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Saturday, 27 July 2013

My complaint to the BBC about Royal birth coverage

I have today written this complaint to the BBC in respect to its coverage of the birth of Prince George last week:

To whom it may concern,

I wish to make a formal complaint in relation to the BBC’s coverage of the birth of Prince George.

The obligation of BBC News is to broadcast news – not self-indulgent, patronising and trivial speculation. The unnecessary intrusiveness and blatant disregard for the parent’s privacy was particularly noticeable, especially when the baby’s quite evident distress (crying loudly and clenching his fists in anxiety in response to the assembled crowd’s applause) was insensitively interpreted as “his first Royal wave”.  

These events are indeed important, but coverage should be proportionate, balanced and focused on actual developments rather than a relentless display of unquestioning, almost nationalistic, celebration. The BBC does not exist to commemorate and celebrate, but to provide quality, thought-provoking and intelligent analysis of events. Countless interviews with sycophants and admittedly colourful Monarchists do not constitute insightful reporting.

The disproportionate news coverage this event received meant that other news stories, some of more obvious and immediate significance, were either ignored or not given the attention they merited. It is not simply the amount of coverage that is of concern to me, but the nature of it. At no point were such issues as the role of monarchy and the perpetuation of the hereditary principle in a democratic society given any attention – nor, indeed, were the potential consequences of the media pressures on, and social expectations of, the new-born baby explored. A royal baby for many might be a cause to celebrate; for others it represents an opportunity to reflect on a child being born into the world with very few choices in life, whose relationships, education, career, religion and role have largely been pre-determined. We should also ask why some parents are not expected to be afforded the same privacy as others, and the role of the media in dehumanising the Royal Family and reducing a birth of a baby to a celebrity-obsessed media frenzy. The media circus, which the BBC to a large extent facilitated, was far from dignified.

The UK as a whole, while interested, was clearly far less obsessed with developments than the BBC. The licence-payer is also sufficiently intelligent to be treated with more respect and is certainly capable of listening to a range of voices on the subject, including those, like – for example – Republic, who might wish to raise some questions as to the significance of both the Royal birth and the reaction to it. Your decision only to broadcast pro-monarchy voices was both misplaced and a disservice to your viewers.

Like most people in the country, I do not personally know the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Again, like most people, I wish them and their new son every happiness. However, as a republican, a liberal, a parent and someone who believes in the importance of responsible media reporting, I feel that the BBC has missed opportunities and, in succumbing to the easy option of frantic, sycophantic obsession (not being afraid to play the patriotic card in the process) has demonstrated a lack of respect for the couple and their child, while also confirming its own shallowness and a fear of addressing the range of questions raised by the Royal birth.

In addition to raising questions about the future of the monarchy, last week's events also raised serious concerns about the nature of the BBC's reporting. I trust in the future the BBC can move away from traditional biases and entrenched perspectives and facilitate the kind of debate necessary in democratic society.

Yours Sincerely,


Andrew Page



No doubt many of you take a different view as to the monarchy - personally I think kings, queens and princes should belong exclusively in history books and fairy tales.  However, that isn't the substantive issue at stake here and I'd be interested in hearing what others made of the BBC's coverage. Surely the BBC should uphold its own (stated) principles of fairness and balance?

4 comments:

Gerry said...

I too agree that the BBC coverage, as well as every other media company, was way over the top.

While not being a pure republican as yourself, I do feel that the monarchy's days are numbered. I think that part of the time could of been used to discuss, what type of realm will he rule over? How many countries will he still be King of? The role of the monarchy in the 22nd century, when he will most likely come to the throne, if such a thing still existed.

Anonymous said...

BBC's coverage was disappointing but not surprising. Remember that it is the state broadcaster of the UK government and as such acts as the mouthpiece of the UK establishment.

It may claim to present multiple points of view but in order to present a veneer of pluralism will only present different points of view that exist within the UK establishment. Its stated principles of fairness and balance are only UK state propaganda aimed at promoting the idea that the only views worth having are the ones the BBC presents. The coverage of the monarchy is only a symptom of that wider problem.

As another example note the glee with which the BBC presents (and even colludes in the generation of) unionist scare stories about independence and compare it with the total blackout whenever these scare stories are shown to be false.
http://newsnetscotland.com/index.php/scottish-news/7773-bbc-scotland-colluding-with-better-together-as-oil-debate-threatens-no-campaign

tris said...

Well said, Andrew.

Like you, I am a republican, although I could be persuaded to consider a smaller, less distant, remote monarchy than we have. Something more along the lines of the Scandinavian model would be more appropriate to a small, rather poor country like the UK.

I'm afraid that I find the fur coat and no knickers UK attitude to the country's position in the world rather tiresome. This includes the massive and expensive royal family.

To the main thrust of your letter to the BBC, I can't really comment first hand, because as soon as I discovered that Kate Middleton was about to give birth I gave myself a two-day news blackout.

Based on previous experience of the BBC I foresaw the cringingly sycophantic coverage and decided that I simply couldn't stand it without encouraging an early coronary.

It seems from all I heard that the devoted far too much time to coverage of this birth.

I have a problem with the BBC in its current form. A state broadcaster may have some role to play in a nation's life but surely this multi-channelled monster is out of control.

An annual tax of £145 per household has to be justified, and the BBC seems to feel that it must do this by providing "popular" programming that can compete with the opposition, in respect of number of viewers.

The obvious result of this numerical target is that, from news to drama, to comedy to features the BBC has dumbed down to compete with ITV, Sky and the other channels available.

Tabloid, wall to wall coverage of the birth of a child, even to someone as undoubtedly important as Kate Wales, was from all I have heard, massively overdone, but I fear that had it been treated in a more appropriate manner (an announcement from the palace or wherever it is they live that the child was born and that mother and baby were well would have sufficed) then the other trashy news channels would have stolen the march on them.

I agree that, whilst the birth is a matter of constitutional importance, it is, in fact a matter of almost no import whatsoever to the day to day running of the country.

Presumably before George gets his opportunity at the top job, Charles and Mrs Parker Bowles and William and Kate will have to have theirs. William could reasonably be expected to still be alive in 70 years' time. Most of us will probably not.

In short, most of us will not live to see King George.

But the BBC is between a rock and a hard place. If it doesn't attract a wide viewer base, it is hard to justify the £145 tv tax.

Sometimes from Scotland it is difficult to judge the public mood. Although I heard of very little interest locally, I understand that in the South of England there was wide rejoicing.

Maybe there are more people who wanted all this coverage than didn't.

In short we may be the minority.

I wish you joy in getting an intelligent answer from the BBC. I never have.

Anonymous said...

All you need to know about the fairness of BBC reporting is that George Orwell's Ministry of Truth was based on his experience at the BBC!