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Government should learn lessons from pandemic to improve communications and counter misinformation

12 April 2024

Scientists working across government should be allowed and encouraged to take on a wider public facing role in the media to combat the spread of misinformation, a report from MPs says today.

The trusted voices report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee follows an inquiry into the role of the media, Government and public institutions in acting as and supporting authoritative and trusted sources of information.

The Committee highlights concerns about the shortcomings of Government communications during the Covid-19 pandemic and calls on Ministers to conduct a full evaluation to ensure lessons are properly learnt.

The report says the Government should allow its scientists to respond directly to the media, highlighting the critical role the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Officer played in engaging publicly on issues of national concern, and be more proactive in publishing evidence used in policy making.

The report also recommends that the Government publishes advice for departments and public bodies on how to communicate with young people using new apps and platforms, including consistent advice on TikTok, and to come up with a plan for improving GOV.UK, with some users lost and overwhelmed by the website.

A key strand of the inquiry looked at the role of the National Academies, which represent the UK’s science, arts, engineering and medical research communities, in ensuring the public has easy access to good quality information.

While the Committee was provided with some excellent examples of public engagement by the National Academies, the report concludes that their strategic aims remain unclear. The Government should therefore review their role in providing public information and publish their objectives.

Dame Caroline Dinenage MP, Chair of the CMS Committee, said:

“With the spread of misinformation on social media remaining a very real problem, it’s more important than ever that communities across the country have access to accurate and authoritative information that it is communicated in an open and relatable way.

There are lessons to be learnt from the pandemic where scientists played a critical role in communications. The Government is missing a trick in not giving them a larger public role in the battle to counter misinformation.

There also needs to be more clarity over the role in public debate of our National Academies. Until the Government establishes clear aims, it is hard to judge how effectively they are engaging with the public and whether they are providing value for money in this role.”

Further information

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