News

Plain English campaign news articles

Campaign supports MP in call for war on small print (4 March 2008)

Nottinghamshire MP Dr. Nick Palmer is to call for an end to small print, and Plain English Campaign has pledged its support.
The Broxtowe MP is launching a Bill in the House of Commons on Tuesday 26 February. The Bill has attracted the backing of MPs from across the main political parties. Support also comes from a coalition of campaign groups including RNIB, Age Concern and the Trading Standards Institute.

“The scourge of small print has made life a misery for many people over the years,” said Plain English Campaign spokesman Steve Jenner. “There is absolutely no reason for it apart from making information more difficult to read. If we look at the organisations that are backing the Bill, we can see there’s a whole range of people who are affected.

“The only conclusion to draw is that when companies and organisations use small print, they don’t want us to understand.
“We’d also hope that by forcing the issue on small print, jargon and gobbledygook will also be ditched. We hope that this Bill makes companies realise that it’s time to re-edit their documents, and get rid of unnecessary small print. Even the most complicated public documents can be written in a way that people can understand.

War on buzzwords (18 February 2008)

An article by Bill Jamieson in ‘The Scotsman’ has highlighted the way in which ‘Newspeak’ has invaded Scottish life.

The author received a ‘deluge’ of responses, all featuring specific examples. Political ‘buzzwords’ and phrases like ‘policy-based evidence’, ‘consensus’, ‘partnership working’ and ‘connectivity’ came in for particular criticism.

Plain English Campaign has made comments in the media several times about this issue recently and has decided enough is enough. Campaign spokesperson Steve Jenner said today:

“It is frequently suggested to us in interviews that it is acceptable for people to use buzzwords and phrases in the workplace. We don’t think it is. There are a number of reasons why.”

“If a council, health authority or other large organisation holds a training event, the ‘delegates’ are more likely to spend their time playing ‘buzzword bingo’. This is amusing until you remember these events are funded by public money.”

“It also breeds terrible cynicism about the political process. Bill Jamieson credits a contributor for pointing out that ‘public consultation’ and ‘have your say’ usually mean the exact opposite. We have looked at a number of ‘public consultations’ this year which suggest exactly that. We applaud Bill’s ‘overarching purpose’ in writing this article.”

“We also call on all public agencies, political organisations and private companies throughout Scotland to run plain English training sessions. These could feature as part of forthcoming training events. A good starting point would be for each organisation to identify a top ten list of buzzwords or phrases it uses. And then come up with a plain English alternative list.”

Campaign Joins Times columnist in demand for straight talk

The Times columnist Rosemary Behan savaged a handful of government ministers in her column today. And Plain English Campaign is calling on ministers to heed her words as the Campaign Awards ceremony approaches.

She accuses Jacqui Smith, Hazel Blears and Dawn Primarolo of ‘blathering’ and ‘mechanical, mindless drivel’. Her comments come following an interview with Jacqui Smith by John Humphrys. In answer to a question about the charging of terrorist suspects the MP said “Well, the first thing to say, John, is that these form part of a range of proposals that we put forward for consultation before the summer and we are serious about involving people in that consultation, which is why we’ve had a series of regional seminars about this, it’s why I’ve talked to the Opposition, it’s why we’ve talked to groups about these implications…”

“All politicians – and particularly those in government – should take note of the Rosemary Behan’s comments” says campaign spokesman Steve Jenner.

“Listeners will not be patronised and newspaper readers will not accept platitudes. Plain English does not mean simple and meaningless – it means clear communication. Rosemary Behan cites empty phrases like ‘moving forward’, ‘actively reaching out’, ‘progressing research’ and ‘resolve to build a consensus’ as examples of mindless politico-babble. The old saying ‘say what you mean, mean what you say and stop’ has no more important place than in government.”

The Plain English Awards ceremony takes place in London on 11 December this year. Lenny Henry will present the Campaign awards.

Plain English watchdog applauds Parliament web centre work

The Parliament Web Centre has changed the design of the Bills before Parliament pages. Plain English Campaign has scrutinised these pages and declared them 'a great improvement'.

"This is clearly the result of testing and listening to feedback from people using these pages", said Plain English Campaign’s Steve Jenner.

"It is clear that Harriet Harman was serious when she said she wanted Parliament to communicate more clearly with the people. We applaud these efforts to make the path to reading and understanding planned legislation more straightforward."

The new pages are available at http://services.parliament.uk/bills. The government is also inviting comments on the changes and for further suggestions: webmaster@parliament.uk

Plain English Campaign urges media boycott of jargon

Plain English Campaign has slammed a government statement which refers to ‘worklessness’. It is urging a news boycott of organisations which feed the press and broadcast media with information littered with jargon and gobbledygook.

“So do we take it that from now on a low birth rate in an area will be referred to as ‘pregnantlessness?’ asks a Plain English Campaign spokesperson. “ And it isn’t the only example of abuse of language in this statement.”

The statement continues by ‘explaining’ that ‘The new plans will enable local government to transcend traditional administrative and structural boundaries and deliver solutions that cover entire commuter routes, housing and employment markets for the first time through Multi Area Agreements (MAAs).’

“Ignoring the possibility that entire commuter routes covered by solutions might be a risk to road traffic, this is a press release from the government. Plain English Campaign is urging media organisations to reject gobbledygook and jargon, wherever it comes from.”

Sign the 'Crystal Clear Broadband' petition

Plain English Campaign have become an official partner in a new campaign for fairer broadband deals for UK customers. Computer Active magazine, which launched its'Crystal Clear Broadband' campaign last week, hope that it will put pressure on government and regulators to force companies to advertise typical broadband speeds rather than theoretical ones. Recently, a survey showed that nearly two-thirds of consumers are achieving less than half of the advertised download speeds from internet service providers (ISPs).

Our spokesman said "many people find modern technology complicated enough without having to plough through small print and jargon. Broadband companies have a responsibility to be honest with their customers and not rip them off."

Nearly 6000 people have signed the petition on the 10 Downing Street website, and the campaign has attracted support from several MPs, including Conservative MP, George Young. The communications regulator Ofcom also welcomed the campaign and said it was raising awareness among consumers about the issues of speed and technical limitations of broadband.

Plain English Campaign slams EU over 'unreadable' treaty

Giuliano Amato, the former Italian Prime Minister, claims the new European Union treaty is deliberately 'unreadable'. The lack of clarity from the drafters is such that 'any Prime Minister - imagine the UK Prime Minister - can go to the Commons and say look, you see, it's absolutely unreadable, it's the typical Brussels treaty, nothing new, no need for a referendum'.

Plain English Campaign condemns this as an act of deception by the EU.

Press Officer Steve Jenner says "Drafters of the Treaty have a real position of power. Mr. Amato was vice-president of the body that drafted the original Constitution so he knows about this. This is a damning verdict on the new EU Treaty and the intentions of the people who produced it". "It is another example of language being used to confuse an important issue. Plain language is essential if we are to have true democracy."

Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague highlighted Amato's comments during a recent speech at the centre for policy studies. But Foreign Secretary David Miliband, speaking at the Labour Party conference, is adamant. He insists the treaty does not contain the kind of changes which would require a national vote.

The revelations come just months after PEC director Chrissie Maher congratulated Angela Merkel for writing the EU's 50th birthday statement in plain language.

PEC rues departure of English football's 'finest orator'

Language group Plain English Campaign says it hopes to see Jose Mourinho’s swift return to football following his departure from Chelsea Football Club. Mourinho, who refers to himself as ‘The Special One’, is well known for his love of using strange and overextended metaphors during press conferences. He is already in the hat for the campaign’s annual ‘Foot in Mouth’ award as a result of his ‘omelettes and eggs’ comments earlier this week (see below).

“Not since Eric Cantona has a footballing figure had so unique an approach to the English language.” said a Campaign spokesman. “Jose Mourinho is possibly the finest orator the English game has seen since Eric Cantona, and will be sorely missed.”

Last year, Plain English Campaign supporters voted Bill Shankly’s famous ‘life and death’ line the best footballing quote of all time.

Six of the best Mourinho quotes

  • 'I am more than unhappy. Unhappy is a nice word.'
  • 'The moral of the story is not to listen to those who tell you not to play the violin but stick to the tambourine.'
  • 'Usually, when you score two and concede one, you win the game.'
  • 'Almost. But in football, almost is almost.'
  • 'It's like having a blanket that is too small for the bed. You pull the blanket up to keep your chest warm and your feet stick out. I cannot buy a bigger blanket because the supermarket is closed. But the blanket is made of cashmere.'
  • 'In the supermarket you have class one, two or class three eggs and some are more expensive than others and some give you better omelettes. So when the class one eggs are in Waitrose and you cannot go there, you have a problem.'
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