Sunday 30 October 2005

Cherwell printed an article on my run-in with the DSA (read my ’blog post about it, or download the print edition of Cherwell as a PDF—I’m on page 4) this week. However, to say that it wasn’t quite right would be something of an understatement. Indeed, the sheer number of factual errors which could have been prevented by actually reading their source of information and occasionally asking for clarification, and the crap quality of sub-editing not to notice said sheer number of errors, is an astoundingly sad reflection on the state of student journalism. If Oxford students can screw up an article like this where the information is fed to them on a plate, can you believe anything you read in the student press?

Reprinted here is the article, complete with accuracy-amending footnotes added by me:

DSA logo in website raises legal questions

A spoof driving test posted on a website by a Christ Church student prompted the driving Standards Agency (DSA) to threaten legal action for the unauthorised use of the company’s official logo1. The threat was outlined in a letter sent last month to third year physicist Andrew Steele, the student responsible for the ‘blog’2.

The letter, which was received on 30 September, called Steele’s use of the DSA logo an infringement of the3 DSA’s rights contrary to the Trade Marks Act 1994, as well as being an infringement of [their] copyright’. The letter went on to request Steele to remove4 the DSA logo from the spoof theory test and for them5 to agree ‘not to make use of the DSA’s property rights in the future’6.

Steele said he was ‘a bit surprised because the theory test has been online for two to three years.’7 The letter requested that the logo be removed by 22 September, but was itself dated 28 September. Steele promptly replied to the letter, concerned that it may have sent by an individual or group impersonating the DSA due to the mistakes with the dates, the misspelling of their8 address and the lack of a reference code on the letter.

Within five working days he had received a response assuring that the letter was in fact from the DSA, as well as an apology for the mistake regarding the dates, stating that they had meant to set the deadline of 22 October. Following the response, Steele edited the DSA logo, and continued to use the edited version.

However, the commercial director of DSA contacted Steele saying that he9 did not ‘find the logo acceptable given the use of colour and style’10, as the colours still matched those used by the DSA. The DSA appeared to be offended by the spoof test, aside from the fact that their logo was being used, saying, ‘Road safety is a matter taken very seriously by the DSA and you are clearly treating this serious subject as a light hearted one.’

Steele then changed the logo, an action noted by the DSA. However, the commercial director writing to Steele asserted that the problem of the spoof theory test, posted online11, put a ‘sarcastic slant on the theory test’, and that the DSA ‘does not approve of or endorse [Steele’s] ‘Mock Theory Test’ in any way’.

Steele said he ‘thought it was a bit ridiculous that [the DSA was] wasting government time and resources chasing up satirical student websites.’ He went on to add that ‘it’s what you would expect from a headmaster at a boarding school rather than an official government organisation’.12

‘Blogs’ or weblogs are personal web spaces usually containing periodic journal-style entries which may be used to promote the views of individuals or political campaigns, media programmes and corporations. Many blogs enable visitors to leave public comments.13


  1. 1 We didn’t use the DSA’s official logo—we used a parody which they classed as trademark-infringingly similar to it.
  2. 2 It wasn’t on my ’blog, it was on the Statto–JTA Publishing website. And, since I know that they used my ’blog entry as a reference, how did they manage to make this mistake when I provided a link to the driving theory test?
  3. 3 The DSA always call themselves ‘DSA’, omitting the definite article. This is a quote direct from my ’blog. I presume, therefore, that the computer inserted this during copy-and-pasting?
  4. 4 You can’t ‘request Steele to remove’; you have to ‘request that Steele remove’, surely? (the verb ‘to request’ used in an intransitive sense cannot take a direct object, for the grammar nerds amongst you)
  5. 5 An appropriate pronoun for ‘Steele’ is not ‘them’. I am not a gang. I presume, since they asked me who JTA was during a ’phone interview, that the journalist wrote him into this sentence and some idiot subeditor inelegantly removed him.
  6. 6 Another mis-quote: using DSA property rights?! Were we squatting in a DSA offices?! Perhaps someone on a word limit snipped intellectual?
  7. 7 This quote is utterly out of context. Am I surprised because my own theory test has been online for two to three years? If so, why am I surprised by this? Had they not truncated it to the point of unintelligability, it would tell the reader that I was surprised that the DSA hadn’t found it before because…the rest of it.
  8. 8 Another incorrect plural pronoun. Looks like the DSA mis-spelled their own address. Are they even more incompetent than Cherwell subeditors?
  9. 9 She. I know I censored her name, but would it have hurt to ask rather than assume and get it wrong?
  10. 10 Just to show that I’m not being unfairly negative, I’d like to point out that this quote is actually correct. Well done.
  11. 11 You’d already told us this—it’s on my ’blog, isn’t it?
  12. 12 Another ridiculous out of context quote: are boarding school headmasters expected to surf the web hunting down spoofs? I certainly don’t expect that, and the quote’s from me.
  13. 13 After the already-patronising inverted commas around the word ‘’blog’ in the first paragraph, they then go on to blunt what small amount of punch the ending of the story had by providing a frankly Newsround-esque Ladybird picture book description of a ’blog for anyone who’s been sheltering in a fallout bunker for the last twenty-five years. The ‘Internet’ is a network of microchip-based computers which allow information to be sent Worldwide using electronic digital telecommunication. The Internet allows users to browse the so-called ‘World Wide Web’, which contains ‘websites’.

Apart from the catalogue of errors grammatical, factual and quote-ual, the article is also written in what is, frankly, the most boring, list-based style ever conceived. Aside from actually putting it in bullet points, the story could not be an any more utterly linear and lifeless description of quite an entertaining set of events. And rather than finish with a comical quote from the DSA (it’s not like they provided loads, or anything), it was decided instead to bore the reader with an unnecessary description of what a ’blog is.

I was hoping for a small amount of publicity, but instead got a link-free, banal description which would have been better entitled ‘Christ Church student involved in boring correspondence with amicable conclusion’.

Instead of massive attention, some two people have since Googled ‘steele mock theory test’ for which, thankfully, we are the top result.

Bloody journalists.


  1. Dull, dull, dull ! Are you going to resign as photo god on the grounds that you don’t want to be associated with such poor quality journalism ?

  2. And one of those two people i think was me, and i saw the mock theory test when it was first published, so I wasn’t really a new reader.

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