The Grand Tour Presents Itself as a Factual Show, So it Should Be Held Accountable as One

By Tom Pritchard on at

The first episode of The Grand Tour's second series launched last week, with the usual over-exaggerated pantomime that has become sadly normal since the trio of presenters left the BBC. The problem is that a lot of what they said during the challenge was utter nonsense. Whether it was misrepresenting the volume of chargers in the area surrounding area, the routes they took, and so on.

We covered this in great detail, and the consensus here at Giz UK is that the whole challenge was designed to give the three presenters (particularly Clarkson and May) ample opportunity to make snide remarks about electric cars. That much was obvious by the fact they were putting an electric sports car to the test against two cars that run on petrol. Which is better? It doesn't matter, because petrol cars are on the way out. If not for the increase in electric car viability, but because oil is finite resource that will eventually run out.

Taking a look at the comments section of James's analysis, there's a very clear theme. The overwhelming majority of people are defending The Grand Tour because its an entertainment show, not a factual one. It doesn't matter that it doesn't appear to reflect reality, because it's just for fun! Jeremy Clarkson even sarcastically commented about being involved in a factual TV programme back in 2012 when Top Gear won a Guinness World Record.

But that argument is irrelevant. Yes The Grand Tour (and Top Gear) are entertainment programmes and that's why they're so much more popular than other car shows. The problem is that just because it's entertainment doesn't mean it's fiction.

It's not Cars or Knight Rider, it's an entertainment programme that presents itself as a factual TV programme presented by three journalists. It may be designed more to entertain than inform, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be held accountable for the way it chooses to frame information.

Clarkson, Hammond, and May all comes from a journalism background, with their careers bringing them to motoring journalism and eventually Top Gear. At one point in S2E1 May refers to the three of them as journalists. Journalists work within the realms of factual information, unless you work for certain shouty organisations who shall remain nameless for legal reasons. They're responsible for the news and generally presenting information to the world at large. It requires a great amount of trust from the audience, and there are plenty of people who trust specific news organisations over others - taking everything they see or hear at face value.

Herein lies the problem. All three presenters worked on Top Gear as it transitioned itself from factual programming to what it (and The Grand Tour) are now. Top Gear was the most widely watched TV programme in the world, with an estimated 350 million viewers according to The Guardian. While Amazon hasn't revealed figures for The Grand Tour, it did reveal that millions of people watched the first series and that it overtook The Man in the High Castle as the service's most popular show. So we can say with some confidence that a considerable number of people over the last few days have watched a 70 minute episode with multiple segments that blur the line between fiction and reality.

Here's one comment I'd like to call out directly, or part of it at least:

It's entertainment, not a documentary. Nobody has listened to Jeremy Clarkson's opinions on electric cars for a serious review, ever.

But why wouldn't you listen to Clarkson's views about cars? He's been working as a motoring journalist for over 30 years. May's been doing it roughly the same amount of time, and Hammond's been on it since just before he originally joined Top Gear back in 2002. They have a lot of experience driving and reviewing cars, which is why they're in the position they're in. For every single person who doesn't take a word of what they say seriously, there are going to be another 10 who will take it at face value.

Despite what Michael Gove claims, when people don't know about something they generally listen to the opinions of the experts. Clarkson, Hammond, and May are the experts in this case, and they're experts that have an unprecedented amount of reach. Just like how kids will regurgitate nonsense they hear from their favourite YouTubers, adults will regurgitate car knowledge from The Grand Tour and Top Gear.

Whether it's claims that charging points are few and far between, or that self-driving cars are a danger to road usersThe Grand Tour has a responsibility to ensure everything is reported on truthfully - even if they don't feel like doing it fairly. Facts and entertainment are not mutually exclusive, and just because The Grand Tour is positioned to make the audience laugh than it is to genuinely inform the audience about cars, that's no excuse for deliberately spreading bullshit.

Some people, the presenters included, might not see The Grand Tour as a strictly factual show, but not everyone sees it that way. Non-petrolheads in the audience have no reason not to trust Clarkson and co when it comes to cars.

The Grand Tour doesn’t have to like electric cars, self-driving cars, or anything other than petrol-guzzling sport/super/hyper/whatever cars. It’s their show and that’s their prerogative, provided the audience agrees and keeps watching. But to take cheap shots at the competition comes across as childish, and it’s damaging to people who value what they say. They’ve built up the trust of millions of people around the world over the past 15 years, and as self-described journalists they have a responsibility not to abuse that trust.

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