Thoughts on the media reaction to a royal death

The Queen’s husband Pince Philip has died. And yes, I am sad about this, though you’ll not find me weeping in the street wrapped in a Union Jack, or throwing flowers at his coffin in London next saturday.

I’m no royalist, nor am I anti-royal. I am an ordinary family man who’s experienced grief, so I can relate a bit, and look at this without bias.

What’s happened here is a 99 year old great-grandfather and husband has passed away peacefully under excellent care. Although the death was, to be honest, fully expected, it is an unquestionabaly sad event, especially for his widow and family. After a 99 year life, there will be a huge void left behind. Neither age, status, nor riches can take away the pain of grief. To grieve is to be human. Bereavement is the most basic and most universal of experiences, and my heart breaks for anyone who grieves, for any reason, no matter their age, status, wealth or privelage.

That said, there is something about royal deaths (in particular) which bring out the British media’s lamest, most cynical, most sycophantic traits. These events provide a free pass for nationalist flag-wavers and allow all kinds of important news items to be brushed under the carpet.

Do we really need 7 days of non-stop rolling news coverage of this one man’s life and death, gushing with endless tributes and praise; when we all know that while he was alive, many journalists offered him nothing but critique and snark, always highlighting the Duke’s somewhat colonialist, eccentric, attitude, or playing against him for laughs after his many gaffes and blunders.

 The hypocrisy is real 

The hypocrisy is real; we saw the same behaviour in reaction to the death of Princess Diana, who was attacked mercilessly by the press, right up until the very moment of her death, then suddenly all the papers lifted her to saintly status, magically forgetting every criticism they ever made of her.

Much of the played-on-a-loop tribute and discussion feels like desperate air-filling and a weakly calculated excuse not to bother with other news.

Now, I understand that many Brits (unlike me), are royalists and are very upset. But please, we’ve been told the sad news, we’ve taken it in, we’ve acknowledged it. We are sad. But we have oher concerns in our lives too. Now can we please have our schedules back? Other things are happening out there. Big things. Bad things. In a sane world, a royal death would be a headline for one for one day, not one week.

But one must consider who owns and controls large parts of the media, and the closeness of those ties with government.

A golden opportunity 

Let there be no doubt: This coming week of ‘national mourning’ will be a golden opportunity for political misdemeanours and outrages to be quietly wiped off the agenda. The growing violence in Northern Ireland, (as one random example), will recieve only the briefest of mentions (if any), and nobody will question the Prime Minister on it, much less demand he account for his part in causing it.

It was shaping up to be a rough week for government but this sad moment has really taken the heat off the Tories. They’ll capitalise on it. For starters we can expect an extra little boost of nationalist symbolism from Boris Johnson, playing to the nationalist gallery. Again, the implication will be, to grieve a royal death is to be Conservative, and to not grieve is to be unpatriotic.

It will be interesting to see if the royal funeral is conducted in a way that conforms to Covid restrictions – which the general public has had to endure for their funerals in recent months – or whether the press will even notice or care if that’s not the case.

For those of us interested in what’s really happening in the world, the coming week will require digging beyond the headlines, and if you buy a newspaper, look to page 5 or 6 before you see any actual news. Because actual news is still a thing.

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