"Unlike normal documentaries, the programmes are commissioned by ministers with the purpose of showing their policies or activities in a sympathetic light.
The media watchdog Ofcom has disclosed that it had opened an investigation into one of the programmes, Beat: Life on the Street — about the Government’s controversial Police Community Support Officers, to see whether it breached its broadcasting code."
So to address this yawning credibility gap, the commissars decided to take the law into their own hands. Stretching Ofcom rules about transparency and editorial control to the max, taxpayers' money was used to fund extended propaganda films disguised as fly-on-the-flourescent-yellow-jacket documentaries. An outrage Uncle Joe Stalin himself would have been proud of.
The dark deed was masterminded by the government's propaganda ministry, the Central Office of Information (COI). They're so detached from what we think that they're actually proud of what they've done: a spokesperson says:
"Advertiser-funded programming has allowed the Government to successfully reach 22,804,675 people with important messages, such as those around tackling crime and disorder, or encouraging people to give blood.
COI aims to help government departments communicate their services for citizens, achieving maximum communication effectiveness and value for money."
The COI was established on the very second day of WW2 as the Ministry of Information. It was Britain's Minitruth, and its mission was wartime propaganda. Fair enough - there was a war on. The trouble is, despite the passage of 60 years, the COI remains in the business of wartime propaganda: streams of ads on TV, radio, newspapers, and increasingly the internet, all telling us that unless we jolly well pull our socks up, the enemy will win.
And it's not cheap. Last year, central government propaganda cost us £400m, including £168m spent on traditional advertising - making the government Britain's second biggest advertiser, behind only Procter and Gamble. Here's the summary from COI's Annual Report:
As we can see, although the spend on traditional ads has apparently stabilised, spend elsewhere is roaring away. In particular, the amount spent on digital media is exploding, up more than tenfold in four years to £35m pa.
And remember too, the COI's £400m only covers direct central government propaganda. As the TaxPayers' Alliance reported a few months back, local councils spend huge amounts on their own "publicity", currently running at £450m pa. Add in money spent by local NHS authorities, local police forces etc etc, and we're talking a figure around £1bn pa.
So that's another £1bn pa George Osborne could use to cut taxes. At a stroke.
Unfortunately, the news from the Tory MPs' holiday reading list is not encouraging. Their number one required read is:
"Nudge, the hit pop-psychology book by the Americans Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. The authors’ argue that sometimes voters need a light push to do the right thing, a sentiment that chimes with Mr Cameron’s policies on welfare and tax."
Your correspondent hasn't yet read Nudge, but as blogged here, that idea sounds horribly like nanny in a new set of clothes. And Nudge's concept of "choice architecture" certainly sounds like extaordinarily good news for all those ad agencies who feast on taxpayers' wallets round at the COI.
We're grinding our teeth again (HTP Spokey).