Standard sets the record straight over burkha bus ban

Muslim woman wearing a niqab veil
(flickr user: TheStoryBehind)

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.

The Return of Red Ken

'Red' Ken Livingstone, Former London Mayor, on the cover of the New StatesmanKen Livingstone came storming back into the London limelight today, thanks in no small part to a gushing front page from the Evening Standard. The momentous event was Ken launching his Mayoral comeback campaign today – but this was not news, we had long known that he would be up for the scrap in 2012. The real news was that London’s most influential paper (yes, still) had welcomed the Lambeth-born left-winger back into its bosom after two years in the wilderness.

If the front page left us in any doubt as to the Standard’s approbation of Livingstone, then the 1,000-word editorial on page 14, penned by Ken himself, rammed home the point. This highly partisan soap-box rant serves as a wide-reaching manifesto, and includes populist measures, such as cracking down on bankers’ tax breaks and reducing bus fares, although Livingstone does stick by his principles in threatening to raise the 4×4 congestion charge to £25 per day.

The Standard’s reasoning for switching to back Ken can be easily explained. After two years as Mayor, Boris Johnson’s honeymoon has long since finished, and it is widely believed that he will step down instead of run for re-election (with one eye on No 10, no doubt). Furthermore, Labour achieved significant gains in London during the general election, with a swing of nine borough councils to the reds, so the wind is thoroughly in Ken’s favour.

But most interestingly for me, it can be put down to the change in editor at the Standard. Under Veronica Wadley, the Standard was loudly critical of Livingstone before the 2008 Mayoral election, with vicious headlines such as “Suicide bomb backer runs Ken’s campaign.” But it seems that, under the stewardship of Geordie Grieg (as of February 2009), the paper has taken a step back towards the left. Grieg has pinned his colours to the mast  today, and the Standard looks certain to be campaigning for change in City Hall in 2012, just as it did in 2008.

Shining a light: The Evening Standard takes a stand on poverty

It’s not hard to find fault with the Evening Standard, and even easier to find puns. Since going free their output has been of varied quality, lagging behind Metro for news coverage on some days. It’s clear to see that Standards are slipping. In this context, their splash today is all the more heartening.

Rarely do newspapers spell out their intentions as clearly as this. For me this is journalism at its hard-hitting, unashamedly purposeful best. David Cohen tackles the lingering issue of urban poverty, wading into child burials, unemployed graduates and single parents without a hint of Bono-esque faux-philanthropism. Whilst there are criticisms of the current Government, that is never allowed to overtake the dispassionate social observation that underpins this feature. What Cohen achieves is an eye-opening read for commuting Londoners, and with an estimated audience of 1.4million, the impact on the electorate will surely be significant.

The full article is well worth a read, and the Standard editorial team are clearly 100% behind it, giving it its own mini-site. The incredible gulf between rich and poor is easily overlooked in London, but from where I live the contrast is blatent. The sight of run-down council houses in the shadows of Canary Wharf makes for a powerful image.

The reaction on Twitter has been mixed at best, but for me this redefines what the Standard brings to the freesheet market: an agenda, original journalism and a powerful sense of indignation.

Squatbusters: The biggest con of the year

I’m loving that the Evening Standard is free now. I barely ever bought it when it cost 50p, but now it is clearly the superior choice to the London Lite (which, it seems, is on its way). I also admire the Standard’s new editorial approach under Geordie Greig which stresses optimism and pride over cynicism and defeatism wherever possible. Sometimes, however, a dose of cynicism can be rather healthy.

This week, the Evening Standard fell for a massive con. Page three of the paper was given over to Forbes Risk, who offer to “squat proof” swanky West London houses for the extortionate fee of £2,600 per week. The picture gives the impression that these men, dubbed ‘The Squatbusters’, mean business, and implies that they would not be afraid to resort to violence if needs be. Just look at those black coats and crossed arms. Grr.

Squatbusters
Who ya gonna call? Squatbusters (Photo: Evening Standard)

However, anyone who knows anything about squatting will point out that squatters can only claim residence if the house is empty. If someone is already inhabiting the house when the squatters attempt to enter, then it is trespassing and they can go to jail. So all Forbes Risk’s Squatbusters are doing is living in a house for £2.6k per week. Hardly taxing stuff; this is basically glamourised house-sitting. I wonder if they also offer to check the TV on a daily basis to make sure it’s still working, or provide a sofa warming service for the gullible owners.

This is a perfect example of having much more money than sense. Surely the owners should be making money out of this, not spending. The example of ‘protection through occupation‘ is well established in the case of vacant offices, whereby office space is rented out at a reduced rate if the occupiers agree to leave on short notice if needed.

In my part of East London, long-term squatting is quite a serious problem. There are two disused pubs within five minutes walk from my flat that are occupied by squatters and the owners seem powerless to remove them. Squatting is a major concern all across London, but paying people to live in your flat seems to be the most absurd solution possible.