We long ago entered the world of Orwell’s 1984. Of double-speak and double-think. Hypocrisy and being ‘economical with the truth’ have been elevated to a respectful art form. A burger chain CEO recently questioned the value of taxing sugary and fattening food and drinks as a means to tackle “complex” public health issues. In his opinion, ‘obesity should be overcome through education, information and choice.’ Not, you notice, by regulating the food industry in any way. It’s down to people to sort themselves out. It always is. So, fatties are to blame and the food industry gets off Scot free.
The assignment of blame to consumers for the failings of the powerful is a bit like punching them on the nose and blaming them for not ducking. But whenever businessmen claim that an issue is much more complicated than the public believe it to be, you can bet the farm that something has gone wrong and that the public are about to be blamed.
Powerful vested interests have long argued for their freedom to market their products while simultaneously leaving the consumer holding the responsibility stick when things go wrong. For decades the tobacco industry successfully avoided their responsibility for the toxic products of tobacco smoke by championing the consumer’s right to choice – If people chose to risk lung cancer, why should government interfere?
Politics is a hot-bed of misinformation and mis-direction too. Take the UK Tory party’s recent hi-jacking of the phrase ‘The Living Wage’. This was a gem of marketing prowess. It was essentially a cynical re-branding of the minimum wage – a pitiful amount of money on which most people simply could not survive. By simply sticking a new label on the same derisory total they made it seem as if more money was on offer.
The gravest of dangers here – whether it’s about sugar in food, the Living Wage or tobacco smoke – is that, to thrive, democracy requires the availability of accurate, un-spun information, there for people when a decision is needed. Without this foundation you have nothing.
Thank heavens for Facebook, Twitter, and other social media apps, once thought frivolous – they now act as a powerful means to expose the lies of those in power – often within seconds. So far, the exchange of information these apps facilitate cannot be withheld from the populace. I wouldn’t bet that will always be the case.