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Waiting for the ghost bus
by Tim Webb
THE TOUGHEST JOB
Imagine you work in the world of public relations. Now think of the organisation you would find most difficult to paint in a good light. Railtrack? Barclays Bank? The oil companies? Virgin Trains? The pro-hunting lobby, perhaps? OK, how about being employed as Public Relations and Communications Officer of Hackney Council? The toughest of them all, surely.
The person with this unenviable job is Ian Rathbone, a good-humoured, quick-witted man with none of the fake glad-handing found with many PR people. Talking to him over lunch in a Turkish cafe in Mare Street - N16 magazine spares no expense in its lavish hospitality - he was visibly sane and unflustered.
He fields around 2,500 calls a year from various branches of the media, many of them hostile or uninformed. This is about 600 more than other comparable boroughs. His hours are long as hes on tap for enquiries at any time of the day or evening and he has to juggle work with his responsibilities as a single parent - he has two boys aged 12 and 14. Unlike many PR people with a less stressful existence, he doesnt make big bucks - his salary is around £25,000 a year.
Well respected by his own profession, his department won the Press Team of the Year in the Local Government Chronicle awards in 1999 and he has won several national awards for campaigns like Safer Streets anti-street robber campaign.
The recent cuts and changes resulting from the Councils financial situation has left him really stretched. He now edits Hackney Today the Councils fortnightly paper as well as covering other press and publicity functions.
Not all the calls he receives are relevant to Hackney. The outside media seem to believe that the Krays were long-term residents of the borough. In fact they lived in Bethnal Green, in ValIance Road. Some enquirers think the notorious brothers are still alive and resident somewhere in Hackney. Others have a persistent belief that the Council insists that manhole covers are called personhole covers for politically correct reasons. Disappointingly, theyre called sewer covers and always have been.
National figures also seem reluctant to come here. Perhaps they feel the mud may stick.
What annoys him most are those journalists who have their minds made up before theyve talked to him. Adverse stories dont worry him as long as the other side is also put fairly. He thinks that Hackney is a good place to live and quotes Cazenove Road in Stoke Newington where mosques and synagogues, Muslims and Jews and the Bosnian-Herzogovinian Aid Centre co-exist with Turkish supermarkets, shops and cafes.
There are bound to be many more stories bashing Hackney over the next few months. It almost qualifies as a field sport. When you read the next one, it might be worth asking yourself if the journalist who wrote it had checked it out with Ian Rathbone. If not, theres a good chance that it might not tell the whole truth, or indeed, any part of it.