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Govt launches propaganda Web site

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The government officially launches its UKonline Web site today. It's been accessible since December and has cost the taxpayer £4 million so far. It boasts 30 journalists, as well as admins, designers etc.

So what is it? Basically this is the portal to the vast e-government masterplan. This will act as your 'Yellow Pages' when the government gets its services online (don't hold your breath).

It's a good, if perfectly logical, approach to start the online revolution in Whitehall, and will be able to draw attention to new services as and when they become available.

However, the inclusion of a prominent news section has got people's back up. Civil servants have already started calling it Pravda.com - in reference to the Russian newspaper set up by the government to feed propaganda to the people.

Although headed by a former BBC journalist, the news team has been told it will be working with No.10 to present government news and must be available to respond to emergency situations "requiring news updates".

The obvious worry is that the site will come under the control of the prime minister's press spokesman Alastair Campbell and therefore become little more than an extension of Labour Party line.

Mr Campbell's forthright approach to the media and his unerring belief that no one writes the real story about what government is doing - apart from him - would make the site a tempting prospect.

Government news and party political back-slapping are often hard to separate since ministers are keen to be seen to backing up their party's approach with any releases. Senior civil servants are known to be keeping a close eye on the site.

Examples from today (although the news is several days old) include some genuine government stories - making the electricity network safer, straight news on what is happening with the Millennium Dome bid. However, while stories dealing with the NHS and unemployment figures are written straight, both are frequently used as political weapons and introducing bias is not only advantageous to the party in power but also very easy.

Also, is the site likely to report matters of governmental importance that impinge on the political party? ®

Related Link

UKonline Web site (www.ukonline.gov.uk)

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