Imagine you are walking down the street and a man in a suit walks up to you holding a large cudgel…
“Excuse me,” he says, “I have seen you walk down this street on a daily basis wearing a tee-shirt and in future I would like you to wear a suit and tie to raise the tone of the neighbourhood.”
“Er, no,” you reply, “I am happy dressed the way I am.”
“I see,” the man replies, “well I would rather not have to threaten to hit you with this cudgel if you do not do what I say so I want you to voluntarily agree to wear a suit and tie.”
“But you are threatening to hit me with that cudgel!” you point out.
“No,” he says, “I will only threaten to hit you with this cudgel if you don’t do what I want voluntarily.”
This statement of the bleedin’ obvious by me was brought on this sadly typical piece of ‘press release’ style journalism:
The three voluntary “responsibility deals” agreed with the food industry are aimed at helping the public to eat more healthily, in a drive to tackle the growing problem of obesity among both adults and children. Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, believes that firms will be more likely to set ambitious targets for themselves if they are negotiated on a voluntary basis. Rather than a “nanny state” approach, he is keen to arm the public with the tools they need to cope in an “obesogenic environment,” where people are bombarded with adverts for unhealthy food.
If firms break their promises, the Government will however consider taking compulsory measures.
So rather than writing an article that explains the dynamic of what is going on here, Rosa Prince in effect just delivers a government press release complete with the approved spin… ‘voluntary’… ‘not nanny state’…
Why exactly does The Telegraph need to have a ‘political correspondent’ at all rather than just republishing whatever the government wishes? What value is Rosa Prince actually adding here? The fact that these food industry groups agreed to do something under threat of compulsory measures means that this clearly is a prime example of the ‘Nanny State’ in action… and moreover if there is an explicit threat of legal coercion, how is this in any meaningful sense ‘voluntary’?