Reluctant though I am for this to turn into an Evening Standard-bashing blog, I feel compelled to take the London daily to task again for the third time in as many months. This time, my issue is with its handling of the highly sensitive issue of racism. Last week, their page three lead story accused a London bus driver of banning two students from a bus for wearing Muslim veils. Yasmin and Atoofa, both 22 from Slough, accused the driver of a Paddington-bound bus of refusing to let them board due to the fact that one student was wearing a hijab, and the other a face-covering niqab. Incendiary stuff and it’s easy to see why the Standard ran with it.
Except that it emerged this week that this was nothing more than a baseless allegation. Yesterday’s Standard printed a retraction on page 13 after CCTV footage showed the girls acting abusively towards the driver, demanding to be let on the bus after it had come to the end of its run.
The really objectionable thing about the Standard’s coverage is the disparity in prominence between the allegation and the fact. Surely the correction, based on legally enforceable evidence, should be given, if not equal, then similar prominence. On page 13 it is likely to get overlooked, but it could easily have been slipped onto page two. For that matter, should respectable newspapers be printing unsubstantiated allegations in the first place? Is it enough to take the supposed victims’ word as true? Fortunately the Standard’s lawyers seem to have swooped in at the right time as none of the full names were printed in the original article, thus negating the possibility of a libel suit from the bus driver in question.
However, the credibility of the paper has to be called into question, and worse still the original story has been picked up by the BBC news website and Auntie has yet to print the correction. A valuable reminder then, to read beyond the headline and question every story reported without any proof.