Complaint by Mr Peter Parker
Anglia News, ITV Anglia, 3 February 2005
Summary: Ofcom has not upheld a complaint of unfair treatment about this
regional news bulletin which included an item on a campaign being pursued by Mr
Peter Parker seeking changes in the law concerning the wearing of motorcycle
helmet for riders of the BMW C1 motorcycle.
Ofcom took the view that the programme’s presentation of Mr Parker’s campaign
was straightforward; factual and not critical of him. In reaching this conclusion
Ofcom took into account the coherent and reasoned argument presented by Mr
Parker in the item. In the circumstances, Ofcom found no unfairness in the
programme’s presentation of the issues and the complaint was not upheld.
This regional news bulletin included an item on a campaign being pursued by Mr Peter
Parker seeking changes in the law concerning the wearing of motorcycle helmet for riders
of the BMW C1 motorcycle. The complainant was featured in the programme presenting
his argument that the C1 was not a conventional motorcycle as it offered “drivers” head
and body protection.
The item referred to Mr Parker’s appearances in court, stating that he was “perhaps best
known to the town’s magistrates”. The item described Mr Parker as a “self-confessed
motorbike martyr”, and said that although he had appeared in court a number of times he
had “got off, scot free” each time.
The item included comments on road safety from a police officer and the rider of a
conventional motorbike who challenged Mr Parker’s claims.
Mr Parker complained that he was treated unfairly in the programme as broadcast.
Mr Parker’s Case
In summary Mr Parker complained that the programme was unfair in that:
a) the item as a whole was biased and presented his actions as “pointless”,
“dangerous” and “stupid”. It was also inaccurate, offensive and harmful to his campaign.
He said that the commentary inaccurately and offensively described him as a “self-
confessed motorbike martyr” who was “best known to the town’s magistrates” and who
had “got off scot free”. These remarks implied, respectively, that he was prepared to
suffer harm for his cause; that he was an habitual criminal; and that he had escaped
punishment for his crimes.
b) Mr Parker also complained that the programme made no attempt to corroborate
his claims for the safety of the C1, with the manufacturer’s claims for the vehicle, or its
international safety reputation; and,
c) Mr Parker contended that the programme was inaccurate and unfair in that the
policeman and the motorbike expert interviewed, were not commenting specifically on the
C1, but were referring to motorbikes generally.
ITV’s (Anglia) Case
In response ITV stated that:
a) Mr Parker’s case was reported fairly and was in keeping with Anglia’s tradition of
championing the individual. The term “self confessed motorcycle martyr”, was not meant
literally. Rather it was modern parlance for someone prepared to suffer the
inconvenience of being pulled over and going to court for his cause. The phrase “perhaps
best known to the town’s magistrates” was a speculative remark qualified by its context
and not a statement of fact. The use of the phrase “got off scot free” was fair and
appropriate in both its legal and dictionary meaning of an absolute discharge. It was a
shorthand description and in the context of what else was said in the report at that point, it
did not imply that Mr Parker got away with something he shouldn’t have. These
comments therefore were not unfair to Mr Parker;
b) the omission of comment from the manufacturers does not make the item unfair as
there was significant opportunity for Mr Parker to present the safety aspects of the C1;
c) the interviews with the police officer with road safety expertise and the motorbike
expert were included to provide balance to ensure that the item could not be construed as
encouraging the riding of such machines without helmets. They were both professionals
in their field who had been asked off-camera specifically about helmet-wearing and the
Ofcom’s statutory duties include the application, in the case of all television and radio
services, of standards which provide adequate protection to members of the public and all
other persons from unfair treatment and unwarranted infringements of privacy in
programmes included in such services.
In carrying out its duties, Ofcom has regard to the need to secure that these standards
are applied in a manner that best guarantees an appropriate level of freedom of
expression. Ofcom is also obliged to have regard in all cases, to principles which require
regulatory activities to be transparent, accountable, proportionate, consistent and targeted
only at cases in which action is needed.
In the circumstances of this case Ofcom found the following:
a) Ofcom took the view that the programme’s presentation of Mr Parker’s campaign
for changes in the law concerning the wearing of motorcycle helmet for riders of the C1
motorcycle was straightforward; factual and not critical of him. In reaching this conclusion
Ofcom took into account the coherent and reasoned argument presented by Mr Parker in
the item. Ofcom considered that it may have been preferable to have used less emotive
language when describing Mr Parker so as to avoid any potential to confuse or mislead
viewers about Mr Parker’s reputation. However, given the straightforward visual
representation of Mr Parker operating the C1 and his own presentation of a coherent and
reasoned argument, referred to above, it was unlikely that the use of such language
would have materially affected viewers understanding of Mr Parker and his campaign;
b) in Ofcom’s view, as the item presented a straightforward, factual account of Mr
Parker’s arguments it was not necessary in the interest of fairness to have included
reference to the safety claims of the C1 from its manufacturers; and,
c) in the absence of the untransmitted footage of the interviews included in the item
Ofcom was not able to decide whether the comments provided in the item by the police
officer and motorbike expert were directly in response to questions about the safety of the
C1. In these circumstances, Ofcom’s role is to consider whether the comments, as
presented, resulted in specific unfairness to Mr Parker in the programme as broadcast. In
our view, it was legitimate for the item to include an alternative view of the safety of not
wearing a helmet and it would have been unlikely that this would have lead viewers to
have reacted critically to Mr Parker, given his own reasoned argument.
In all the circumstances, Ofcom found no unfairness in the programme’s presentation of
the issues and the complaint was not upheld.
3 November 2005
Executive Fairness Group