UK Liberty

The Ministry of Truth

Posted in Uncategorized by ukliberty on June 20, 2007

No, not the excellent blog of the same name. Today it is the Department of Health.

Tony Collins of Computer Weekly writes:

An extraordinary story reaches me which pushes back the boundary of what is acceptable in government communications – what some call spin.

Not even Orwell in 1984 had thought of this one.

In recent weeks there was a meeting in London where the NHS’s National Programme for IT [NPfIT] was discussed. A record of what was said by the main speakers was kept by a reporter who worked for the meeting’s organisers.

One of the speakers at the meeting was an informed commentator on the NPfIT. Though he is known to say what he thinks, he chooses his words carefully. So when he was sent a draft record of the meeting, and saw that some of his comments were reported incorrectly, he checked his notes, made minor corrections and sent these back to the reporter.

Much later, when he read the final draft record, he saw that some of his comments to the meeting had been changed subtly. Words were added to a few of his quotations; some of what he had said was deleted. He raised this with the reporter who explained that the changes to his comments were suggested by the Department of Health.

At first glance this may seem innocent enough – until you realise that every change weakened or even nullified the point of the commentator’s main criticisms of the NPfIT.

No doubt the Department of Health was acting in a way its officials thought was entirely proper. They wanted the speaker’s remarks to reflect what they saw as the truth.

I cannot think of any legitimate reason to rewrite what a third party has said. It is far removed from clarifying the remarks of a colleague or making use of a right to reply, which are legitimate exercises.

But, in my view, this is a significant event: it appears indeed to be grim landmark in the government’s communications with the public over a large IT-based programme.

Pretty disgusting, isn’t it?

By the way, the protagonist of Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston Smith, was employed by the Ministry of Truth to alter historical documents to fit the party line.

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