BBC Home
Explore the BBC
Low graphics|Accessibility help
newswatch banner
Last Updated: Monday, 11 September 2006, 09:22 GMT 10:22 UK
Do 4x4s get a rough ride?
Some viewers have complained that news reports often portray 4x4 vehicles in a bad light. One of them, Phil Davies, explains why he thinks they deserve fairer treatment. BBC editor Simon Waldman responds to his comments.

Phil Davies
Phil Davies: "BBC seems to support anti-4x4 lobby"
I'm a 4x4 owner - in fact, I've got two. As long as cars like this are legal in this country, I can buy one without having to justify myself to anybody.

Now some people object to these cars, usually citing safety reasons or the environment, and they're entitled to those views. But I think the BBC sometimes seems to be tacitly supporting their arguments.

Last month, a committee of MPs came up with recommendations on reducing vehicle emissions. BBC News 24 seemed in no doubt what the main point was.

Caption wrong

MPs suggest 4x4 car tax of 1,800pa, said an on-screen caption. That was wrong. At no point did the MPs' report single out 4x4s for special treatment. It was addressing the issue of ALL vehicles with high emissions.

TV report on 4x4s
Why was this particular car featured?
But watching the news that day, you'd have thought it was 4x4s only that were being picked on.

At lunchtime, the news included a still picture of a 4x4 to illustrate the story. On the Six O'Clock News moving pictures were used and a 4x4 driver was interviewed. But it was the Ten O'Clock bulletin that really summed up the BBC's approach for me.

The reporter illustrated her story by getting into a BMW X5 and driving away. In fact, this particular car is 116th on the list of high emission vehicles, according to an official government website.

Different story

Why not use one of the other 115 vehicles? Only 24 of them are 4x4s, so there were plenty of cars or MPVs that could have been chosen.

The bulletin then compared statistics over a supposed journey from London to Edinburgh. Naturally the 4x4 they'd picked came off worst - it would have produced 135kg of carbon emissions, compared to the 95kg produced by a smaller car.

BBC news graphic
Were these figures representative?
A diesel Land Rover would have come in at 106kg, while a 1.6 Mini Cooper S would have generated 107 kg. That tells a different story, doesn't it?

But it doesn't seem to fit the BBC's agenda. Whenever there's a story about petrol or about vehicle emissions, they seem to reach for the easy targets.

Even on a recent Breakfast discussion about child benefit, two e-mails were read out criticising people who received benefit and also drove 4x4s. Was that relevant? Was a balancing opinion sought?

And if you look at the BBC news website, you'll find headlines such as "Woman is injured in 4x4 collision"; "Masked man uses 4x4 in bank raid"; and "Woman crushed by own 4x4 vehicle".

Exports are valuable

Why is the fact that it's a 4x4 relevant in these stories? Why not describe them by their model, as you would for a Ford Mondeo or a Renault Clio?

Not all 4x4s are petrol-drinking monsters. Many run on clean diesel or even LPG, and some are actually quite small.

The 4x4 industry exports thousands of vehicles every year, keeping people in work and bringing valuable foreign currency into this country. How about covering some of the positive aspects of the vehicles' popularity?

I'm not saying the BBC has to promote 4x4s all the time, but I would like to see a more balanced approach.

Simon Waldman, morning editor on BBC News 24, replies:

I think Phil Davies makes a number of good points.

His point about other cars being high polluters is absolutely right - of the highest polluting cars nine out of 10 are high performance sports cars, but how many of those do you see on the road?

Simon Waldman
It has become a bit of a shorthand
Simon Waldman
Morning Editor, News 24
The point about 4x4s is this huge explosion in the numbers that you see on the road. As a group they are disproportionate emitters of C02s.

There are small-engined, four-wheel drive vehicles and there are diesel, four-wheel drive vehicles but the majority of 4x4s sold in the UK still remain high petrol-consuming, high emission vehicles and the number of those far outweighs these monstrous sports cars that you also see occasionally on the road.

But we have had a tendency to lump high emission vehicles together under the banner of 4x4s - it's a kind of shorthand. Phil mentioned specifically the on-screen caption used on News 24. Now space is at a premium on these captions and '4x4' is three characters while 'high emission vehicle' just won't fit.

So it has become a bit of a shorthand but I would say that we ought to be a bit more careful in the future.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


^^ back to top
BBC News frontpage | NewsWatch | Notes | Contact us | Profiles | History
BBC News Newswatch Friday 20:45 on BBC News 24 and Saturday 07:45 Breakfast