Cycling Magazine Road.cc Attacks Its Own Readers

Road.cc faces the same business and financial pressure as any other publisher, and unsuprisingly, they too get their hands dirty laundering pernicious propaganda for private parties.

This follows Part 1: Much Ado About Cycle Lanes & Part 2: “Someone Sue the Daily Mail for Fraud”, a series looking at how the “public relations” industry has been tasked with destroying the reputation of cycling.

The “best” propaganda is always delivered by somone perceived to be an ally. This explains the career arc of the many Eton-Oxbridge quislings ranging from George Orwell and Owen Jones, to Penny Red who claimed to speak “for the people”. Each adopts the aesthetics of their targeted demographic to have an easier time folding emergent anti-establishment sentiment and action back into neutered ideology or benign resistance. Take just Laurie Penny who presents herself as an alternative voice:

She is a media construct which has phased though porn-pixie burlesque, indeterminate anarchist politics during Occupy, accentuated her “Red” streaks with socialist rhetoric in support of Bernie Sanders, and now has matured into an open shill in the New Statesman for war criminal, Hillary Clinton. Along with becoming bezzie mates with US national security assets, Penny might as well out as a royalist at this point.

I am with her, [claims Penny Red]. The presidency of the United States does not belong by right to anyone, man or woman, living or dead. If it did, though, it would belong to Hillary Clinton. Secretary Clinton has been preparing for this job for several decades, has worked her way up through decades of public excoriation and relentless misogynist attack, of having to be more competent than every man around her.

In a much less grandiose setting, this same effect can be found within cycling. There is a cottage industry of writers and publicists that have damaged the community no end by reproducing press releases as if their own work. Voices like Kaya Burgess, Peter Walker, Vonny Moyes, Laura Laker, Carlton Reid and Ross Lydall, but not exclusively, have drowned out and often marginalised authentic community voice in favour of industry or government narrative. However, because it was so egregious, my main focus will be an article in cycling magazine Road.cc written by Sarah Barth.

Back in May 2016, she put her name to the following:

Cyclist gawping at Shard runs head first into BMW

Since publication Road.cc has modified their headline but they in no way went far enough.

Cyclist staring at Shard runs head first into BMW

The accompanying video used was a copy since pulled from the internet, but still remaining is the original nugget of “viral” truth published five days earlier and titled “Cyclist and car play chicken”.

For anyone viewing, a car being illegally driven on the wrong side of the road crashed into someone cycling is blatantly obvious, and Portch even gives testimony to support that causal relationship describing a u-turn as attached commentary.

I [taxi driver, Kevin Portch] didn’t actually see the collision. There was a shout [then] I looked over as he slid off the bonnet. There was nothing alongside the taxi rank and can only assume the car had u-turned and was intending to park facing oncoming traffic.

Why then did Road.cc invert the narrative and smear the victim as a “gawping” negligent who “smashed head first into a BMW”?

In comparison they minimise any blame on the driver whose criminal behaviour is watered-down to just “idling” and “dawdling”. Barth would lift extensive quotation from the Mirror, who too ran the same victim-blaming narrative, and predictably, so echoed the Daily Mail.

‘Distracted’ cyclist crashes into BMW on wrong side of road after peeking into luxury hotel at The Shard (by Jon Livesey & Liam Geraghty, for the [Trinity] Mirror)
Wheelie bad driving! Nosy cyclist crashes head-on into a BMW after taking a peek into luxury London hotel (by Alexander Robertson for the Mail)

If unclear the timeline is as follows:

  • May 2nd: taxi driver, Kevin Portch, uploads the original video.
  • May 5th: story first appears in the Daily Mail.
  • May 6th: story echoed in the (Trinity) Mirror by Liam Geraghty.
  • May 7th: story appears in Road.cc and arguably with the most toxic and condemning of headlines. “Nosy” became “distracted” became “gawping”.

No one thought to include (or revise into the story as ammendment) the account given by the victim:

Rickypillay, London, 5 months ago [replying to the Daily Mail]
On my life here I was the cyclist in question and a few points to note: 1. I was looking! 2. You don’t see he actually pulls out turning right out of the shard hotel into the wrong lane! 3. We did not argue, he accepted immediately he was in the wrong and we exchanged details 4. I’m an old school Londoner I wasn’t hurt luckily so I nothing to claim about! 5. I wasn’t looking in the window, I saw the car but expected him to turn right into the left lane not into the wrong lane and into me!

A year earlier, May 23rd 2015, Road.cc colleague, Simon MacMichael, would promote another “viral” video packaged with others on the same theme, this time one inevitably spreading the idea that people cycling disobey traffic signals. “Lucky escape for law-breaking rider”, MacMichael would write.

The video (which also shows a taxi driver disobeying the same signal) then appeared in the Manchester Evening News, the Independent, the Mirror, the Telegraph, and Cycling Weekly, but it was the Daily Mail who actually got the reporting correct:

Shocking moment cyclist crashes into a double decker bus after zooming through a red traffic light when his brakes fail

His brakes failed, thank you Road.cc. The Mirror and sister paper Manchester Evening News both re-ran this non-story the following year on January 27th 2016, to coincide with the clip being used on ITV national television, in their “Car Crash Britain” series. Is it not clear already that the media as a whole is looking for any excuse to demonise cycling?

One may understand Road.cc trying to capitalise on “viral video” clickbait, but why would they have to plagiarise editorial narrative as well (unless they were paid or otherwise contractually obliged to do so)? They could have easily attracted views by exclaiming how a dangerous BMW driver (notorious for their bad behaviour) mowed down someone cycling. That would be sensible because they wouldn’t risk alienating readers who are presumably sympathetic to cycling, and pandering to prejudices of badly behaved BMW drivers would gain the desired hate-clicks, if indeed pageviews was their motivation.

For the video involving the wayward BMW, both Trinity Mirror and Daily Mail used still images of the video giving copyright attribution to Mercury Press, therefore Sarah Barth and Road.cc likely knew they were dealing with a “public relations” firm pushing a story, and now I can complete that timeline. On May 3rd, Liam Geraghty, representing Mercury Press contacted the taxi driver and amateur video-ist, Kevin Portch via Youtube. (Later Geraghty would be passed off as a Mirror journalist.)

Hi Kevin, I would like to speak to you about this video. I work with the national newspapers. Please can you contact me at liam@mercurypress(dot)co(dot)uk. Thanks!

Mercury Press is a “public relations” company located in Liverpool, but they’ve managed to keep themselves secluded from much written exposure. Company House records show a former incarnation as Roger Blythe Ltd between Oct 1973 to 1982, and directorship passed through Chris Johnson to David Burner, who also directs Caters Media Group Ltd (CMG). This is actually the company “exclusively managing” Portch’s video (who incidentally still hasn’t been paid a penny yet).

CMG claims to be “the UK’s oldest independent press agency” and with offices in the US, UK, Africa, Australia and India, they push content out to forty countries. There’s a strange sleight of hand here as Burner seems to lease content managed by CMG to Mercury Press, who then deal with the various media outlets. Burner also directs (De Ja) VuViral Video, which looks like another shadey “public relations” operation on Youtube. These relationships are literally about limiting liability and obfuscating flows of information, enabling each publisher — whether niche cycling magazine Road.cc, “working class labour” Trinity Mirror, or “working class Tory” the Daily Mail — to rebrand the same flows of centralised information control even if they are unaware. The old idea of a “Ministry of Information” still exists, but Anglo-American fascism was smart enough to hide theirs in plain sight, just fractured across demographics.

The previous CMG director, Chris Johnson, still remains in the industry controlling the UK Press Card Authority (which as the name suggests, oversees who is allowed to officially call themselves journalists). He also runs Story2Sell, Bay Tv (a TV channel consortium covering England and Scotland), and formly directed the National Association of Press Agencies. (He also was in control of the James Bulger Memorial Trust and I wonder what else lies down that rabbit hole.)

What we have therefore, is a PR grunt (Liam Geraghty) tasked to source material that can be then spun as ammunition by the national press in the media war on cycling. This network of overlapping interests where the same people tentacle through publishers, “public relations” firms, and journalist accreditation, has such influence they managed to get a cycling magazine to attack its own readers. However, Road.cc and its “writers” seem more than happy to sell out the community for personal gain.


Faking it so there’s no need in Making it

In May 2015, Laura Laker would pen the following fluff piece extolling the virtures of a new Tory minister: “Eric Pickles’ replacement could be great news for cycling, say campaigners”.

The replacement of Eric Pickles with MP Greg Clark as head of the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) could be a beacon of hope for cycling, say campaigners.

Laker never actually attributes that “beacon of hope” quote to anyone in particular, so I questioned this directly to which she became hyper defensive accusing me of “libel”. Anyone researching at the time knows Tory policy is road privatisation and more car sales, and Laker now should be more than embarrassed as the government has since cut cycling funding whilst extending subsidy for oil, gas and electric private motor transport.

Sarah Barth’s track record of laundering press releases goes back a little further, at least to February 8th, 2014, when she provided media support for the now infamous “Turbo” upgrade to Bedford roundabout. I say infamous, because the scheme was designed to maximise volume and speed of motor traffic through the junction. Half a million pounds of cycle safety funding was embezzled towards this end, but signed off on by Sustrans and CyclingUK. That is a scandal enough for prison time but despite this, Road.cc covered (over) the story and had the habit of providing imagery of a different single-lane design even though they’ve been sent multiple corrections. The safe bet is an article beginning life as a Department for Transport press release, and for whatever reason, Road.cc abandoned their critical faculties.

Pictured below is the plans that were always available at the time and what actually got built. This “turbo” roundabout received the award for “best sustainable transport solution” from the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, an organisation under Royal charter representing the interests of Toyota, Jaguar, Land Rover, Arriva (transport), First Group (buses), Continential (tyres), DHL, TNT, and many other major hauliers).


Barth was at it again, December 2015, this time laundering information for a bus priority scheme spun as a boon for cycling.

This was such horseshit propaganda from the Department of Transport’s Manchester office that Road.cc had to quietly revise their headline, removing the “1 billion” pound claim.

Works begin in January to make Manchester a nicer place for cyclists

Manchester has spent almost nothing on cycling and what now exists is often criminally negligent. Any intern-researcher fresh with GCSEs could find out the claimed “one billion pounds” has actually been spent on metro and bus extensions, both key competitors to cycling. They’ve made sure to sabotage every innovation they can, and that is no hyperbole as this image captured by Mad Cycle Lanes of Manchester shows. It is both the metaphor and reality of how British authorities and motoring organisations carve through freedom of movement whilst pretending otherwise.

There is a media war on cycling and information is only ever a power multiplier for operations concrete. It’s almost as if the survival of the British economy depends on motoring madness succeeding at all costs, so allowing even a glimpse of freedom of movement sees levers pulled sending public relation machines into overdrive. One can see where they are headed, because they have for some time prepared the ground for cycle taxes, licensing, insurance, bans, and mandatory cycle helmets should the need arise. Sadly, the organisations that claim to be on “our side”, such as Living Streets, Sustrans and even the supposed cycling media consistently act against community interests putting up little resistance. They could expose and educate on media theory and story specifics, but none choose that approach.

London Cycling Campaign would be another community organisation showing this worrying trend. Despite likening cycling to terrorism and attacking every space for cycling initiative, they have helped the London Taxi Drivers Association repair damaged public relations. First the pair collaborated with Green Peace of all organisations claiming the LTDA wanted “real action” on air pollution, then another still-born bastard PR fetus was delivered perversely wet-nursed by cycling “writer”, Carlton Reid:

Whilst the organisation held out a palm of friendship the other was jamming sticks between spokes blaming pollution they cause on the actual solution, and trying their damnedest to block new London cycle construction. If that isn’t insult enough, Laura Laker chaired a Guardian Live Event asking the question: “How can we get more people cycling?”, and along with Peter Walker, they literally were expecting people to pay to listen to Steve McNamara on the subject, the very same LTDA representative who incited violence towards people who cycle by calling them the ISIS of London.

I don’t claim some grand conspiracy on their part, but these people play their part well in quite the shit-show, and if this ridiculousness all beggars belief then next will suprise even more so, because even the National Health Service is being used to attack cycling.