Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

No government science news, please: Welcome to the UK’s purdah

with one comment

photo by ** Maurice ** via flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/mauricedb/

As most Embargo Watch readers — and certainly all of those in the UK — know, there will be a UK general election on May 6. That means that starting on April 6, when prime minister Gordon Brown announced the election, the government entered a period known as purdah.

During purdah, government officials and organizations that work for the government are banned from sending out press releases or making other statements that might be construed as supporting or criticizing the government. That includes science and medical organizations, of course.

These are the purdah rules for local elections. Opponents can claim that candidates have violated purdah. Conservatives accused a justice minister of doing that in Norwich County last year.

The word purdah is of Islamic origin. It refers to separation of the sexes, and to requirements that women cover their bodies. According to Frithjof Schuon’s Understanding Islam (via Wikipedia):

Purdah is a curtain which makes sharp separation between the world of man and that of a woman, between the community as a whole and the family which is its heart, between the street and the home, the public and the private, just as it sharply separates society and the individual.

There have been questions — such as in this 2007 piece in The Guardian — about whether the UK still needs purdah. The Welsh Assembly banned the term in 2007 in favor of “pre-election period.”

I’ve already heard of one bizarre purdah-related embargo misstep involving a press release, which I can’t report about until purdah ends. Let me know if you hear of any more.


Written by Ivan Oransky

April 16, 2010 at 9:28 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Now here’s a twist–we conducted a Q&A before the election was called and now the government-funded organization is trying to get us to delay running the interview because of purhad concerns. I don’t feel obligated to do so but timing may make the issue moot in any case, as we may come out after purdah lifts.

    john travis

    April 28, 2010 at 6:49 am

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