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le third thence

20th August 1983, Page 34
20th August 1983
Page 34
Page 34, 20th August 1983 — le third thence
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

Keywords : Television

LIER this year the Road lage Association and the jht Transport Association ?. engaged in a furious public about haulage rates. Those ; have passed, and both iciations have reacted rously, and in unison, to two nt events which they see as rious threat to their ribers' operations. One is the artment of Transport's lied proposals for lementing the 1982 isport Act's environmental risions on operating centres. other is the report of the )cl inquiry into a London r ban.

fen by their own normally irous standards of protest associations' public

3m ents on these two topics .4xceptional. This, no doubt, hat their members expect of n. After all, membership is compulsory, and unless ;e who continue to pay their ;.criptions, even in the ent hard times, can see signs )me action being taken to ect them, the temptation to out might be too difficult to st.

lere is also the effect on the ernment to be considered. ests which did not come up te usual standard of lency would undoubtedly be rpreted as indications of less total dissatisfaction with subject matter under attack. can almost hear the thing bureaucratic phrases ig inserted into submissions linisters — "unlikely to be pus opposition", "ritual ;es but nothing to give cause :oncern", or (most gerous of all) "a few 'netic amendments should the ruffled feelings", and so ) expect the RHA and the not to squeal loudly would ke expecting a cat not to ;e a mouse; such restraint would be unnatural.

However, their members and the Government are not the only readers of the associations' outbursts. There is a third audience — the general public. Stridency certainly pleases the membership. Its absence would probably be misunderstood by the Government. But its effect on the public is very different.

The growth of the communications industry in recent years has not simply been confined to an increase in the number of TV channels, the birth and growth first of BBC local radio and then commercial stations, the arrival of free local newspapers and the enormous number of specialist magazines. Media outlets have certainly become more numerous. But above all the most widespread general media forms — TV and radio — have become infinitely more accessible to those who have something to say.

On a normal day Radio 4's Today programme must contain at least a dozen interviews with people with a message of one sort or another for the general public, whether it be political, social, racial, religious, cultural, industrial, economic or environmental. More recently two breakfast TV channels have added to the outlets, and there are literally dozens of local radio stations doing much the same thing at the same time. Millions of people hear some of this.

The effect of this bombardment on the public has been to generate a weary cynicism towards the views of anyone with an idea or a cause to peddle. Claud Cockburn used to advise anyone listening to a politician to ask himself: "Why is this bastard lying to me?" Where non-politicians are concerned it is not so much a matter of total disbelief as a resigned .acceptance that of course he (or she) is bound to say that, but no doubt there's another side to the story.

So when the FTA, commenting on the Wood report, says that extensive research into transshipment has consistently shown that this creates its own environmental problems, this is discounted in advance, and makes little impact. The same fate awaits the RHA's contention that the new 0-licence proposals would "strike at the very heart of an effective business operation".

However, the industry's spokesmen can hardly be expected to acquiesce quietly in all that the Government or other regulatory bodies propose to inflict on them. Quite apart from their responsibility to their own members there is a wider social duty to ensure that the nation (or its capital) does not saddle itself unintentionally with a ruinous system.

Paradoxically this might be more effectively done by a softer approach. The tone of the protests a few months ago on taxation left the public with the impression that it was the protesters who would suffer from the measures complained • of. The fact that increased costs would inevitably be passed on and eventually hit every shopping basket and every home did not get across. A mirror image of the same process applied to the economic benefits of heavier lorries; the public deduced from the industry's enthusiasm that only hauliers would reap these benefits, not themselves.

Much more effective than mere protests is putting across the basic facts. The RHA member who painted on his lorry the amount it paid in taxation had the right idea, for incredibly many people think that lorries pay the same tax rate as cars!

For example, comments on the current 0-licensing proposals could have been used to let the general public know about the high standards which operators already have to comply with before they are

allowed to operate, and the penalties which await them, in both the magistrates' and the Traffic courts if they fall far below legal requirements. This is totally unknown to almost everyone outside the industry. Instead the associations' howls of complaint just look like yet another selfish vested interest seeking to protect itself at the expense of the general public.

By coincidence two examples of what might be called "going with the grain" of public opinion occurred earlier this month. When the Civic Trust came out .with a report favouring a large by-pass programme the FTA was quick to issue a supporting statement. It also took the opportunity to point out the need for proper services, in order that lorries should not be forced to leave by-passes for essential needs.

The FTA had made the same point, though on a bigger scale, on the previous day, in commenting on the absence of services on the M25. Without these, it pointed out, traffic would have to leave the motorway in search of these services in adjacent towns and villages, to their environmental detriment. This got a good deal of coverage in the general press, and must have let the public know that operators too were concerned about the effects of lorries on the environment.

It is probably inevitable that the RHA and FTA should continue to have their members and the Government at the front of their minds when commenting on proposed regulatory measures. But it would do no harm for them to pay a little more attention to the effect their Words will have on the general public. As the nervousness about higher weights showed, it is this third audience which looms much larger in politicians minds than even the most passionately argued case presented by the industry.


Organisations: Transport Association, RHA
People: Claud Cockburn
Locations: London

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