Thursday 23 November 2017

Rally - An 'alternative' view

Well, that was tough yesterday. Reading the headlines, the selective comments and seeing the pictures. The mainstream media doing what it does best. Seeking out sensation with little regard for those who were there, and who were personally affected by the terrible tragedies on those two days. For those too who attended the FAI in its stiff and formal setting, re-living the events in a court room is one thing, reading sensational stories afterwards is quite another.

Seems to me, most news outlets latched on to the word 'avoidable' when mentioning the fatalities and then selected and plucked out other phrases to bolster their lurid headlines.

Yes, there were shortcomings in the marking-out and taping-off, but to imply that signage was negligent is way off the mark. There were signs and there was tape, and there were people who chose to ignore them.

The mainstream media also neglected to mention that in the JCR2014 tragedy a certain named individual was asked twice to move back behind the tape, and each time the officials departed, he moved back to his previous roadside position. There are also some additional reports of conversations which took place at that time with other bystanders and these were overlooked in the compilation of yesterday's 'news' reports, so what we got was a pretty one-side and biased view of events on that fateful day.

And whilst I abhor the loss of life and have sympathy for the family and friends of those lost, the facts have a right to be reported. Over the years I have attended many motor sports events, on two and four wheels, where some competitors have failed to go home to their families at close of competition, but the Snowman Rally in 2013 was the first fatality involving a spectator and the JCR2014 was the second where three more fatalities occurred to non-competitors.

I can't help thinking that the 'news industry' these days works in a similar, and yet very different, way to the 'political industry'. Whereas politicians like to lead with positive headlines and good news and play down the bad bits, journalists and editors prefer to lead with lurid headlines and bad news and play down the positive bits.

Cynical? Yes, just a bit.  I'm reminded once again of an old Editor in my first newspaper job: "Get the facts right and the story will write itself."

Although the Sheriff highlights 12 recommendations which should be considered for future implementation many of these had actually been underway for years, while some have been implemented in the past two years and the rest are currently underway, he did make note that in both tragic cases, circumstances on the day were affected by an influx of unexpectedly large crowds which overwhelmed marshalling numbers at those locations.

Perhaps more importantly, the late arrival of these large groups exacerbated those conditions. The underlying advice here seeming to suggest that spectators should make a point of getting to their chosen locations EARLY. In both cases the report also calls for more experienced and better trained marshals - well, that scheme too is currently well underway.

Another point to consider, folk were going there to watch a rally. Unless they were first-timers they had an idea of what to expect. And yet, some stood in silly and dangerous places regardless, even when advised against doing so.

The FAI was not about apportioning blame, it was about finding out what happened and what went wrong on those two terrible days, but that's not the end of it. When both events take to the stage in the future there will be some in the 'news industry' who will preface their reports with reference to past events. It happens to other sports and to other 'news' subjects too, so we'll just have to get used to it.

Next year and the new season is almost upon us. As we turn a new page the hope will be that we can get back to enjoying our sport in a safe and sensible manner. But let's not forget what happened in the past and use it to make the future safer. The future of the sport is in the hands of each and everyone one of us, not just those who participate and officiate, but those who stand and watch.

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