Behavioural Insights Team

Ofcom Complaint About Collaboration Between Sky and Government-Owned Company to Promote ‘Net Zero’

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.

Why Won’t the Health Care and Professions Council Investigate My Complaint Against a Psychologist on SAGE?

We’re publishing a guest post today by Dr. Timothy Dunne, a consultant clinical psychologist, who is unhappy about the fact that the professional regulator for psychologists hasn’t followed up his complaint against a psychologist and member of SAGE whom he thinks has breached professional ethics.

The Health Care and Professions Council (HCPC) was set up by the U.K. Government as the official body which oversees the regulation, registration and safe working practices of the professions on its registers. Psychology is one of the health professions which the HCPC regulates.

As such, the HCPC has a legal obligation to investigate a complaint made against any member of a profession which it regulates. At least, that is what one is led to believe from its website.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t responded to my complaint against a psychologist who is a member of the BIT (Behavioural Insights Team) and who participated in a meeting of SAGE on March 22nd 2020 where it was recommended that frightening people was an effective way of gaining compliance with the coronavirus restrictions using such phrases as “the perceived level of threat needs to be increased”.

I made the complaint to the HCPC in relation to the unethical use of covert techniques by the psychologists in BIT without informed consent from the British public. My complaint was acknowledged in an email I received on April 23rd 2021 and given a case number (withheld for confidentiality reasons) and I was informed that “we will be in touch with you again shortly”.

I have heard nothing from the HCPC since then despite two email enquiries on August 27th and September 27th 2021.

I wonder what’s going on with the HCPC? No doubt they will probably trot out the old reliable COVID-19 lack of staff or staff working from home chestnut to try and explain (away) their lack of response.

A more sinister explanation would be that because the psychologist complained of is a member of a Government unit (BIT) he is being protected by this non-action.

This delay certainly raises a question mark over whether the HCPC is fit for purpose, given that it cannot investigate in a timely manner a complaint in relation to a member of a Government group, i.e., BIT.