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Consistently inconsistent messaging

by | Sep 23, 2020 | Behaviour, Communications, Crisis management, Language, Plain English | 0 comments

I’m a plain English advocate, I always have been, but I’ve never felt so strongly about it until now. When I say now, I mean the last 6 months. The last 6 months of mixed messaging from the UK government in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

I occasionally look back fondly at those first couple of weeks after lockdown when I felt they were doing a good job (on many levels) and that we were all following the simple rules in a horrific new normal. It all went downhill rapidly from there.

I really don’t want to list the many slogans and messages that have led to a mostly confused UK population but you may recall seeing ‘Stay home, protect the NHS, saves lives,’ ‘Eat out to help out’, ‘Hands. Face. Space’. And alongside these, local variations and local rules that just add to the confusion. For clarity, I’m talking here about England mainly. This in itself has caused massive confusion. I know when the PM has spoken it’s not always been made clear who it applies to. Oh, and add in the lack of signing at some of the updates which has also led to confusion for the 11 million deaf and hard of hearing people in the UK.

You’d think we’d have got a handle on the messaging by now but seemingly not. I’ve had countless discussions and debates – face to face (at a distance, or in my bubble of course), by email, phone etc about interpretations of the rules. There has been no agreement, ever, on any aspect. Yet if we’re all supposed to be following the ‘simple rules’ we should all be in agreement as to what they are. This is alarming, and a massive failure. We shouldn’t be this far down the road with the only consistency being the inconsistent messaging…

Get tested if you’ve got symptoms – oh sorry not you, ah no tests available near you.
Get tested if you’ve NOT got symptoms – also oh sorry not you, ah no tests available near you.
Test and trace, or is it track and trace. And is it NHS or SERCO?
Give plasma to help others if you’ve had it, oh sorry not you.
Self-isolating or isolating? And for 10 days or is it 14?
Masks don’t work so you don’t need to wear one. Some people now need to wear masks. Masks protect you. Masks protect other people. Everyone now needs to wear masks everywhere. And are they masks of face coverings?

In this week’s (22 September) televised speech, the current prime minister used ‘the iron laws of geometrical progression are shouting at us from the graphs’ and ‘a stitch in times saves nine’. Why? Just why? I can’t fathom just how many people would have had sight of the speech before it went out. Did no one advise against use of these phrases? Or did he just not listen? And what did he mean by them?

I occasionally take a peep at what other countries are doing. I like the simplicity of Spain’s #EstoNoEsUnJuego (#ThisIsNotAGame) and I thought New South Wales Australia’s webpage on what to do on returning to the state from Victoria (a high-risk area) was very clear and direct.

I’m not for one minute saying that Plain English would have meant we are not in the mess we are in now. I am saying that people would have found it easier to stick to the rules if there was universal understanding of the rules. People can only follow what they understand.

Also – totally unrelated but I like it. I saw a link to a relaxation/meditation thing at the end of news piece yesterday and I heartily approve. Here’s one of my faves if you feel the need – butterfly meditation.

And if you want to learn more about Plain English take a look at the work of the Plain English Campaign.

We all benefit from Plain English and we are, after all, all in this together.

 

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