Earlier this month there was a fuss when the BBC was accused of bias over attempting to “achieve balance” by inviting a climate change sceptic to appear opposite a climate scientist Today’s example on BBC Radio 4 World at One was, in my opinion, at least if not more egregious.
The so-called “debate” involved “motoring journalist” Quentin Willson, who fronts the “Fair Fuel” campaign with the road haulage association. This campaign has effectively pressured government to freeze the minimal increases in fuel tax through the fuel tax accelerator. Key features of this campaign are avoiding admitting the extent of what conventional economists call “external costs” of motoring, which exceed the amount of money raised through fuel and other forms of taxation. (For further discussion see this and how motoring has been getting cheaper while other costs of living have increased ).
The “debate” was based on the fact that the proportion of revenue raised by the government from motoring taxation – a tiny 5% – is forecast to decline with electric cars coming on stream. Willson kicked off with the ludicrous assertion that “the greens” are owning the debate on motoring taxation , and – even more bizarre – that London Mayor Sadiq Khan is planning to ban cars altogether. (This presumably refers to very vague suggestions in the draft Mayor’s Transport Strategy that road charging may be considered as an option for controlling congestion).
Now it is fair that Mr Willson should be allowed to give his views on this subject. But a supposed public service broadcaster should give an opposing view which would point out, for example, that drivers do not pay their way (insofar as costs of danger, pollution, and other numerous public health and environmental problems can be paid for). Surely someone could have been found to argue for a more robust approach to problems from current, let alone increased, levels of car use rather than the mild version of road pricing suggested by Willson?
But no. The opposition to Willson came from – wait for it – the extremist pro-more motoring Alliance of British Drivers!
I must admit to not bothering to listen to this person’s views in detail. I did catch a bit of the usual whinging about how all motoring “taxation” (I think it’s just paying a small amount towards covering the costs they incur) should be spent on more roads, presumably for more cars. I also caught what appeared to be a complaint that electronic tracking for road pricing might be used to track drivers travelling at illegal speeds, and he seemed to be worried about that.
But I really wasn’t listening. Because the point is that the BBC shouldn’t be having this ludicrous bias, and that’s the news that counts.