Saturday, 9 March 2013

Lewisham vs Boris (and poor journalism)


After complaining to the managing director's office at the Evening Standard, and threatening to issue a PCC complaint, the Standard has amended the article.

The previous article read:

"One protester, who introduced himself only as “a local GP” shouted “coward” at Mr Johnson".

The article now reads:

"One protester, who introduced himself as a local GP, told Mr Johnson he was a "coward".

A very small change but a significant one as the article no longer makes the campaigner in question sound like an unruly yob who yelled out from the crowd. It would be nice if the article had explained WHY Dr Fisher called Boris a coward but I suppose it is the Evening Standard.

The email below is what I received in response to my complaint:

Dear Ms Hawthorne

Thank you for your emails. I’m sorry for the slight delay in responding to you.

I take on board what you say about the ‘coward’ comment coming as part of a longer remark, although I must say that I do not think it is misleading to have focussed on that word alone. Nonetheless, I have arranged for the web version of our article to be slightly amended so that there is no possibility of readers thinking that the term was shouted out as a single exclamation.

As to the doctor identifying himself as a local GP, I note that the recording of the event shows he also gave his name. I will arrange a further change to deal with that point in due course. I won’t include his name unless he contacts us himself to request that we do.

Thank you for raising this matter with us directly. Of course, if you have further queries please let me know.

Thanks for all who tweeted about this! A small victory but a victory nonetheless



QUICK ASIDE: As it's likely to be people interested in the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign reading this, just want to take a quick opportunity to flag up that the next big campaign event - Born in Lewisham - is taking place on Saturday 16 March at 2pm - more info here:

Right, on to Boris!

As most people will be aware, Boris was in Lewisham (specifically, Catford) on Thursday 7 March for the People's Question Time event, a bi-annual event which "gives Londoners the chance to question the Mayor and London Assembly about their plans, priorities and policies for London". It's worth pointing out that Boris is obliged to attend these events - he does not do so by choice.

I won't try and summarise the event as I won't do any better than East London Lines fantastic article:

Needless to say, the people of Lewisham did the borough proud. Yes, there was boo-ing and heckling as Boris tried to avoid answering certain questions, and, in the case of Lewisham Hospital, continued to quote claims that have been widely debunked - the main one being that the proposed downgrades will save 100 lives a year.

But the majority of the meeting was filled with valid, intelligent, well-researched questions from Lewisham residents keen to remind Boris that his duty as Mayor is to represent London - and that, in terms of Lewisham, he is failing miserably.

A selection of the headlines following the event paint a picture of the audience as a baying mob, who sat and did nothing but heckle Boris Johnson for two hours. For example,

London mayor heckled by Lewisham hospital campaigners

New Statesman: 
Boris Johnson heckled for almost two hours in Lewisham

The news report I have taken most issue with, though, is that of the Evening Standard. Their article focuses on the moment that Dr Brian Fisher, a local GP, described Boris as a "coward".

What Dr Fisher said, in full, is this: 

"Good evening, I’m Brian Fisher, I’m a local GP. The population of Lewisham will be rising and the housing stock will not be taking that into account [the question was asked in the section of the meeting focused on Housing]. The inequalities of health that have been released because of the rent changes and the benefit changes that other people have spoken about are going to be astonishing. I can see it everyday in surgery. And the Equalities Assessment that was done as part of the ridiculous consultation on the closure of Lewisham Hospital showed complicitly that health inequalities are going to increase. You do have a direct responsibility for health inequalities. You are ignoring that responsibility. You are a coward in that relation."

What the Evening Standard article reported, was this:

"One protester, who introduced himself only as “a local GP” shouted “coward” at Mr Johnson".

Putting aside the fact that Dr Fisher did, quite clearly, introduce himself at the beginning of his statement, the description of him shouting the word "coward" at Boris Johnson - while it may fit in with the media depiction of the event of a meeting filled with heckles, jeers and hurled insults - simply isn't true

I called the Evening Standard news desk yesterday (Friday 8 March) to ask them to correct this (at the time, I didn't have the full quote but knew that Dr Fisher had made a full intelligent statement and not simply shouted "coward"). 

I was told that the article was fine as it was, and any debate over him shouting the word "coward" was just a matter of opinion about volume. I tried to explain that it wasn't about volume but taking a word out of context, and painting a false picture of events, and was promptly hung up on.

It's worth pointing out here that Dr Fisher didn't so much as raise his voice as can be clearly heard in a recording of the evening made by Clare Griffiths (@clogsilk): Dr Fisher's statement is at the 1hr 8min 50 secs mark.
To many, this may be a small point not worth fussing over. The media is, of course, well known for taking things out of context etc - it's just a fact of life. 

I agree. But I don't think for one second we should stand for it. 

The PCC code states on the topic of accuracy:

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where appropriate - an apology published. In cases involving the Commission, prominence should be agreed with the PCC in advance.

iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

We have to hold newspapers and other media outlets to these standards. Back in November, when the Standard mis-reported that the first Lewisham Hospital had a low-turnout due to rain (actual turnout: 10,000-15,000), they were pulled up on this and forced to re-write the story.

I have written a letter of complaint to the editor Sarah Sands at, and ask as many people as possible to do the same - it may not make a difference in this occasion, but will make the Standard think twice before printing inaccurate information about the Lewisham Hospital campaign again in the future.


Interestingly, none of the media outlets (as far as I'm aware) reported on what followed Dr Fisher's 'coward' comment - the moment where Boris's 'lovable buffoon' mask momentarily slipped.

Twitter user @darryl1974 posted a clip of the wonderful moment online here: - the audience's reaction is true Lewisham.


Worth flagging up ITV's news report on the protest, which is one of the most balanced I've seen from national media (though I've been told that the BBC radio coverage has been good): This report actually shows some of the questions that were asked (not just the boo-ing etc) and also gave a campaigner (Jos) the opportunity to refute the ridiculous 100 lives claim.

The fight for Lewisham Hospital continues and People's Question Time shows that the campaign has no intention of backing off. The campaign has been a positive one from the beginning and any attempts by the press to paint it as negative and aggressive must be challenged.


In response to an FoI request I filed, the Department of Health said this about the 100 lives claim: 

"The figure on reduced mortality used in the TSA’s report was derived from work undertaken by London Health Programmes, considering the difference in mortality rates for patients admitted as an emergency on a weekday and those admitted at the weekend. This work demonstrated that patients admitted to hospital as an emergency at the weekend in London had a significantly increased risk of dying compared to those admitted on a weekday. This is also seen nationally. Independently verified analysis showed that a minimum of 500 lives in London could be saved every year if the mortality rate for patients admitted at the weekend was the same as for those admitted on a weekday. For southeast London, this equates to around 100 lives."

I cannot understand what weekend/weekday mortality rates has to do with the Lewisham downgrade so if anyone can explain this to me, I'd be ever so grateful! My email is

Keep fighting! :-)

Shannon x

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