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When is enough enough?

Snoddy: When is enough enough?
Opinion

The Queen’s death is already among one of the most written about and talked about stories in media history. When is it time to move on?

 

Have so many acres of newsprint and endless hours of live broadcasting ever been devoted to a single story in the history of humanity before?

The death of Queen Elizabeth II, after an unprecedented 70 years as Monarch, and the seamless transition to the reign of King Charles III, is a huge story that has played out across the world and deserves special treatment.

The life of Queen Elizabeth and her famed sense of duty and honour, which seems as if it has played on a loop since her death last Thursday, touched, in some way, the lives of everyone alive now in the UK.

It has even been estimated that around 20 million people in the UK have either met her or seen her in the flesh, and the 20 million includes me.

The size of the crowds preparing to view the coffin, or lining the Royal routes on the way to Monday’s state funeral, speaks volumes about public attitudes and continuity.

The Monarchy is far from dead in the UK.

But isn’t there a serious danger of media overkill that could become counterproductive, not just among the 24% of UK citizens that claim to be republicans, or the probably larger group of semi-reluctant supporters of constitutional monarchy for fear of something far worse — politicians becoming head of state?

When is enough, enough — apart from the great, set-piece ceremonials?

How the hours and pages were filled

The BBC coverage, and that of the other public service broadcasters has been superb, technically brilliant and professionally accomplished. You try talking live for hours when essentially nothing is happening other than pictures from a Sky helicopter of a number of cars winding their way through the Scottish countryside.

But was it really necessary for the BBC to compress all its television channels into one last Thursday? At least one tasteful choice, or alternative, such as David Attenborough documentaries about the future of the planet, could have been offered without controversy.

Was it wise to cancel Last Night of the Proms, which could have been turned into a celebration of the life of Queen Elizabeth and national solidarity?

It was also surely mean-spirited to remove the voice of Andrew Marr from the main BBC television Queen Elizabeth obituary (almost at the last moment) because he no longer works for the BBC.

The national newspapers have gone totally nuts, leaving us knee-deep in special supplements. By Tuesday the Sun version of the species had only made it up to the time of the Queen’s Coronation.

The Times has done better with its 24-page special supplements and was up to the Platinum Jubilee, although there are two more parts on the way.

Tuesday’s Times was an object lesson on the continuing scale of the coverage nearly a week after the Queen’s death.

The front page was dominated by the picture that almost all newspapers chose to lead with — King Charles III standing guard before the coffin in St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh.

There then followed 17 pages of coverage of the Royal Family, and in addition to the supplement, Times 2 led with columnist Caitlin Moran on the aftermath of the Queen’s death.

Is there yet a picture that hasn’t been shown, or a word that hasn’t been written of, spoken about the current state of the Windsors?

Amusingly, the Daily Mail dabbled in a little commercial opportunity arising from the solemn occasion by offering readers “the opportunity to purchase” its “Historic Special Edition” on 9 September, together with its rather small glossy picture magazines for £1.99 plus £3 for post and packaging.

It is difficult to escape the feeling that overall media coverage has been dusted down, or rehearsed many times over the years without changing much and failing to reflect fully the changes in Britain over the past 20 years towards a less deferential society.

In case you missed it: everything else

There is, of course, a downside to all these Royal extrusions of grief and celebration. Other important stories are either downplayed or overlooked.

The Daily Mail version of the emergency budget of Prime Minister Truss, something that will greatly affect the lives of His Majesty’s subjects, finally made it on Page 28 while The Sun devoted three brief paragraphs to the story on Page 20.

Extraordinary that there has been little real discussion in the papers of the Prime Minister’s apparent plan to go ahead with tax cuts, something that most economists think is a seriously bad idea in inflationary times.

One of the most significant developments in Russia’s war in Ukraine since the successful defence of Kviv, the rout of the Russian army in the north East of Ukraine, got short shrift in the most of the papers. The honourable exceptions were The Guardian and the Financial Times.

As for the Sun: 200 words on Page 29, while the Mail managed a modest lead on Page 30 with The Times leading its World section with Ukraine on Page 33.

A certain bending of news values concerning what is truly important and  what is increasingly less so?

Another story you might have missed was any blowback against the Prime Minister’s cunning plan to attach herself to the Royal odyssey around the nations of the UK to “offer support” to the King and Queen Consort.

First Truss was going. Then she was simply turning up at the religious services such as that in St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast (though Prime Minister Truss did get a non-speaking role on a pew of politicians).

One can only hope that one of the first “political” acts of Charles III was to tell Liz Truss to seek her photo opportunities elsewhere.

There has also not been too much space for the rapper Chris Kabe shot dead by police in London, even though no gun was found in his car. There has also been remarkably little outrage over the individuals charged with public order offences for protesting against Prince Andrew or the Monarchy.

Tellingly a barrister, who held up a blank poster was warned by police, although at least he wasn’t arrested as a woman was in similar circumstances in Moscow.

Here, broadcasters have, on the whole, done better. While the Royal story dominated, the Today programme still managed to cover all the above stories, and more besides, well.

Andrew Marr may have been excised from the BBC’s Royal coverage but he used his new-found freedom to denounce “the idiotic heavy-handed policing” of the individual anti-Royal protesters.

At least by a week today on Wednesday 21 September, it will all be over and some semblance of normal news values and normal journalism might re-emerge, until the special supplements return again to mark the Coronation of the King Charles III.


Raymond Snoddy is a media consultant, national newspaper columnist and former presenter of NewsWatch on BBC News. He writes for The Media Leader on Wednesdays (but you can read his special column about King Charles and the media here).

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John Billett, CEO, J GB Events, on 14 Sep 2022
“Don’t be such a sour puss Ray. She gave us 70 years of her life. Surely we can indulge her for a few days of overkill . I bet TV audiences and news paper sales have reached higher than trend levels”

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