Gaming Editor Benjamin Oakden discusses the way in which UK news outlets reported the Queen’s death, highlighting the outdated nature of the news coverage

Written by Benjamin Oakden
Redbrick Gaming Editor, Third-year history student, Chairman of the Ryan Yates Open Water Swimming Society
Images by Priscilla Du Preez

Just after half past six on the 8th of September, Huw Edwards read the announcement he had, quite morbidly, been practising for years. After a full afternoon of rolling coverage, the famous Union Flag above Buckingham Palace was lowered to half-mast before Edwards read out the words that confirmed what many of us had already guessed: ‘Buckingham Palace has announced the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’. The national anthem played, a picture of the late monarch was displayed, and the viewer was left with a few moments to reflect on their own personal feelings, whether positive or negative, towards an icon of contemporary history. 

The announcement was handled brilliantly by Edwards and the BBC News team. It was solemn, respectful, and dignified. It sticks out strongly in my mind for being one of the few examples of good reporting that followed the Queen’s passing.

Elizabeth II was the longest reigning monarch in British history, a personification of the nation on a global stage and a constant in a rapidly changing nation. It should come as no surprise that her death would dominate both the domestic and global conversations. Most of us were already aware of what had happened within minutes of it being announced, thanks to the prevalence of smartphones and internet reporting.

Most of us were already aware of what had happened within minutes of it being announced

Even the least technophobic of Britons would have been aware of what had happened by the end of the evening. And yet, BBC One’s entire schedule on the 9th of September featured news coverage on the Queen, as did the 10th of September. After a full day of royal programmes throughout the 11th of September, viewers were finally given a respite at 8pm with an episode of Frozen Planet II, hosted by royal favourite David Attenborough. By 10pm, we were back to the news, with the Queen’s passing and the nation’s reaction being, quite frustratingly, the only story.

The death, the reactions, the proclamation, the funeral – Elizabeth II monopolised print, TV and even a good proportion of online news for so long that you could be forgiven for believing that the entire world had stopped. In actuality, it of course did not. During the days after the event, Britons were still being ravaged by the cost of living crisis, and climate change was still presenting a massive threat to humanity. There were countless news stories across the world such as Sweden’s general election, developments in North Korea’s nuclear strategy and an earthquake in Papua New Guinea, that nobody was given a chance to learn about, due to the insistence of traditional media sources to relentlessly remind us of the same story that everyone in the country already knew. Just walking down the street and looking at a billboard would give you all the information you needed to know. 

Given Britain’s obsession with ceremony and tradition, it is reasonable to expect events like the proclamation and tributes from the House of Commons to be televised, but the same repeated news story of a single person’s death being aired at the expense of other international stories is, to put it mildly, a bit unnecessary.

Perhaps this level of coverage could be forgiven if it provided a little more balance. I personally would consider myself to be a mild supporter of the monarchy, and yet it has to be acknowledged that the Queen had attracted criticism over the course of her reign. Whether it is criticism of the institution as being a legacy of the evils of British colonialism, or of the monarch’s personal role in evading tax and safeguarding her son Andrew from his sexual assault charges, arguments against the monarchy deserve to be given a voice. Despite this, TV news coverage completely failed to present a balanced picture of the Queen’s legacy, outside of vague and brief statements that she was respected by those who didn’t support her.

TV news coverage completely failed to present a balanced picture of the Queen’s legacy

The most egregious example of the media’s blindness to national problems outside the Queen’s death was during the coverage of the Queen’s ailing health, when BBC presenter Clive Myrie claimed that the situation made the cost-of-living crisis ‘insignificant’. In fairness, Myrie was tasked with filling time during a high-pressure and emotional broadcast but given the frankly shocking decision to close food banks on the day of the Queen’s funeral, it would be fair to claim that these views were sadly quite widespread. To Britons living on the poverty line, struggling to keep up with mounting food and electricity costs, the sentiment that their struggles are somehow irrelevant due to the death of a head of state with countless riches would be frankly insulting.

Given how iconic of a figure Queen Elizabeth II was, it should not come as a surprise that her death would dominate the news. However, there is a big difference between being a top story and being the only story. The idea that the whole country is expected to somehow grind to a halt in mourning over the monarch’s death is completely archaic. I believe that the monarchy has a place in modern Britain. However, it needs to be modernised, and replacing outdated news coverage with a more balanced view would surely be the perfect place to start. 

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