Thursday, June 9, 2011

Food For Thought

Two weeks ago a St. Catharines radio station had an "Eff Cyclists Campaign" on the Biggs & Barr show with the predictable backlash. They claimed their issue is only "...with those hardcore cycling enthusiasts who seem to think that the road belongs only to them and that anyone who is not riding a bicycle is somehow a lesser human being." and not with those cyclists who obey the rules of the road. They also claim their message is share the road. They prefaced their remarks to a newspaper story, by saying, "Here's the summary of what we actually said without the fear mongering and inflammatory language."

This raises a number of freedom of speech issues. It is in the long standing tradition of journalism and commentators to voice controversial opinions and issues. This leads to change and helps keep society together by allowing people to vent their feelings.

For example in the 1960s and 1970s the non-smokers rights movement was very controversial. They were pushing for such things as no smoking in grocery stores and non-smoking sections in restaurants, which was radical at the time. Radio shows played an important role in allowing people to air their views both for and against.

There is also a very strong tradition of poking fun at groups, issues and society in general. One only has to think of the long tradition of political cartoons and satire. Comics have long poked fun at people, issues, groups and life in general. There is also an equally strong tradition of protecting the vulnerable. This is one of the reasons we don't poke fun at the abuse of people.

The radio station in question said that their "Eff Cyclists Campaign" was meant as tongue-in-cheek and didn't pose a threat to cyclists. Was it? Let's take a look.

In all fairness I didn't listen personally to the show and all I'm going on is the newspaper account and comments. However, one question that immediately comes to mind is how do these hardcore cycling enthusiasts act who seem to think that the road belongs only to them? Is it by riding several a breast on a busy road or is it by a single cyclists taking the lane on a road that is too narrow to safely share. The former is illegal, the latter, according to police, is legally permissible.

A couple of other questions need to be asked. If they did a similar program with any other identifiable group would it be appropriate? The other question is how did cyclists take it? Those quoted in the newspaper article and who responded after the fact feel threatened by it. They did not seem to think it was tongue-in-cheeck as the manager of the radio station said. To be funny something must be seen and heard as such by those on the receiving end as well as on the giving end.

Some food for thought, not only for Biggs & Barr, but for all who comment and/or enourage comments about identifiable groups to think carefully before they act.

See "Radio Hosts Give Cyclists The Gears"