Politicians, civil servants and businesses have become increasingly attracted to the idea of issuing a statement on a subject rather than sending someone to debate it.
It may be just me, but I am pretty certain the use of these statements has become more prevelant and the content even more banal than when this tactic started to be used extensively, I guess about 15 years ago.
There is some logic to sending out a comment, particularly when there are simply not enough people to meet the demands of 24 hour news. And, when official statements were issued at the end of a discussion, as used to be the practice, it means that the official body had the last word.
It was a perfect way for someone in power to evade and avoid debate and get the final word.
There was a classic case today on Radio 5 Live which did a piece on the amount of financial help received if a child was seriously ill in hospital. The government pays disability living allowance (DLA) for seriously ill children who live at home, but removes it after nearly three months for those who are in hospital.
One carer and Amanda Batten from Contact a Family spoke and then there was the inevitable statement from the Department of Local Government.
“DLA is paid to help people who are unable to walk or virtually unable to walk or to do things like wash and dress themselves. After a child is looked after free of charge in hospital for nearly three months, we put payment of DLA on hold because their needs are met by the NHS. Children receive DLA for longer than just over 16s after being admitted to hospital because we recognise they need longer to adjust.”
Rather than that being the end of the discussion, the excellent Peter Allen asked Amanda Batten to respond which she did by pointing out omissions in the statement.
The DLG statement was a classic non-comment generalisation on an issue that really deserved better. Whoever drafted those words probably thought they were doing their job by issuing the statement. In fact they were damaging thwir own case by appearing evasive – a classic case of bureaucratic deceit.
But I would like to end on an opimistic note. I think I notice a trend, with broadcasters starting to treat these non-comments less respectfully and allowing more time for them to be challenged. We too should note when organisations duck a debate and treat them with the contempt they deserve where they try to duck a legitimate debate.