The dystopian campaign of fear must end

The dystopian campaign of fear must end

by Jon Dobinson
article from Thursday 25, March, 2021

IT IS NOW A YEAR since the lockdowns began – it is not something we should be celebrating or be proud of. 

As long ago as last summer, the leading mental health charity MIND was warning the Government of a mental health pandemic. At the start of this year independent polling for Recovery – which campaigns against lockdowns and other manifestations of authoritarian response to the Covid pandemic – revealed that most adults in the UK are now worried about the mental health of someone close to them. Yet the Government responded by launching its most frightening campaign yet with its terrifying ‘look into her eyes’ message. (See analysis of the posters here.)  

Meanwhile, broadcasters continue to say they are still forced to push out one-sided and sensationalised coverage of the pandemic because of Ofcom rules which forbid any reporting that is critical of restrictions.  There is no secret about why – this is all to control behaviour and ensure people comply.  

Media controls are explicitly designed to prevent the general public questioning whether the response to the pandemic is proportionate and justified: the Ofcom guidance can only be read in this light. Experts warn that the use of fear to control behaviour is dangerous and unethical, especially when combined with curbs of freedom of speech. 

There was outrage earlier this week that the campaign led by Recovery, calling for an end to fear because of its associated mental health problems has been banned by the leading outdoor media companies on spurious grounds. After the Government spent £184m on advertising that fuelled unprecedented fear last year, giant media companies won’t allow criticism that may damage their lucrative Government advertising contracts.  

As a result Twitter users have started changing their Twitter banners to the poster to express their anger at the ban. JC Decaux, the world’s leading outdoor media company, refused to run the posters on the grounds the Code of Advertising Practice bans political advertising, This is completely untrue. Trafford Council – the owner of the sites near the BBC that Recovery booked – also banned it as ‘political’ and refused further explanation.  The intention was to place posters near leading broadcasters including the BBC and Sky. Recovery has been prevented by the ban.   

Working with a smaller outdoor media company, however, Recovery has secured a site for the poster in central London and will also still show it at the BBC via an advertising van which will circle the studios.  


The London poster (above) is now live at Mansell Street opposite Chambers Street – EC3N 1JJ. The campaign has been funded by the donations of our supporters on GoFundMe. 

In tandem with the poster campaign results of a new independent poll commissioned by Recovery from market research experts Yonder reveal the Government’s campaign of fear has had a shocking impact on the mental health of the nation. 15 per cent of respondents reported depression, anxiety, or fear as a direct result of Government pandemic advertising. That’s equivalent to over 8m people.   

A further 7 per cent – the equivalent of over 3.6m people – report the advertising has made an existing mental health condition worse: that’s almost 12m people around the country whose mental health has been damaged by an unprecedented Government advertising campaign designed to create fear. 

3 per cent of responders – equivalent to over 1.5m people – say that the advertising has brought on an entirely new mental health condition requiring treatment.    

Recovery has long warned of the dangers to mental health from the irresponsible use of fear to control behaviour – a practice that is widely regarded by psychologists and mental health experts as unethical. The Government campaign has been driven by the experts in behavioural psychology on its SPI-B committee, who wrote a paper as long ago as last March setting out their intentions to increase ‘the personal level of threat’. 

The polling by Yonder  shows the impact has been most severe on younger people and those aged under 40. The poll did not question children, but this indicates a possibility of significant damage to millions of children during their formative years.   

Yonder asked a representative sample of 1000 respondents drawn from an Omnibus panel of 200,000 UK adults the question, ‘What impact, if any, has Government advertising such as this had on your mental health over the past year’, showing an example from the Government’s recent ‘look into her eyes’ campaign.  

If such scaremongering was ever justified, how can it be right now, when the evidence of the horrific damage it is doing is so clear and the threat from Covid-19 has been controlled by a successful vaccination programme? Yet the fear continues.  

Only this week, Boris Johnson warned of a ‘third wave’ like Europe even though half of our adults are vaccinated. It’s time to treat the public like adults, restore freedom of speech, and stop creating fear 

For recovery’s campaign against fear go to:

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Jon Dobinson, is a co-founder and Campaign Director of Recovery, and MD of award winning advertising agency Other. He is a former D&AD judge and Chair of the Creative Jury of the International Business Awards.   

About Recovery

Recovery formed last October to campaign for the Five Reasonable Demands for good government during Covid-19, a moderate, balanced alternative to the Government’s damaging approach to Covid-19, which experts have warned will end up costing many more lives than it saves and the Government itself says has already cost the country as much as the entire Second World War. 

An independent poll by Yonder in January found that the Five Reasonable Demands are supported by 77 per cent of the UK population with only 3 per cent opposed, as well as by many respected and high profile people in business, culture, media, politics, medicine and sport. 

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