Picked up your latest copy of Financial Crimes?

Why are anti-globalisation campaigners turning to hoax newspapers to get their message across?

I'm in a three-bedroom flat in north London. It's 3am. The place is covered in rucksacks and people reading print-outs, passing comments. There's one computer, manned by a homeless designer, his face furrowed in concentration.

I'm in a three-bedroom flat in north London. It's 3am. The place is covered in rucksacks and people reading print-outs, passing comments. There's one computer, manned by a homeless designer, his face furrowed in concentration.

You may see the result today being handed out on the streets in London and beyond. You would be forgiven for thinking you were reading the FT. The pink paper, the world market graphics, the features on fuel, debt, the Olympics. But after considering the slant on the lead - "World Bank terrorism - more evidence" - you may have realised that the logo reads, in fact, Financial Crimes. It is the latest, ever-more professional tool in the kit of anti-globalisation campaigners - the spoof newspaper.

Today is touted as the latest in a line of days of action against global capitalism, timed to coincide with the 55th meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Prague. It follows the carnival in the city of London on 18 June last year, the unprecedented scenes in Seattle in November and the May Day riots. Each day has seen its own pretend paper.

Since the first 20,000 print run of Evading Standards, a skit on London's Evening Standard, was published in April 1997 for a march in support of the Liverpool Dockers, the mockery idea has spawned its own imitators worldwide.

That original issue was seized in bulk by police and three people were charged with incitement to affray. The use of the masthead with the statue of Eros and a joke advert for the Metropolitan Police breached copyright. But the spoofers sued the Met for wrongful arrest and were awarded five-figure costs. The money funded the next edition, and Evading Standards made a return for the demonstration in the City of London with an appropriate thanks in the small print.

"Developing alternatives must be a collective endeavour. Publishing this newspaper is only part of that process," says the Financial Crimes editorial, written by the direct action collective Reclaim the Streets. It is an attempt by campaigners to bypass the mainstream media and deliver their message direct.

The lengths they go to are sophisticated. One mock London Underground flyer was published using the exclusive Johnson typeface, leaked to the group by an anti-privatisation Tube worker.

And it appears to be effective. The subversives responsible for the regional south coast effort this year, the Brighton & Hove No Leaders, received this glowing tribute from the proprietor of the real thing, the Leader. "We have evidence that substantial confusion has already taken place," wrote Howard Scott, managing director of Newsquest (Sussex) Ltd. "We are not against parody and satire as such. However, we believe your publication goes a long way too far." Another one of Newsquest's publications, the Evening Argus, was renamed the Evening Anus in an earlier stunt. In Bristol, the Evening Post is now variously the Evening Pissed or Pest. Not very subtle, but the monickers have stuck locally.

Giving the paper out on the streets was the only distribution method available to UK pranksters, but when the concept crossed the Atlantic, the game moved on. Protesters against the World Trade Organisation produced a quality copy of the awkwardly named Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Squads of early morning paperboys and girls simply opened up the street boxes with a quarter, replaced the outer four pages and put them back. They were attacked in an angry editorial the next day.

The San Francisco Chomical used the same technique to highlight the incarceration on death-row of black activist and writer Mumia Abu-Jamal. "Nothing like this has ever happened before," said Randy Schuller, head of security for the San Francisco Newspaper Agency. "We've hired an investigator to check it out."

America has seen this before, however. In 1978 a New York Times spoof was produced by striking journalists, including Watergate's Carl Bernstein. Many other hacks in dispute have done the same, from London's Time Out to The Morning Star. "The most successful pastiches are done by ex-employees," says underground newspaper chronicler Nigel Fountain. "You've got to really understand the thinking behind the product to satirise or deconstruct," he says, but admits he has yet to come across the new protagonists. The difference in the new field is two-fold. One, the satire is generally one page deep to pull in the reader and the rest is analysis, ranging from quality critique to diatribe dogma. Secondly, this is no media-on-media effort, merely a vehicle.

There was an all-night debate in the north London flat over the four lines of type which run at the foot of the Financial Crimes. Fearing a capitalist compromise, the final disclaimer reads thus: "The aping of newspapers, the use of advanced technologies and the use of printers run for profit, should in no way be seen as an endorsement of newspapers, capitalist social relations or industrial society." No FT? Plenty of comments.

The writer is news editor of 'The Big Issue'

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