Zoomin' in on ... The Royal Media Binging

What we discussed:

“Zoomin’ In On...” is a series of zoom meetings organized by the Cultural Studies team of the English Department at Landau University to promote the discussion of culture between students and teachers in an informal setting.

On 5 May we held our latest ‘Zoomin’ In On...’- session, this time on the media coverage of the royal family. Taking the media coverage of Prince Philip’s death and funeral as a vantage point we wanted to know how much is too much?

First, Dr. Gurke gave a brief account of the extensive media coverage by the BBC, highlighting that even the BBC’s website contained three main topics that eclipsed everything else: Covid, Prince Philip and Brexit. Regular programmes were cancelled to make room for endless documentaries about the royal family and Prince Philip for days. As a result the BBC received the highest amount of complaints – ever (The Guardian actually recently reflected on the extent of its own coverage.)

Then, Prof. Starck gave a very brief overview over the legal and constitutional role of the British monarchy. She pointed out that it sits uneasily at a crossroads between dependence and independence of Parliament. Thus, the royal family legally holds many powers, which, in practice, are exercised by politicians. It is both at the same time – politically powerful and not powerful. Thus, the monarch’s right to block legislation was last exercised in 1708. In theory, however, this would be possible and there have been a number of recorded incidents in which the Queen has influenced law making (e.g. this interesting Guardian article of 2013 about senior royals vetoing bills.)

Prof. Starck also introduced an article by Alex von Tunzelmann tracing the role of the royal family for British identity formation. He claims that “community bonding” happens over “the good and the bad royals” and no matter what “team” people are in, they identify with the broadcast narratives (royalists and anti-royalists alike).

Dr. Uebel pointed out that in addition, there is a wide-spread sense that Elizabeth II is the last “real royal”, a super-human figurehead (dutiful, not showing emotions in public, working again four days after Philp’s death, no scandals, etc.). On the other hand, people want the Queen to show emotions publicly. So there are also contradictory public demands on the monarch.

The question was raised whether journalists might actually have a duty to cover royal events extensively, especially since the current monarch has been on the throne – with Prince Philip visibly by her side – for nearly 70 years. Having thus become a symbolic constant for generations, editors certainly seem to think that there is a demand for “royal content” – a content that is also highly profitable. The long-standing relationship between the BBC and the Queen (whose first Radio-broadcast dates back to 1940) may be another ‘traditional’ explanation for the extensive coverage.

We also discussed in how far the pandemic might be playing a role in the coverage of the royals, i.e. that everyone is so fed up with Covid coverage that anything else (particularly something involving the royal family) is welcome.

We concluded our discussion agreeing that yes, the coverage was excessive. But on the other hand, that was to be expected and it may have been demanded had it not been there.

Sources & Further Reading:

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