Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Hidden in Plain Sight

“CONTEST” is the United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering Terrorism. The main body of the article is 187 pages long, however there is a summary of the article that is about 18 pages long. This article will focus on the plain style found in the summary of the article and the reasons behind the use of plain style. Both the full article and the summary are available on the United Kingdom’s government website and easily found with a search engine. This is the third revision of CONTEST and was written in July 2011 in preparation for the London Olympic Games. Because of the simple way its written and the bullet point summary, I believe the summary of the article is meant for the general public. However, not everyone is going to read this article or even know it exists. At first glance, the intended audience seems to be anyone who might be concerned with the defense of the UK. However, after digging deeper into the article, it occurred to me that the actual intended audience might be political in nature.  
For anyone reading the article for the first time, I suspect they would find what I found: confidence. The whole summary is written with an active, confident voice. Many of the sentences start with “we will” and make strong statements about what “we” will do. “We also intend to do more to address the highest impact terrorist risks set out in the National Risk Assessment.” This statement seems to reflect the tone of the entire summary.
However, as I read it, I still found myself confused. I didn’t quite know some subjects that the summary addressed and I often found myself asking more questions than were being answered. This led me to the conclusion that while this report is intended to be clear, it also assumes that you know something about terrorism in the UK before you start reading. This article would be easy for someone who kept up on daily news, but for someone who tends to ignore world events, this article was dense. Not only that, but many statements gave me the impression that they were thrown in for political purposes. One such phrase, “Nor will we fund or work with extremist groups; we will carefully evaluate the credibility of those we support.” Seems like the perfect phrase for a journalist to put in his/her article.
The plain style in this case is being used purposefully. “CONTEST will reflect our fundamental values and, in particular, our commitment not only to protect the people of this country and our interests overseas but to do so in away that is consistent with and indeed advances our commitment to human rights and the rule of law.” While this statement verges on the official style, it comes off as direct and no nonsense. Another example of this confident tone is, “Our strategy will be proportionate to the risks we face and only engage in activity which is necessary to address those risks.” These phrases, while being very quotable, also have the weight of authority behind them.
Many other phrases in the summary seem to leave something left unsaid. “Success in counter-terrorism depends on international collaboration. We will support key allies in building their capacity to investigate and prosecute terrorists overseas.” This phrase, on the surface, seems to mean that the UK is willing to work with other countries to combat terrorist, but critically thinking, this phrase remains unclear. It begs the question: what aren’t they saying? And while it is understandable that certain plans be left unsaid for security reasons, I can’t help but wonder about what is left unsaid in order to keep the citizens happy with the government. If this summary is indeed catering to the media and politicians interested in the defensive measures of the UK, it is unsurprising that things remain unsaid. If the UK just announced that their new plan involved torturing people for information, politicians opposing such methods would tear the defense plan apart. The same goes for any media outlet. Likely, the media and politicians will tear this apart anyway, putting every phrase under the microscope, and it is understandable why things must be stated in a delicate manner. It is okay to imply that the country is torturing people, but it is not okay to actually come out and say it.
Two main arguments can be made against my argument. The first is that perhaps the person who wrote this summary was not catering to any one particular group of people and instead made things as clear as possible using plain style. This is entirely possible. The summary is available in four languages, as is the main text. However, if they wanted everyone to understand and read the defense measures, perhaps they should provide a reference section so that everyone knows the subjects presented in the article. The second argument is that perhaps it is not a bad thing that this text was written for the media and politicians. After all, they are the ones qualified to make sense of this dense piece of writing and translate what it might mean for the citizens of the UK. It makes sense that only a few people read the summary and then give the people interested an even shorter summary of its context. While this article is written in plain style, it is not the plainest it could be, and certainly not entirely clear. Journalists however, are adept at using plain style and could easily make sense of the information presented in both the summary and the main article.
Overall this article was confident and informational. It laid out everything in a clear, concise sentences. In the very beginning of the article, it lays out why the article was written and how the information would be presented. “Our counter-terrorism strategy will continue to be organised around four workstreams, each comprising a number of key objectives…” Then it goes on to list the key objects, then the objectives within the objectives, the reasons why the objectives are needed, and what success would look like if those objectives are completed. While it is easy enough for anyone to read, assuming you keep up with world news a little, the main intended audience is the media and politicians who might have questions regarding the security of the UK. Although it may be necessary to feed the media information, as they are the ones feeding the everyday citizens, many phrases are plain and easy to understand, but vague. The plain language used in this article is so easy to understand that perhaps you won’t look to hard at it.  Its a camouflage of information used to hide the true methods that are used to ensure the defense of the UK.  It makes a critical reader wonder what other texts are written in plain style in order to hide the truth behind cleverly understandable information. 
By Pearl C.  

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