Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

UK gov’t dept: This release we wrote is embargoed. But it’s live, and we’re going to tweet about it

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At 6:36 p.m. local time today, the “Official Twitter channel of the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills” tweeted the following:

Lord Green steps into office as Trade & Investment Minister see (embargoed) press notice here: http://tinyurl.com/6zq4bla

If you went to that URL when the tweet went out, you would have found this:

Lord Green takes office as Trade & Investment Minister


Lord Green, previously Group Chairman of HSBC, today (Tuesday) joined the Prime Minister at an event for Business Ambassadors at 10 Downing Street to discuss international trade as he took up his new role as Minister of State for Trade and Investment.

It’s still there. In other words, you will read a press release supposedly embargoed — just as advertised in the tweet — until more than five hours after it went out.

Maybe the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills thought Twitter was some sort of private channel for journalists who had agreed to embargoes. You know, 190 million such journalists every month. Some of those 190 million retweeted the release, including Nature‘s Brian Owens, who alerted me to it.

But I doubt naivete was at work here. The BIS Twitter account has nearly 12,000 followers, and follows nearly 2,600 people.

I can’t judge the newsworthiness of this release. I’ll leave that to my UK press colleagues. But I can’t see why anyone who was planning to cover this would have held to the embargo.

I tried to contact the press officers listed on the release, but I didn’t hear back. I’ll update if I do.

Update, 7 a.m. Eastern, 1/11/11: Lucy Michael Sutton, a BIS department communications officer, responded to my email this morning:

We had some problems with our email system here at BIS and so to ensure that journalists would be able to access the release we issued with an embargo in as many formats as possible. This is not a usual procedure but extenuating circumstances forced our hand.

Billy Owen, client support officer with the government’s Central Office of Information News Distribution Service, also responded, but just explained the rationale for embargoes rather than what happened this time:

Embargoed releases allow government departments to let the media have access to a story before it is officially released. This is a ‘gentlemens agreement’ and allows the media to contact the issuing office to get any more information , or clarification on the story before going to print. This agreement has been in place for many, many years. Once the embargo has passed, the story becomes live into the public domain. I would point out that this is a reciprical agreement, and allows newspapers especially to plan their next day stories.


Written by Ivan Oransky

January 10, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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