state of the battery. This showsthat, while the company delivered the car to Top Gear fully charged,the programme-makers ran the battery down before Clarkson and May setoff, until only 40% of the charge was left. Moreover, they must haveknown this, as the electronic display tells the driver how many miles’worth of electricity they have, and the sat-nav tells them if theydon’t have enough charge to reach their destination. In this case ittold them – before they set out on their 60-mile journey – that theyhad 30 miles’ worth of electricity. But, asBen Webster of the Times reported earlier this week, “at no pointwere viewers told that the battery had been more than half empty at thestart of the trip.”
It gets worse. As Webster points out, in order to stage a breakdownin Lincoln, “it appeared that the Leaf was driven in loops for morethan 10 miles in Lincoln until the battery was flat.”
When Jeremy (lying used car salesman) Clarkson was challenged aboutthis, he admitted that heknew the car had only a small charge before he set out. But, hesaid:”That’s how TV works”. Not on the BBC it isn’t, or not unless yourprogramme is called Top Gear.
Top Gear’s response, by its executive producer AndyWilman, is a masterpiece of distraction and obfuscation. He insiststhat the programme wasn’t testing the range claims of the vehicles, andnor did it state that the vehicles wouldn’t achieve their claimedrange. But the point is that it creates the strong impression that thecar ran out of juice unexpectedly, leaving the presenters stranded inLincoln, a city with no public charging points.
Yes, this is an entertainment programme, yes it’s larking about, andsometimes it’s very funny. But none of this exempts it from the BBC’sguidelines and the duty not to fake the facts.
The issue is made all the more potent by the fact that Top Gear hasa political agenda. It’s a mouthpiece for an extreme form oflibertarianism and individualism. It derides attempts to protect theenvironment, and promotes the kind of driving that threatens otherpeople’s peace and other people’s lives. It often creates theimpression that the rules and restraints which seek to protect us fromeach other are there to be broken.
This is dangerous territory. Boy racers, in many parts of thecountryside, are among the greatest hazards to local people’s lives.Where I live, in rural mid-Wales, the roads are treated as race tracks.Many of the young lads who use them compete to see who can clock up thefastest speeds on a given stretch. The consequences are terrible: aseries of hideous crashes involving young men and women driving toofast, which kill other people or maim them for life. In the latesthorror, just down the road from where I live, a young man bumpedanother car through a fence and into a reservoir. Four of the fivepassengers drowned.
Of course I’m not blaming only Top Gear for this, but it plays amajor role in creating a comfort zone within which edgy driving isconsidered acceptable, even admirable. Top Gear’s political agenda alsopersists in stark contradiction to BBC rules on impartiality.
So how does it get away with it? It’s simple. It makes the BBC afortune. Both the 15th and 16th series of Top Gear were among the top five TV programmes soldinternationally by BBC Worldwide over the last financial year. Anothersection of the editorial guidelines tells us that “our audiences shouldbe confident that our decisions are not influenced by outsideinterests, political or commercial pressures”. But in this case wecan’t be. I suggest that it is purely because of commercial pressuresthat Top Gear is allowed to rig the evidence, fake its trials, pourpetrol over the BBC’s standards and put a match to them. The moneydrives all before it.