Laura Dodsworth and I have filed a complaint with Ofcom about a report issued by the Behavioural Insights Team and Sky urging broadcasters to use sophisticated psychological techniques derived from behavioural science to persuade people to support the Government’s ‘Net Zero’ agenda. Sky proudly boasted in the report that it was already using these subliminal techniques, which we think is a breach of Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code – in particular, the prohibition on using “techniques which exploit the possibility of conveying a message to viewers or listeners, or of otherwise influencing their minds without their being aware, or fully aware, of what has occurred”. Here is the gist of our complaint, taken from our letter to Melanie Dawes, the Chief Executive of Ofcom:
We are writing to alert you to a broadcast license complaint we have made about Sky U.K. Our complaint concerns a partnership between Sky and Behavioural Insights U.K., Known as the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), a limited company that was partly owned by the Government at the time the report was published. We believe this partnership – and, in particular, Sky’s adoption of BIT’s recommendations about how to help the Conservative Government successfully implement one of its most political contentious policy, namely, Net Zero – contravenes the Broadcasting Code.
The partnership we’re referring to resulted in the publication of “The Power of TV: Nudging Viewers to Decarbonise their Lifestyles” and the launch of Sky’s ‘Sky Zero’ campaign, which recommended that broadcasters make use of “behavioural science principles”, including subliminal messaging (“nudging” in the parlance of BIT, which is colloquially known as the Nudge Unit), to encourage viewers to endorse and comply with Conservative Government policy. Alarmingly, the report recommends broadcasters utilise sophisticated psychological techniques to change the behaviour of children “because of the important influence they have on the attitude and behaviours of their parents”.
The letter is worth reading in full.