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June 25, 2007

Winston Smith Lives On!

Oh yes, he does. You remember that Winston's job was to change the historical records so that they agreed with the current Party line?

It's being done now. With your money too.

Now where's the phone number for that tumbril hire company gone?

Ah, as people are saying, that page seems to have disappeared. So, while it's still in my cache, here it is (worth noting that all Computer Weekly blogs are now down. Can't get your IT rights lads?):                  

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.

What had been constructive recommendations with implied criticism of the NPfIT became inconsequential comment on the programme. We cannot mention the specific changes because it would identify the meeting and the speaker. We have evidence, however, of the changes.

We would generally regard political spin as the embroidering, manipulation or omission of fact in government communications. We have not before come across any department or minister changing the record of what was said by an independent commentator - a third party - in criticism of a government IT programme.

We do not criticise the reporter.His acceptance of the changes was a pragmatic way to finalize the official record of the meeting without further ado. He did not think the changes made much difference. Perhaps he was being naïve.

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.

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.


NHS withdraws website report on weaknesses in national IT plan

Civil servants told to destroy reports on risky IT projects

How government spin doctors reacted to a CIO's comments that only 30% of IT projects succeed


June 25, 2007 in Your Tax Money at Work | Permalink


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» Government spin - more reaction from Tony Collins's IT Projects Blog
An article on this blog about a worrying precedent in government spin has caused a very minor ripple in the blogosphere. On 20 June 2007, an entry on the blog, entitled "Government spin - a worrying precedent" told the story... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 26, 2007 9:11:58 PM


Never forget what happened with Winston Smith at the end:

" . . Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother."

Posted by: Bob B | Jun 25, 2007 10:53:23 AM

Link doesn't seem to work.

Remember "Unity in diversity"!!

Posted by: Mark Wadsworth | Jun 25, 2007 10:56:48 AM

There appears to be some strange censorship going on: I can get this far but no further - neither with firefox nor even, spits, IE. Weird, if not actually prophetic :)


Tim adds: Odd, it works for me.

Posted by: Surreptitious Evil | Jun 25, 2007 10:58:09 AM

Of your last three links I'm getting the first two and told I'm unauthorised for the third.


Posted by: ScotsToryB | Jun 25, 2007 11:18:14 AM

Thanks for extra posting, Tim. Does any of this surprise anyone?

Posted by: Mark Wadsworth | Jun 25, 2007 11:43:43 AM

Many years ago I worked for a very large, meeting and committee ridden retail organisation.

My Immediate Boss (whom I got on well with) was not renowned for his love of admin and paperwork which he would enthusiastically delegate to his minions - especially me it seemed.

I was always surprised therefor when he would invariably volunteer to keep minutes of our meetings with Even Bigger Bosses.

One night, at the end of a well-lubricated evening I plucked up the courage to ask him "Fred, why do you volunteer to take, and write up, the minutes of the ******* meetings, 'cos you hate paperwork?"

"Jim my boy" he replied "I'll teach you a valuable lesson. Always remember that it is perfectly possible to lose the meeting - but win the minutes!"

I never forgot that and put it to good effect in the years that followed,

I rest my case. Name have been changed to protect the innocent (and guilty)

Posted by: plantman | Jun 25, 2007 3:49:28 PM