A Likely Story

As the evidence accumulates, the Evening Standard’s allegations of terrorist planning have fallen apart.

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 4th March 2008

Something unusual is going to happen tomorrow. The Press Complaints Commission, Britain’s only arbiter of fairness and accuracy in our newspapers, is due to make a ruling. What’s so odd about that? Well, as Nick Davies shows in his book Flat Earth News, out of 28,000 complaints to the PCC submitted over ten years, it managed to make a formal adjudication on just 448, or 1.6%(1). Most of the time it finds a reason to look the other way. This isn’t too surprising: 6 of its 16 commissioners are newspaper or magazine editors(2).

But tomorrow’s case is so serious, and the evidence that has accumulated over the past seven months so strong, that even the PCC can’t brush it under the carpet. It concerns the Evening Standard’s reporting of the climate camp established close to Heathrow last August. Soon after it opened, the paper accused the campers of putting the lives of millions at risk by planning to invade the airport and plant hoax bombs. The story was repeated by the Sun, the Mail, the Express, the Telegraph and the BBC. I have now seen the correspondence about this case. It makes astonishing reading.

The front page article, written by the paper’s chief reporter and headlined “Militants will hit Heathrow