A missed opportunity to seek redemption
On December 1st, 2022, the Department of Health and Social Care released a document titled ‘Technical report on the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK’. Including Chris Whitty (Chief Medical Officer) and Patrick Vallance (Chief Scientific Advisor) among its multiple authors, the report is specifically aimed at future medical, scientific and public health leaders, and is intended to relay what they have learnt from their experiences over the last three years. The 11th (and final) chapter is headed ‘Communications’. One might expect that this missive would be an opportunity to acknowledge the flaws and distortions, witnessed throughout the covid era, in the way information was presented to the public. Regrettably, this turns out not to be the case: our state-funded experts have used it to double down on their ongoing mission to censor, manipulate and mislead.
Since the emergence of the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus in early 2020, the people of Western democracies have endured unprecedented levels of state-sponsored propaganda, involving a range of ‘non-consensual persuasion’ techniques intended to aggressively promote the official covid narrative while suppressing alternative viewpoints. Also, Government communications throughout the pandemic were both highly selective and routinely underpinned by behavioural-science strategies – ‘nudges’ – intended to covertly induce the public to comply with restrictions and the vaccine rollout. The ethical basis of these non-transparent techniques has been widely questioned.
It is reasonable to expect that a chapter on ‘Communications’ in a government technical report might at least acknowledge these concerns. Indeed – in an optimistic vein – we might even have hoped for recognition of culpability for the deployment of these dubious practices, with statements such as:
‘The ethical basis of many of the ‘nudges’ underpinning our communications strategy was highly questionable and they undoubtedly led to the vilification of sections of our communities’.
‘The level of censorship and smearing of alternative voices – many of which turned out to be expressing a more valid view of the covid event than official sources – is totally at odds with a liberal democracy and should never be repeated’.
Alas, true to form, there are no such admissions of having erred, nor any recognition of their malpractices.
So – after reflecting on their activities over the last three years – what did the Government experts choose to focus on in this chapter on ‘Communication’? Here are the main points they opted to include, followed by a commentary that highlights their – shall we say convenient? – omissions:
INCLUSION 1: Self-commendation for having provided the public with, ‘a sophisticated set of timely, accurate data visualisations and easily available summaries’.
OMISSIONS: There is no mention of their biased reporting of covid deaths, their propagation of wildly inaccurate predictions based on computer modelling studies, the shock-and-awe presentations by Whitty and Vallance at their daily press conferences, nor their strategic intention to elevate fear among the British public.
INCLUSION 2: An endorsement of the integrity and accuracy of media communications: ‘The media medics, and most specialist health and science correspondents, provided challenge, were well informed and generally relayed accurate technical messages clearly’.
OMISSIONS: Conveniently ignored is that the mainstream media, throughout the covid era, slavishly promoted only the dominant Government narrative. The censorial pressures of the Trusted News Initiative (an alliance of mainstream media, publishers and big-tech companies purporting to create a ‘global alliance of integrity in news’) and Ofcom (the UK communications regulator who, in early 2020, threatened broadcasters with censor should they cover anything that went against the Government narrative) ensured that voices expressing dissent about covid restrictions and the vaccine rollout were displaced to the inaccessible fringes of media output.
INCLUSION 3: Under the chapter subheading ‘Transparency’, it is asserted that the collective outputs of the state-experts ‘all supported open dialogue’.
OMISSIONS: Completely overlooked are the pervasive censorship and smearing of scientists and commentators for expressing views that deviated from the official restrict-and-jab approach to the pandemic. Paradoxically, for a section on transparency, there is no mention of the covert psychological strategies (‘nudges’) deployed throughout the covid era, nor the profound ethical concerns associated with these methods of persuasion.
INCLUSION 4: An emphasis on countering ‘misinformation’ (inaccurate information deriving from ignorance) and ‘disinformation’ (inaccurate information strategically intended to mislead). Furthermore, they contrast this menace with the ‘high-quality scientific commentary’ emanating from sources such as the Science Media Centre.
OMISSIONS: Again, the tired tropes of ‘countering misinformation/disinformation’ are regurgitated in an attempt to justify state-sponsored censorship and manipulation, along with the perpetuation of the damaging myth that ‘the science’ is settled. Under this malignant regime, any expert who questions the dominant narrative is instantly accused of spreading inaccurate information and the only reliable media sources are those relaying the official narrative; it may be no coincidence that the main funders of the Science Media Centre (lauded by the state’s public-health experts) include the Wellcome Trust, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca.
The publication of the ‘Technical report on the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK’ presented an opportunity for Whitty, Vallance and their associates to reflect upon their decisions over the last three years and acknowledge their mistakes. Specifically, a chapter on ‘Communications’ provided an honourable way of admitting to their promotion of extraordinary levels of propaganda, censorship and psychological manipulation in their messaging strategy, and to pledge not to repeat these unethical and authoritarian practices in the management of future pandemics. Instead, they doubled down by defending their fundamentally flawed narrative. Clearly, our state-funded experts are not going to admit culpability without concerted bottom-up pressure from the masses – the ordinary citizens – they are paid to serve.