Early on Monday morning, the Duchess of Cambridge was admitted to St Mary’s hospital and the news bulletins announced she was in the early stages of labour. Throughout the day, every news bulletin began with the news that the Duchess was still in labour. Photographers and journalists from around the world waited outside the hospital and well-wishers congregated. In the early evening the news finally came that a baby boy had been delivered.
Lovely news of course but the media frenzy was a little disturbing. TV and radio schedules were cleared to talk about the most inane royal trivia. One BBC radio show had listeners phoning in to give the labouring Kate their pearls of wisdom. It is extremely doubtful she was listening and did this really make for an interesting or informative broadcast? The TV coverage, a friend told me today, was even worse. Hour long programmes on previous royal births and vox pop interviews with Joe Public who speculated on how the Royal Couple would transfer the baby safely out of hospital as laws now require the baby to be in a car seat whereas William was held by Diana in the back of a car. Or wondering if Kate would breastfeed or William would change nappies. Fascinating stuff.
The trouble for me with the media coverage is that it makes a massive assumption that we are all interested to the point of needing this saccharin news saturation.There is no denying that a royal birth is a news story but there are plenty of republican people in this country who yesterday would not have been able to escape the wall to wall baby news. This can hardly be described as democracy in action.When The Independent Newspaper was launched, it aimed to eschew royal coverage and most royal news took up very little space; perhaps a three line paragraph on the inside pages.Today,like all the other newspapers, it was on the front page. the Guardian tempted online readers with a “Republican” button which, when clicked, stripped the homepage of all reference to the royal babe. The Guardian for its part, was tempered in tone; Royal Baby made the cover, but with a modest four pages of coverage. The Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph as one could predict have pages of the ‘news,’ the latter even managing a twenty page souvenir special. But how can they have so much to say? Private Eye’s more muted ‘Woman has Baby’ is more palatable for some.
The BBC has defended it’s coverage against criticism that it has been excessive; part of their statement said, ” Their statement said: “Monday was the biggest global day and second biggest UK day ever for BBC News Online, with 19.4 million unique browsers globally and 10.8 million from the UK. We are satisfied that our audiences had both the best coverage of a major historical event – the birth of a new heir to the throne – as well as options to view other news across BBC output as a whole.” You would have been lucky to find respite from the news, though I believe Radio 3 resisted mentioning the word “baby.” Simon Kelner pointed out in today’s Independent that “the Royal Family – elite, privileged and remote though they may be – fulfils an important role in terms of making large sections of the British population feel they are part of a social system that extends beyond their own front door.” But this feeling of belonging is perpetuated by an infatuated media and the public are gullible enough to suck it up.