Misleading photos prompt press complaints from Cycling UK

Shooting photos on a long lens can make cyclists appear bunched up Picture: Stock Image
Cycling UK has complained to the press watchdog over misleading photographs in at least two national newspapers which purported to show cyclists breaching coronavirus restrictions, as Adrian Wills reports.

The images which appeared in the Mail Online and the Mirror appeared to show groups of cyclists huddled closely together in London’s Regent’s Park.

In the Mail, the photographs were captioned: “Cyclists in Regent’s park have been ignoring the government's social distancing rules by riding in close proximity to each other.”

Similar captions were used in the Mirror, suggesting cyclists were flouting strict social distancing rules.

However, it is clear from a closer examination of the pictures that they were taken on a long lens, a technique that has the effect of foreshortening a shot and making it appear the cyclists are bunched together.

In his complaint to IPSO (Independent Press Standards), Duncan Dollimore, Head of Campaigns, said: “…the photograph of the cyclists in Regents Park is taken from a narrow perspective from head on.

“A photograph taken from the side view with a wide lens would have shown that the cyclists in question were observing the social distancing guidance (riding at least two metres apart), and would not have supported the contention that they were riding in a group.

“The photograph has been taken to create a misleading impression and support a factually inaccurate narrative.

“Publication of the photograph in the context of an article which inaccurately implies that exercise outdoors is somehow in breach of the regulations and guidance, unfairly and inaccurately suggests that those cyclists, others cycling in parks for their permitted and recommended exercise, and people choosing to cycle during the COVID-19 crisis were or are behaving irresponsibly, and potentially either illegally or contrary to guidance, all of which is incorrect.”

“The photograph has been taken to create a misleading impression and support a factually inaccurate narrative.

Duncan Dollimore, Head of Campaigns

Cycling UK, the national cycling charity, is advising people to continue to cycle for exercise, essential shopping trips and where they need to commute to work, but they should not be cycling in groups unless the group is made up of household members.

Cycling is an excellent form of exercise and transport, as recommended by the Government which has exempted cycle shops from closing under its COVID-19 lockdown measures.

Mr Dollimore said: “On the whole, cyclists have been behaving responsibly, avoiding riding in groups and remaining at least two metres from other cyclists and pedestrians.

“These photographs in the national papers give an incredibly misleading impression that somehow cyclists are behaving above the law when nothing could be further from the truth.”

He explained the distorted and compressed nature of the images is apparent when looking at the road markings, particularly the white dashed lines in the middle of the road and the shadows from the cyclists which clearly don’t overlap because they are some distance apart.

Mr Dollimore added: “The effect and implications of using a telescopic lens would have been known to the photographer. It has been used to bolster an inaccurate story and dangerous narrative, namely that it is somehow wrong and in breach of guidance and regulations to cycle outside during the COVID-19 crisis, and that groups of cyclists are routinely breaching the social distancing guidelines.

“None of this is supported by the facts reported or the images used [in these articles].”

IPSO is expected to respond to Cycling UK’s complaints within 15 days.