Royal coverage & an assault on truth
If that was the media coverage for the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, what on earth will happen when the Queen dies? asks Ray Snoddy
We shouldn’t dwell too long on the media coverage of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh at the age of 99.
After all, it doesn’t take too long to say that the coverage in newspapers and by broadcasters was ludicrously over-the-top, bloated and as ancient in its implementation as the institution of the monarchy itself.
Naturally, the worst offender was the BBC, although ITV also tried its best to be out of touch with modern British society.
How much can anyone write or say about any person however distinguished, supportive of the Queen or gloriously grumpy without descending into embarrassing sycophancy?
The worst editorial choice of all was the BBC’s decision to essentially close down its broadcasting output and roll its channels up into single Duke of Edinburgh TV and radio channel.
It smacks of a decision, and a play-list, taken a long time ago, and presumably dusted down once a year, apparently without anyone noticing that society has changed and viewing habits have changed.
You can’t force everyone to watch a single channel any more, and viewers didn’t.
Overall, there was a collapse in ratings with BBC One down 6% compared with the previous week but BBC Two down 64% and ITV off by 60%.
Channel 4, which took a much more measured approach, a long news special followed by normal programmes, enjoyed a record 4.2 million audience for Gogglebox. Netflix must also have had a record night in the UK.
Unsurprisingly, the BBC established a record of its own – a record 116,000 complaints, the vast majority angered by the closing down of all normal programmes.
Most people in the UK are supportive of the Monarchy, at least in principle, many for fear of something far worse such as a President Johnson or a President Cameron.
Nothing however, could be more calculated to damaging that support than the BBC trying to turn itself in an imitation of North Korea broadcasting.
There is another problem for the BBC. What to do when Queen Elizabeth, who will be 95 later this month, dies?
They can’t, for hierarchical reasons, do less than the Prince Philip response. What would more look like? Two days of non-stop Royal coverage? Three?
As for the newspapers, you have to pay tribute to the ingenuity of journalists who managed to spread the same, well-rehearsed, and mostly familiar facts and pictures over hundreds of pages.
On the day, The Sun produced 29 “news” pages plus a 24-page Tribute and by the fifth day the paper was still devoting the front page splash and six other pages to Prince Philip, while promising a special colour magazine on Saturday.
The Daily Mail went one better with more than 35 “news” pages and a 32-page tribute supplement. Five days in, the Mail had slimmed its Royal coverage down to a mere 15 pages, including a four-page historic supplement.
Newspapers have segmented audiences and that is maybe what their readers want, but on this scale, that is at the very least, debatable.
An obvious consequence of such coverage is that to an even greater extent than normal, important stories have been downplayed or ignored.
The most obvious example is the danger to the Northern Ireland peace process, primarily because of Loyalist anger at the creation of a border in the Irish Sea following Brexit.
This is something that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly promised either wouldn’t happen or even, more implausibly, hadn’t happened.
There are riots in a UK city, and in other Protestant towns, petrol bombs and burnt out police cars and buses, dozens of police injured, and more importantly the danger of an unravelling of the Good Friday Peace Agreement. Meanwhile, we wade knee-deep in coverage of the life of Prince Philip.
The first public response of Prime Minister Johnson to the crisis in Northern Ireland came five days after the rioting began – in the form of a tweet.
Johnson is another link to stories that unlike the never-ending Prince Philip saga has been seriously under-covered by the media – the Prime Minister’s falsehoods and uncorrected inaccuracies.
Political journalist Peter Oborne sets them all out in his latest book; The Assault On Truth: Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and the Emergence of a New Barbarism.
Oborne sets out a wide selection of false statements and serial fabrications but his favourite – and the most egregious and troubling in its political implication- is the claim that there would be no border checks down the Irish Sea.
The day after Johnson signed the revised deal with Europe, complete with the border checks inside, according to Oborne, Johnson told the House of Commons there would be no such checks.
“This bare-faced lie in all its moral squalor remains on the Commons order paper,” says Oborne who admired Johnson when he worked with him at The Spectator.
In his book Oborne catalogues the many and various false statements of Prime Minister Johnson.
They include: “ We brought in the lockdown in care homes ahead of the general lockdown.” They didn’t.
“The economy under this Conservative Government has grown by 73%.” It hasn't.
Under Conservative-led governments, since 2010 the economy has grown by 20%. The economy grew by 73% between 1990 and 2017 but that included 13 years of Labour. And so it goes on.
Oborne has sent a copy of his book to the Speaker, and a handy summary list of false statements made in the House of Commons, asking that the inaccuracies be corrected on the public record.
Recently, Oborne has written about “Covering Up A Cover-Up" in which he says that no one has challenged a dot or comma in the book, one that is unlike any other written about a serving Prime Minister.
Yet says Oborne, there has not been a single review of it in the Murdoch press, Associated Newspapers or the Telegraph Group.
“ Since its publication on 4 February, it has also been ignored by the mainstream broadcasters,” notes Oborne who later did appear on Radio 4’s Broadcasting House.
Perhaps when the Prince Philip coverage has run its course, surely from next Monday, the media might be able to devote more attention to the current Northern Ireland crisis, it’s origins and the detailed allegations in Peter Oborne’s carefully researched book.