Destroy all the satellites and we might have some proper news for a change

Tuesday, May 9th, 2006

Only 18 months to go and we will be drowning in ‘ten year anniversary’ programmes, books and no doubt musicals about the death of Diana, Princess of Wales (no, I can’t believe it was that long ago either).

I was discussing Diana’s death recently with students when discussing the speed with which news spreads around the world. Although instant alerts of events from the other side of the globe are touted as a ‘good thing’ I can’t help but wonder if the price we pay is authority and consideration. What I mean by this is that news programmes are filled with speculation (usually prefaced by the phrase ‘of course we shouldn’t speculate’) and commentary from people who are ill-qualified to do so. For example, if you want to get on TV, set up a pressure group, membership 1, appoint yourself media spokesperson, and let the news channels know you are there. If you correctly guess the next big thing, you’re bound to be called up to fill a few minutes while the real experts sit down and have a think.

Having said that, the quality of TV reporting these days, with patronising graphics and metaphors, is beyond a joke. Last week’s local council elections were covered by the BBC having a graphic pop up in the middle of the studio floor showing ‘the evolution of Tory man’, with ex prime minister John Major slouched like an ape, and each successive Tory leader getting gradually more erect (cue pun about John “two shags” Prescott) ending with David Cameron as ‘homo sapiens’. Crass, childish and rather disrespectful of the audience. The poor turnout in elections and mistrust of politicians isn’t the fault of politicians, it’s the fault of people who think that is an intelligent way to represent politics.

Anyway, back to the plot…

During the discussion I mentioned that people in America heard about the death of Diana before people in Britain, because of the time it happened and satellite communication. One student put her hand up and said she had been in Paris at the time on holiday with her family and didn’t hear about the accident until the end of the day. Staggering, but entirely believable.

Maybe I’m feeling my age, but it would be great if we heard about news stories properly, rather than when they were ‘breaking’ because few of the stories that are flashed up on screen turn out to be as dramatic as they seem to be at the time, with breathless reporters rushing in to the studio to tell us how little they know, and then being flown to the scene for a live satellite hook-up where they tell us nothing is happening and no details are emerging. If they’d stayed in the studio maybe they’d have been able to research a proper story, you know, like journalists used to do.

However… the term ‘journalist’ seems to be applied rather loosely today. Citizen journalism is another term for uninformed gossip (yes, I’m aware of the irony of a blogger complaining about such things. Leave me alone!) and another problem with news programmes these days is they spend far too much time reading emails from idiots instead of, oh I don’t know, talking to politicians and experts. Half the problems the UK government is facing come not from genuine problems but from the bullshit spouted by ‘Derek from Tonbridge who emails in to say “Tony Blair is a disgrace, he has no idea what he is doing and he is responsible for releasing murdering rapist foreigners into the community”‘ – or some-such. Er, Derek’s opinions aren’t news, they’re bollocks. If I wanted to listen to Derek and people like him I’d go to the pub – or get in any cab that’s passing.

I seem to have strayed somewhat from my original point. Where was I? Oh yes, Diana.

Well, she may be long gone but as anyone who ever casually passes the news-stand to see what drivel the Daily Express is ranting on about (and it takes a ranter to know one) will be painfully aware that as far as some ‘newspapers’ are concerned, she is still alive and well and busy selling copies like there’s no tomorrow (which sometimes I wish there weren’t).

The Guardian (sometimes guilty of proper journalism, and long may it continue) published a list of Diana-led headlines from the Express today. Read them and weep, not for Diana, but for the poor sods who buy into this crap.

While, for many people, Diana Princess of Wales died nearly a decade ago. But for the editors of the Daily Express, it seems, she lives on. As the following list of headlines from the newspaper over the past six months attests, the disappearance of the Princess of Hearts from the physical realm has not diminished her ability to make ‘news’.

05/12/05: “Diana’s death threat”

08/12/05: “100k for Di’s spare gown”

08/12/05: “Questions on Diana need to be answered”

12/12/05: “Diana’s death: poison expert called in”

12/12/05: “Charles is asked: did you kill your wife?”

19/12/05: “Diana’s grief for her piano man Pryor”

23/12/05: “Diana mother’s priest father flash vanishes”

03/01/06: “Dirty tricks wont airbrush Diana”

04/01/06: “We’ve long suspected a cover-up”

09/01/06: “Death squad has to tidy loose ends”

11/01/06: “French finally being made to cooperate”

30/01/06: “Why did spies visit the morgue?”

01/02/06: “Perhaps Diana should have worn seatbelt”

06/02/06: “Spies flashed laser beams”

07/02/06: “Diana was stupid, says Lagerfeld”

07/02/06: “Diana inquiry chief’s laptop secrets stolen”

09/02/06: “Theft of Diana laptops proof she was killed”

11/02/06: “Film tells of Diana’s murder”

13/02/06: “50,000 to marry at Diana’s home”

18/03/06: “Diana fountain condemned by MPs as a costly fiasco”

20/02/06: “Diana’s name used in scam”

22/03/06: “£250,000 a year bill to run Diana fountain”

23/02/06: “Spy started car death chase”

27/02/06: “Spies bugged Diana’s last calls”

04/03/06: “Queen’s new snub to Camilla – Diana ousts duchess on birthday website”

06/03/06: “Diana’s death – yet another lie exposed”

09/03/06: “Diana’s death ‘dirty’ tricks by MI6”

13/03/06: “Diana’s death inquest a sham”

17/03/06: “Queen’s anger at insult to Diana”

05/04/06: “Diana: Queen’s secret anguish”

05/04/06: “Diana seatbelt sabotage probe”

06/04/06: “Queen cam can’t replace Diana”

21/04/06: “Diana butt of sick jokes on TV”

25/04/06: “Diana seatbelt sabotage probe”

26/04/06: “Wife quoted Diana before stabbing husband’s mistress”

06/05/2006: “Diana death: truth at last”

· Research by Luke Waterson

(Via MediaGuardian.co.uk.)

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