Smoke, Mirrors and Royals
What about the other news?
When the news broke that Queen Elizabeth II had passed away, it was a saddening and sobering time for many, a significant historic event for the world, and a field-day for the British media. The news was hard to escape for the following week, and as a result I was left with an uneasy feeling about the headlines, or rather a lack of them. Where did the rest of the news go? The topics I considered staple, important, and engaging headliners were whisked away from their rightful places. Updates on surging energy prices had been replaced by analyses of uniforms and dresses. Coverage of the fierce fighting in Ukraine pushed aside by King Charles III’s fountain pen woes. Reports on the horrors of an unravelling climate crisis in Pakistan seemed altogether missing. It felt as though some of the most pressing issues our world faces were left by the wayside. The fact is that the bloated royal coverage is a prime example of headlines distracting us.
Now, it is understandable that the Queen’s death should take the centre stage for some time, but when BBC News’ Clive Myrie relegated his reporting on the cost-of-living crisis to “insignificant” due to the “gravity of the situation we seem to be experiencing with her majesty”, many people were taken aback. This was, at best, a horribly-worded segue, but it read like a wilful distraction from an immediate societal concern. I struggle to believe that the British media collectively expect us to shelve our financial worries for the period of national mourning. Yet it is ironic that while the health and lives of so many of our elderly are threatened by the coming winter, it should be so totally overshadowed by the mourning of one.
I am reminded of a similar sentiment held through the years of Donald Trump’s presidency. The ex-president’s presence in the news was a constant. It mattered little whatever was the latest problematic remark, bizarre handshake, or childish rant made; readers could rest assured knowing that most news sites would let them know. It’s hard to imagine that these were the stories that required the most immediate attention next to the outcomes for the US and world of his republican dominated term.
Why should this be the case? You might stand alongside the anarchist voice of Noam Chomsky in the belief that popular media is exclusively a manipulative tool of the corporate world. Or maybe next to those that claim that the quality of journalism has been ground down by some social agenda. Perhaps popular journalism should be treated as entertainment and forgiven for its sensationalist elements? At least at some level, the reality is that the stories that sell are the ones that get printed.
This phenomenon should worry you. As readers, listeners, and watchers are pushed towards certain topics by the news cycle, public discourse is steered too. Steered in directions that fail to address questions that we should be focussing upon as a society. In almost a parody of this fact, Sky News misidentified a march for the 24-year-old Chris Kaba - an unarmed Black man who was shot by a Metropolitan Police firearms officer on September 5th - as a demonstration of mourning for the late monarch. Questions of racism in the UK were thereby hidden under royal fever.
Thankfully, it’s not hard to escape the immediate problem. The reporting is there, but it won’t always be served on a platter. I implore you: do take a moment to check that you’re not simply following the headlines, or contented to accept the ramblings of your politico pals. Dig out the stories that matter to you.