BBC1's War on Britain's Roads doc may breach BBC editorial guidelines

Carlton Reid
BBC1's War on Britain's Roads doc may breach BBC editorial guidelines

Back in April, a BBC press release on the autumn schedule announced BBC1 would screen three documentaries featuring "everyday filming technology", including a documentary called The War on Britain's Roads. Charlotte Moore, the BBC's commissioning editor for documentaries, said at the time: "As far back as the Video Diaries series in the 1990s, the BBC has been pioneering in giving the Great British public the chance to help shape the documentaries it produces, giving viewers a voice to tell their own stories in the most intimate and authentic way possible."

However, the documentary, which airs tonight at 9pm, uses six year old stunt-riding footage from an American film-maker which was later made available on a commercially-produced DVD. The extreme footage of a messenger race - called an 'alley cat' - is used extensively throughout The War on Britain's Roads and nowhere in the programme - at least not in the preview copy seen on Monday - is it explained that the red-light running stunt-riding footage was shot by a professional film-maker and is not in the same category as the amateur helmetcam 'user-generated content' footage shot by British commuter cyclists. UPDATE1: New edit now says the US-produced race footage is of "extreme behaviour." UPDATE2: In the broadcast version of the programme the alley cat footage was introduced with the words “Not all cyclists jump red lights, but for some, it's become a habit"; the preview version had said, “but for some it as a way of life”. 

The extreme stunt riding race footage is portrayed in the BBC documentary as user-generated content like the rest of the helmetcam footage  and, at the end of the programme, is shown to the genuine drivers and cyclists featured in the documentary, who react with understandable horror. One of the cyclists says it would be perfectly acceptable to use violence against cyclists riding in such a way. BikeBiz.com asked the BBC and Leopard Films whether the cyclists and drivers were told the footage was produced by a professional film-maker and available on a DVD. A spokesperson for Leopard Films said:

"We showed the contributors the footage in the context of it being footage of a bicycle courier road race that took place, which was shot by Lucas Brunelle, and uploaded to YouTube. The footage has since been released commercially, but the fact remains that it depicts real behaviour which actually took place on London’s busy streets."

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Ian Austin MP, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, said the BBC's documentary "presents a commercially-produced film of reckless stunt cycling in London as ordinary footage as if it is normal behaviour by everyday cyclists."

The MP said this “about as representative of ordinary cycling in Britain as a James Bond car chase is of ordinary driving.”

Such use of professional footage - not flagged as such in the commentary by Leopard Films, who produced The War on Britain's Roads for the BBC - may fall foul of the BBC's own code of conduct. Leopard Films told BikeBiz.com: "It’s not unusual for programmes to change before final broadcast [transmission] from the early versions we show to the press for preview purposes."

The version to be aired tonight has been "adjusted" so the audio commentary will "emphasise more strongly that this is extreme behaviour." However, Leopard Films would not say whether the new commentary reveals that the alley cat material is professional footage and definitely not user-generated content.

Lucas Brunelle, the US film-maker who shot the extreme footage in 2006, is listed on the documentary's end credits for supplying "additional material" [UPDATE: on the broadcast version this credit to Brunelle was omitted, suggesting he had not granted permission for the footage to be used, with BBC claiming 'fair use'?] but is not personally featured in the programme, unlike the commuter cyclists from Scotland and England who provided helmetcam footage from genuine cycle commute journeys. Brunelle was, however, interviewed on tape by Leopard Films but his contribution was dropped.

Brunelle sells the 'Line of Sight' DVD on his website. There are currently more than 4000 of these DVDs in stock.

In August, Brunelle wrote on a messenger forum: "[Leopard Films] were harassing me for months...Then I uploaded footage with the written condition that I can proof the final edit... They wanted me to sign a release which I have not done yet, the footage I gave them was for review only and not for a final cut.

"Months have gone by since I gave them the footage and I haven’t heard from them. I...definitely won’t sign anything. That spin would be a huge liability."

BikeBiz.com has emailed Brunelle for his current take on the BBC's inclusion of his footage.

Because the professionally produced footage is used extensively in the documentary interspersed with genuine amateur user-generated content footage, viewers may be left with the impression that all cyclists ride illegally and are to blame for the increasing number of cyclist road deaths.

The BBC documentary features helmetcam wearers, such as Magnatom, CycleGaz and Traffic Droid, who upload their videos to YouTube. Magnatom and CycleGaz have not yet seen the programme but have been shocked at the trailers, and said the divisive angle of the documentary has changed radically from when they were first approached by Leopard Films.

More evidence that the film-makers may have had an agenda to sensationalise the situation between motorists and cyclists is the non-appearance of an interview with traffic psychologist Ian Walker, a professor at the University of Bath. Earlier this year he spent six hours being filmed by the production company behind the documentary but none of his interview was in the preview programme seen by BikeBiz.com. Professor Walker specialises in driver behaviour, especially aggression towards cyclists and how motorists tend to perceive non-motorised road users.

Leopard Films said: "We spoke to Ian as part of a wide range of parties consulted on the film. We decided to focus on key incidents captured in bicycle helmet-cam footage and investigate the various responses to the footage of the parties involved. As Ian’s comments did not specifically relate to any one incident featured, we decided to leave it out of the film. It's common practice to film more people than actually appear in the final film."

Todd Austin, chief creative officer for Leopard Films, today told Broadcast Now that the documentary majored on 'user generated content', known as UGC to broadcasters:

"Working with UGC presents its own problems. The team here at Leopard Films worked tirelessly to contact both the copyright owners of the footage and then, so that we could tell the whole story, the other people involved in the filmed incidents. 

"Tracing the copyright of the owners of footage which is uploaded to the internet is a common problem in all UGC productions.

"One piece of footage that has already attracted attention is that of bicycle couriers racing through London. This footage of extreme behaviour has been described as “professionally shot” footage for a “commercial video”.

"But our research has shown that this is genuine footage of a so-called ‘Alleycat’ bicycle courier road race, shot by one of the cyclists involved, and posted online. The footage has since been released commercially, but the fact remains that it depicts real behaviour by couriers engaging in an unauthorised race on public roads.

"We believe it was important to include footage like this, not least because many of the drivers and cyclists we have spoken to have expressed anger and concern about the types of behaviour featured in the video including running red lights, riding on the pavement and weaving through the traffic at speed."

Tim Davie, Acting Director-General of BBC, has this evening written to Ian Austin MP. He said he had asked the programme's executive producer to answer the MP's concerns and added that "If you continue to hold concerns about this programme following its broadcast, you will be entitled to make an editorial complaint and I will make sure it receives urgent attention."

The BBC's 'knowledge' PR department has sent BikeBiz.com the rebuttal from Samantha Anstiss, the executive producer overseeing the project for the BBC. She said:

"The film’s goal was to explore real-life stories and it was not designed to be a comprehensive investigation into every aspect of cycling.

"The film uses real footage of actual incidents to examine the behaviour of both cyclists and drivers...

"The footage of a bicycle courier race is included as an example of the most extreme cyclist behaviour seen on the streets of Britain, and it is never claimed or implied to be representative of cyclists in general.

"The programme makers consulted many groups and individuals during the making of the film and we’re confident that the film accurately represents the statistics and advice that was given.

"We do not believe that the programme has broken any BBC guidelines. The programme that was distributed to press last week was not a final version: it’s not unusual for programmes to change before final broadcast. In the final days of editing, we have adjusted the programme commentary to emphasise more strongly that this is extreme behaviour."

Following tonight's primetime screening of the documentary there may be a great deal of anger from cyclists at the way professionally-shot red light running footage, available for sale by an American film-maker, is portrayed as "standard" behaviour from UK cyclists. [Perhaps the new "extreme behaviour" commentary may shift our position on this?].

Some motorists justify their aggression against cyclists by claiming it's because cyclists break the rules. This BBC documentary, far from easing tensions on the road will likely enflame them.

Leopard's Austin said: "We present a range of incidents, and a range of opinions. Ultimately it is left for the viewer to decide their viewpoint. Whatever your position, raising awareness of these kinds of issues, on a primetime BBC1 programme, can only be a positive thing for both cyclists and other road users.

For those social media types watching tonight's programme - much of which is touching and thought-provoking, especially the personal stories about deaths of cyclists, and could have been made into a non-sensationalist, award-winning documentary - there's a Twitter hashtag for use during and after the broadcast: #bbcwaronroads. (On Twitter last night, Andy Arthur suggested the hashtag should be #dontmentionthewar).

Despite the few editorial changes made to the documentary many cyclists may want to complain to the BBC. Complaints should be limited to the breaches of the BBC's editorial guidelines - see below and in this reasoned post-broadcast posting from CTC - rather than making general 'we woz robbed' criticisms, especially as some of the incidents in the documentary were clearly caused by the cyclists concerned, including this footage of a pedestrian being knocked down on the Bristol to Bath off-road shared used path by an electric bike user:

 

 

If the programme aired tonight has not been extensively edited to remove the sleight of hand documented above it's clear that Leopard Films has breached the BBC's editorial guidelines, extracts of which are given below. The company may also fall foul of the Safeguarding Trust guidelines. Ofcom can fine the BBC for failing to make sure the independent production company adhered to all the necessary guidelines.

The BBC's documentary editor Charlotte Moore is currently preparing a statement for BikeBiz.com. David Jordan, BBC's Director Editorial Policy, declined to talk to BikeBiz.com during a phone conversation this afternoon. He told his PA to put BikeBiz.com through to corporate PR.

 

BBC EDITORIAL GUIDELINES

GATHERING MATERIAL

"We should ensure that user generated content is clearly identified as such.

"We should only broadcast material from third parties who may have a personal or professional interest in its subject matter if there is a clear editorial justification. The material should be labelled.

"The editorial significance of the material, rather than simply its impact, must be considered before it is used. If it is editorially justified to use it then we must explain the circumstances and clearly label the source of the material in our output."

 

AVOIDING MISLEADING AUDIENCES
"We must not knowingly and materially mislead our audiences with our content. We may need to clarify the nature of some content by labeling (for example, verbally, in text or with visual or audio cues) to avoid being misleading.

"We should normally identify on-air and online sources of information and significant contributors, and provide their credentials, so that our audiences can judge their status.

"It is usually unacceptable to use production techniques that materially mislead the audience about the reality of the narrative or events.

"For news and factual content, unless clearly signalled to the audience or using reconstructions, we should not normally...inter-cut shots and sequences to suggest they were happening at the same time, if the resulting juxtaposition of material leads to a misleading impression of events.

"Archive material should not be used in a way that materially misleads the audience about a situation, events or what is being depicted. Labelling may be required.

"We should report statistics and risks in context and avoid worrying the audience unduly, especially about health or crime. This may involve giving trends, taking care to avoid giving figures more weight than can stand scrutiny. 

"We should consider the emotional impact pictures and personal testimony can have on perceptions of risk when not supported by the balance of argument. If a contributor's view is contrary to majority opinion, the demands of due accuracy and due impartiality may require us to make this clear."

 

SAFEGUARDING TRUST

Safeguarding Trust is an editorial training programme which examines the issue of where to draw the line between legitimate media artifice and unacceptable audience deception.

The BBC launched this...following the serious editorial breaches that occurred in 2007. Among these was the incident in which a child visiting the Blue Peter studio was asked to pose as a phone-in competition winner, the showing of scenes from the documentary A Year with the Queen in a wrong and misleading order and the revelation that competitions on various channels had involved audience members being asked to call premium rate numbers when they had no chance of winning.

The consequences for the BBC and much of the rest of the industry were very serious. Fines totalling millions of pounds were levied by Ofcom and various executives and others lost their jobs.

 

 

++++++

WAR ON BRITAIN'S ROAD: A synopis, preview version. [Broadcast version may be different.]

Synopsis by CTC. Roger Geffen of the CTC airs his concern of the programme.

“Life on Britain’s roads can now be seen from a whole new perspective, thanks to the helmet camera.”

“As 34m vehicles and 13m bikes all try to share the same crowded space… [clip of alley-cat – 0’20”]

“This footage gives us a brand new insight into the unfolding conflict.”

“From ….to … from … to…” “With everyone thinking they are in the right, “The battle between 2 wheels and 4 has never been so intense” [another alleycat clip 1.13]

Another near R-turn collision Opening sequence ends 1’50.

“The last 3 years have seen 1 million new cyclists take to Britain’s roads. A growing no have taken to filming their commute.”

Interview with young helmet-cam cyclist, Cyclegaz. Why he enjoys cycling, views on relationship with drivers, people’s mindset is they hate cyclists, drivers feel they have to be in front of you. Clips of cyclists being cut up – driver shouts back “you prick”.

Near collision on r’bout. Driver clips cyclist overtaking too close. [4.00]

“There is of course another side to the story” Interview with cabbie, Alfie, age 77. Length of time, cyclists behaviour, one who spat in his face, doesn’t get involved, some people can’t control themselves, want to kill the f-in’ … that’s human nature. [5.25]

“In a recent survey 9 out of 10 cyclists claimed to have suffered some form of road rage.” Interview with young cyclist about the cabbie incident.

Footage up to the cabbie pulling in. 6.37 Switch to the cabbie. He wants to antagonise something, then bang-bang-bang-bang.

[8.13] Back to CycleGaz as cabbie gets out. Switching between the two. Cyclegaz talking about how drivers respond when you touch their vehicle – it shows he was too close. Cabbie still ranting. “Did I over-react? Maybe I did. But I’m just going about my business” – seen getting back in cab.

Narrates Cyclegaz's wind-up behaviour. We see the clapping, and cyclist saying “playing up for the crowd” wasn’t terribly clever. . …

“My cab is an important part of my life.” Cyclegaz still ranting. See other cyclists stopping. They move off.

Cabbie says he’ll speak his mind but not assault – it’s more than his job’s worth. But – and I’m not wishing it upon him – this guy will meet that sort of person one day.

[12.00 Show two more conflict clips]

“As our roads become busier every year, the number of reported incidents between cyclists and motorists is on the rise.”

Another clip of driver threatening behaviour. “Dealing with any incident in our cities is getting increasingly difficult. Congestion means average speeds in the capital have dropped to 11mph”

The police have set up a new task force. The police have taken to the saddle and they too have cameras. Sequence of Mark, cycling traffic cop. Stopping driver. Stopping motorcyclist. Suspicious of motorcyclist, pursues him using initiative / gut feeling to find him, down side street, not discouraged, spots him out of corner of eye, he’s lying under car, threatening, not sure who, has he got a knife – on the floor etc , he’s got drugs, lacks ID.

16.38 back to cabbie. Commenting on cyclist breaking law.

Then lorry driver, Jason 41, talks about cyclists going between you and a bus, idiots sometimes, wandering along, wobbling, they’re thinking “I’m riding my bike and everyone else better beware. [Shows cyclist going through red] Back to cabbie.

He bets cyclist will jump lights, he does – “yes I won”. If I do that, CCTV picks me up, £60 fine. Dearth of policemen where bikes are concerned.

19.00 Back to cycling cop, complementing cyclist who has stopped, nicking a couple who don’t. Comments on how police deal with RLJs. “It’s not the crime of the century but it could get you killed.”

20.18 “In 2011, over 3000 cyclists were seriously injured on our roads. Three quarters of these incidents occurred on or near a junction.

[Clip of crash] Not everyone gets to walk away.”

Start Cynthia’s narrative of her daughter, new job, met boyfriend, life to look forward to. Summer day, cycling to work, talks about being picked up by CCTV, stopping behind taxi to let lorry pass. Move off from lights, then lorry overtakes and turns L [We see CCTV of the death] How boss asked her into his office, have I done something wrong, 2 police officers, told me my daughter was dead. Couldn’t believe it. She was my life for 26 years.

[22.50] “Despite being only a tiny percentage of the traffic, heavy goods vehicles are involved in nearly a fifth of cyclists deaths c23.00

Over to Magnatom - Dave Brennan – riding on a cycle track through open country. Talks about lack of cycle culture in Glasgow. People don’t cycle because it’s too dangerous. Then footage of Dave’s near-death collision. Reaction from the lorry driver and the young cyclist. Then Dave’s narrative of the lead-up (a lovely cold morning, the kind that cyclists love) and the incident – thinks he’s caught the driver’s eye, thinks he’s slowing, then realises he’s not going to stop, the bollard, thought I was going to get dragged under. He either didn’t see me or didn’t care, but it must have been that he didn’t see me.

[We see lorry driving away as if oblivious]. Wobbling in shock. I knew how close I was to being wiped off the face of the earth.

26.00 Back to Cynthia, we see her daughter’s room, talks about emptiness of life without her, her stuff which came back from her work. Lost count of no of times I’ve come in and tried to sort it out, but can’t and have just left it. Message from two of her colleagues, left on Remember standing on that corner, couldn’t understand why driver hadn’t seen her. Lamp-post still has paint missing.

“After Alex’s death Cynthia sought to discover what actually happened. This would eventually lead her to confront the bosses of the company that killed her What happened to my daughter was not an accident, it was a preventable tragedy and my anger at what happened ”

20.00 Many cyclists feel the threat, even when they are in the cycle lane.[ Bus goes past too close]

“In response some are trying to protect themselves are taking over the road, even if it means annoying other road users. Then back you young cyclist explaining. “some people will see that as you antagonising other road users” . But explains reason. [Another confrontation.]

Cyclegaz: “Taking the strong position requires real bravery”. Clip of taxi driver saying “get in the cycle lane”

“Smile for the camera” taxi says are you allowed to ride where you want. Cyclist says read this (the Hway code).

[30.00] Cyclists stopped at lights, telling bike cop about agro from taxi. Cop pulls cab over, cab ranting about marks on cab, Cyclegaz says “I went like that” tapping car. Cyclist gives his account. Cabbie and cyclist argue, cop can’t stop them arguing. Says he’s trying to diffuse it and get them on their way. Comment about whistle – cyclist gobsmacked!

Cop explains how emotions take over.

33.25 Clip of driver assaulting cyclist in Bexley. Simon, 50, talks about the MAMIL, training for charity ride, training ride from London to Dover and back..

Sunday am, decided to head back after hearty breakfast. Took a wrong turn, ended u going through Bexley. Switching between Cormac, 44 (with video) and Simon. Coming into Bexleyheath, road calming, screech of tyre, someone’s tried to overtake, cyclist in front of Cormac had nowhere to go. Guy who had caused incident had slapped car as he was about to be knocked off. Driver gets out, has words with cyclist making way up pavement. Gets in car, clipped Simon with wing-mirror. Cormac switches on helmet-cam. Gets out [See replays slow motion], continue commentary from Cormac and Simon. Cyclist describes feeling that this was rather rum for a nice day.

36.45 Reaction from the aggressive taxi driver, the young cyclist, the lorry driver. Alfie. Cormac. Footage of witnesses afterwards. Handed over memory card to police. They traced the car, but the owner wasn’t anyone in the footage. So they dropped the investigation, till Cormac “helped the police with their inquiries” by posting the footage.

38.00 Narrator introduces Traffic Droid. I don’t go out looking for crimes, but I take action when I see it. Mobile is “hot potato”, they drop it when caught. [Filmed examples]. So he hands out his “calling card”. Seen asking driver “what is the matter with you?”. Calling card has U-tube address, pointing to where people can see footage which he hopes will correct their ways. Footage of him being cut up on both sides (on Pall Mall). The guy could have killed me.

Reactions from Cormac, lorry-driver, Traffic Droid was born the morning I was knocked down. [Breaks down narrating it]. Need to get the message across, this has to be stopped, that’s why I created Traffic Droid. Shows him handing a calling card to a van driver who almost knocked him down.

43.00 Cormac says that although you’ll sometimes give a driver a dirty look, why knock on windows, how’s that going to end? Droid says he could have taken the guy out but that’s not his style.

Narrator: Traffic Droid sent his footage to the police, No action. Footage became part of the war being played out online. Young helmet-cam cyclist talks about U-tube as a way to show drivers what they’ve done, hoping it will correct them.

Shows David Brennan narrating the levels of Youtube abuse – threats once or twice a week.

45.30 Narrator: “Cynthia also took matters into her own hand after her daughter was killed by She spent the following months searching for the truth of what actually happened. Cynthia describes hiring traffic investigator, going through footage, driven by desire to try and make sense of what had happened. Back to Cemex lorry driver viewing cyclist pavement-jumping, then another coming up a tight gap on LHS. Explains difficulty of making 90-degree turn. Corner becomes a pinch-point. Cyclist doesn’t notice lorry

47.00 “After reviewing the case, the coroner concluded that Cynthia’s daughter’s death was accidental” Cynthia describes how she felt suicidal, somehow she was to blame. I decided I was going to fight my daughter’s case, she was dead, I was still here. But don’t just fight one case. Decided to buy shares to have right to go to company’s AGM – RMC then. Was terrified.

Narrator: Cyclists helmet-camera footage is beginning to make a difference. This footage led to a prosecution (another assault) Guy who assaulted Simon found himself being recognised in the street. Cormac: Talks about online comments. Did driver deserve the public humiliation? I’ll leave you to judge.

Cynthia: the AGM was in a smart west end hotel, smart people. A friend came, at critical moment she pushed me up, mike arrived, I can’t stop now. Reads out what she said. Complete silence, went diving to ladies, another shareholder congratulated her, someone has listened.

51.00 Narrator: a week later RMC asked Cynthia to help them improve their safety record. Cynthia talks about training video, proximity sensors. Lorry driver demonstrates mirrors.

Cynthia: Cemex said that their lorries used to have a cyclist fatality or serious injury every year, at least one, now they don’t, their lorries have stopped killing people. I now want other

52.30 Narrator: “As more and more cyclists are filming their every move, we’re getting a more detailed picture of life on Britain’s roads.” [Footage of cyclist going into ridiculous gap between car waiting to turn R and bus – gets mashed.]

52.40 “It’s clear that everyone must take responsibility if we’re going to share a crowded space.” [Footage of cyclist on electric bike trying to overtake woman pedestrian on Bristol to Bath shared use path, she veers into his path, crash, “you shoudn’t have done that”.

Reactions from the agro cabbie, Cormac, lorry driver: “definitely the cyclists’ fault, this is what is happening on the pavements every day”

Then Traffic Droid talking about “nicking” cyclists as well. So I’m seen as a traitor. But we’re all road users

53.55 Narrator: “Not all cyclists jump red lights, but for some it’s a way of life”

Aggressive cabbie: Oh my gosh what absolute lunatics”

“Races across cities, like this one in London, are being organised by couriers to showcase their skills and speed.”

Young cyclist says: You can understand the excitement. Footage of near crash on wrong side of road with L-turning cop car.

Cop “I wouldn’t describe these as cyclists at all. I’d just describe them as criminals really, what they are doing is criminal putting people’s lives at risk.”

Another clip. Cop: “absolutely suidical” L

orry driver: ”That’s completely irresponsible, if a motorcyclist was to ride like that they’d be taken out – if they had a number plate they wouldn’t be doing that would they.”

Dave B: “Whilst I might admire the skill that these guys have – you have to have a certain amount of skill to do that and still be alive – they’re endangering themselves. I would feel so sorry for the poor soul who knocked one of these guys down, because they’d have to deal with the guilt from killing somebody.

Cormac: They are doing more harm to other cyclists than they can possibly imagine. I’m afraid my instant reaction to that is, do you know what, that sometimes if you get out of your car and punch a cyclist in the head who did this, it might be a good idea after all.”

Comment from Alfie: “It gets my back up when I think of cyclists riding like that and getting way with it when other cyclists loose their life from some stupid act from some stupid car driver.”

[Alleycat footage ends 56.00]

Lorry driver: [footage of cyclist with kid on Boris bike] “How can I as a driver defend against that? One wobble, one slip, they’d be under my wheels. I’d be devastated. The driver would go through untold court appearances and stress, all because somebody didn’t act responsibly to use the roads properly”

Dave B: there are idiot drivers and idiot cyclists and they should all be punished.

Cynthia: there is certainly a competitive space when actually it needs to be a cooperative space. We all have responsibilities.

Cormac: I think it would be good if people were a bit nicer to each other, “but let’s not expect too much of human nature”.

57.11 Narrator: “Last year 107 cyclists died on the roads of Britain. Many of these spots are marked with a symbolic ghost bike.”

Alfie: Sadly last Aug one lovely hot Saturday afternoon our lovely eldest grandson was knocked off his bike. 9 times out of 10 he’d have broken his shoulder or hurt his arm, but this time it’s killed him stone dead. I was always highly critical about the behaviour of many cyclists in London. But since we lost Sam, it’s almost like the boot’s been on the other foot so to speak. I’m leaning towards sympathy towards the cyclists from what you’ve suffered. Cyclists aren’t only to blame, probably two thirds to blame, the Government’s to blame, bad drivers are to blame. But the answer is don’t drive a car and don’t ride a bloody bike.



 

 

 

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