Mike Stevens | May 1, 2008

Recently while trawling the various automotive news websites—as one does—I came across the website for a local automotive liftout published by a well-known international news conglomerate. They'd published an article about a gathering and 'cruise' for a certain model of performance-oriented Fords. It was a puff piece written by a "regular reader", about how joining a car club is a good way to meet people.

The article described the story of dozens of car enthusiasts meeting up and going for a drive around Sydney's hinterlands. The author talked about how he was happy that most of the cars didn't have exterior modifications, but acknoweldged that most had modified exhausts and engine management systems. Later, it turns out one of them was pulled over by the police for speeding.

What wasn't in the piece, however, is the usual denigration of such gatherings. There was no criticism of the fact that here you had a whole gaggle of cars gathering in one place, clogging up the roads and possibly intimidating other drivers. There was no implication that such a pack of high-performance vehicles leads to street racing. There was no condemnation of the speeding driver—which the media and the government would have us believe is the sole cause of road fatalities. And there was definitely no mention of people modifying their cars in ways that cause vehicles to fail to meet compliance with noise and emissions regulations.

In other words, there was absolutely none of the denunciation that is inevitably delivered when traditional media talks about groups of drivers in Japanese imports. The article more or less laughs off the speeding offense. Were the driver in a Skyline instead, I suspect he'd have found himself hauled up on terrorism charges or something equally ridiculous.

This article is not isolated. Every time something bad happens on the road, inevitably its imports that are targeted—despite the people who caused it. At the beginning of the year, an elderly couple was killed when two street racing Commodores, driven by fully licenced adults, collided with their car. The end result? A highly publicised police crackdown on import cars and 'P' platers, including footage of people exiting a legal, off-the-streets, drag racing event at WSID.

A few years ago, a car-load of kids leaving a party in a Commodore near the border of NSW and Qld lost control and crashed, killing almost everyone. The NSW government appointed a committee, including the father of one of the deceased. The decision the committee came up with? NSW's current P plater vehicle restrictions on "high performance cars", a list on which the Commodore that killed his son is not listed, and is supported by the aforementioned news conglomerate's local newspaper.

It doesn't take a member of MENSA to see a disconnect in the logic that results in such enforcement. The publicised incidents involve one type of car or driver, but they crack down on a completely different subculture.

For the record, my problem is not with domestic auto manufacturers, or their wares. I happen to love both Ford and Holden's flagship products. Nor do I have any grievance with the drivers, who are car enthusiasts just like myself. I also have no doubt that domestic car enthusiasts also cop it in the neck from law enforcement. What I do have a problem with is how traditional media has lost its integrity, and will publish any old rubbish in the quest for profit. The media has a social obligation to report fairly, and push for the social good. Its that journalistic integrity, and the public trust it originally created, that has made them as powerful as they are today. It feels like they're just pissing it all away.

The next time the media wonders why we get crackpots railing against our society, maybe they should take a long, hard, look at themselves and consider that these people are the product of the society they themselves are shaping. There's a reason why a lot of young Americans are drawing their current affairs information from The Daily Show, a comedy, than their more "serious" offerings.

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