Taking my cue from the Campaign for Plain English – the organisation that campaigns for public bodies and businesses to produce information for the public and consumers in simple, easy-to-understand English – I’m today launching the Campaign for Plain England: an occasional series pointing up failures by government, politicians, public-sector organisations and the media to make it plain when they’re referring to England.
First in the series, today’s news story about the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report calling for GPs in England to prescribe more generic drugs rather than their branded equivalants in order to prevent unnecessary expense. The report does appear to refer to the fact that it relates only to the NHS in England: ‘England’ is mentioned in total six times in the report’s 36 pages. However, on closer examination, readers have to infer that the report deals only with England; or else they must rely on contextual information such as their background knowledge that the House of Commons has competency in such matters only in relation to England, or by reference to the BBC News’ website‘s clarification that the report concerns itself with England (hat tip to the said website for saying ‘England’ in the first sentence of its report).
The report never makes it totally explicit that its recommendations relate to England only. The actual references to England come in the form of statistical information concerning the historical and current situation with regard to drug prescribing. The rest of its lengthy deliberations contain no reference to England. Nor is England mentioned on the title page.
Perhaps this lack of transparency about the report’s exclusive England focus was what foxed the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning, as they referred to the Public Accounts Committee’s report in their news bulletin, and then conducted a five-minute interview with a supporter and opponent of the Committee’s recommendations, without once mentioning they related to England only. So there was I left hanging, not sure whether in fact the report was relevant to the UK as a whole or just England, but assuming that it was England only, which indeed turns out to be the case – I presume.
4 out of 5 for the BBC news website (not 5, as only one mention of England, admittedly in the first sentence)
1 out of 5 for the Public Accounts Committee report (several mentions of England but never totally explicit that the whole report relates to England)
0 out of 5 for the Today programme – total editorial failure there!