In this blog post from 2011, George Monbiot explains why this is bad news:
An episode of Top Gear showed Jeremy Clarkson and James May setting off for Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire, 60 miles away. The car unexpectedly ran out of charge when they got to Lincoln, and had to be pushed. They concluded that “electric cars are not the future”.
But it wasn’t unexpected: Nissan has a monitoring device in the car which transmits information on the state of the battery. This shows that, while the company delivered the car to Top Gear fully charged, the programme-makers ran the battery down before Clarkson and May set off, until only 40% of the charge was left. Moreover, they must have known this, as the electronic display tells the driver how many miles’ worth of electricity they have, and the sat-nav tells them if they don’t have enough charge to reach their destination. In this case it told them – before they set out on their 60-mile journey – that they had 30 miles’ worth of electricity. But, as Ben Webster of the Times reported earlier this week, “at no point were viewers told that the battery had been more than half empty at the start of the trip.”
It gets worse. As Webster points out, in order to stage a breakdown in Lincoln, “it appeared that the Leaf was driven in loops for more than 10 miles in Lincoln until the battery was flat.”
When Jeremy Clarkson was challenged about this, he admitted that he knew the car had only a small charge before he set out. But, he said: “That’s how TV works”. Not on the BBC it isn’t, or not unless your programme is called Top Gear.
Top Gear’s response, by its executive producer Andy Wilman, is a masterpiece of distraction and obfuscation. He insists that the programme wasn’t testing the range claims of the vehicles, and nor did it state that the vehicles wouldn’t achieve their claimed range. But the point is that it creates the strong impression that the car ran out of juice unexpectedly, leaving the presenters stranded in Lincoln, a city with no public charging points.
Yes, this is an entertainment programme, yes it’s larking about, and sometimes it’s very funny. But none of this exempts it from the BBC’s guidelines and the duty not to fake the facts.
So how does it get away with it? It’s simple. It makes the BBC a fortune. Both the 15th and 16th series of Top Gear were among the top five TV programmes sold internationally by BBC Worldwide over the last financial year. Another section of the editorial guidelines tells us that “our audiences should be confident that our decisions are not influenced by outside interests, political or commercial pressures”. But in this case we can’t be. I suggest that it is purely because of commercial pressures that Top Gear is allowed to rig the evidence, fake its trials, pour petrol over the BBC’s standards and put a match to them. The money drives all before it.