Press: Royal birth knocks hard news off front pages

27 April 2018

ADAM BECKET/CHURCH TIMES

WE ARE all guilty, of course: I myself have just been down to the newsagent’s to diminish the losses of The Daily Telegraph, The Times, and the Daily Mail: 17 pages of “unrivalled pictures and reports”, as well as a “16-page souvenir pull-out” on the subject — but you guessed — of “Little Prince Perfect”. Next month, the circulation figures will show a real bump.

But for anyone who still really believes that the business model of the press is based on delivering news to people, the coverage of the royal birth ought to be a corrective. Among other things knocked off the front page was a story that the limit for bets on computerised slot-machines will be knocked down to £2 from the present £100, which bishops have been campaigning for (News, Comment, 23 March). Which news will change more people’s lives for the better?

But then, of course, newspapers are not bought for actual good news: the stuff that sells is either bad news, or news that makes us feel good. The last two categories can be combined in one story, and often are.

In the Telegraph, there was an eight-page souvenir supplement — this is the broadsheet equivalent of the Mail’s 16 tabloid pages — and five pages of “news” about a baby who was seven hours old when the paper was printed.

I particularly liked “Baby Prince’s first achievement is to make history for royal gender equality.” Heracles could only strangle snakes in his cradle. The achievement, by the way, consisted of being born after the law had been changed to ensure that his sister, Charlotte, remains fourth in line to the throne, and he, unlike previous princes, now follows behind at fifth.

Of course, if he were to test the theory by growing up transgender, he might yet save the newspaper business. He would become a second Diana, Princess of Wales.

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TALKING of her: the papers were keen to assure us of Diana’s opinions on the whole thing. I’m afraid that the Express, usually the most reliable source for Diana’s posthumous opinions, had sold out in my newsagent’s (as had The Guardian; so I cannot comment on my own paper’s doubtless unrivalled royal cover­age).

In the Mail, however, there was, of course, “Diana yearned for a third child — how she would have savoured this moment”: a story so momentous that it needed two people to write it.

I’m tempted to say that if perhaps one tenth of the labour and ingenuity that went into these pieces had gone into anything regarded as serious news, the country might be in rather better shape.

But that would be rather shallow snark. This stuff is hard for the papers to resist, not just because people buy it, but because it is so cheap to produce. Page after page of fluent guff written after a quick scramble through Wikipedia that tells nobody anything that was not already obvious: it might as well be opinion journalism of the worst sort, except that there are no opin­ions to get to grips with.

DAVID AARONOVITCH, on the other hand, does clear views. “By visiting Syria with other Assad stooges, Giles Fraser has delivered a massive propaganda coup to an evil regime,” he wrote in his Times column on Thursday of last week.

“On Monday evening the Rev Giles Fraser, broadcaster, columnist, former canon chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, sent a tweet from Damascus. . . ‘With the Grand Mufti of Syria — the top Muslim cleric in Syria — in the astonishing Umayyad Mosque in central Damascus talking about how love is stronger than missiles.’

“The Grand Mufti of Syria, Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun, appears in a recent Amnesty International report that sets out what happens before an execution in Syria. It reads: ‘The judgment is sent by military post to the Grand Mufti of Syria and to either the Minister of Defence or the Chief of Staff of the Army, who are deputized to sign for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.’ Did you know where his ‘love not missiles’ hand had been, Giles, when you shook it?”

I do find Giles’s visit difficult to explain. Nor was his defence, in his new online home, the website UnHerd, entirely convincing. It boiled down to claiming that the vicar of a small parish in south London could not be a very useful propagandist. After this trip, that may be true, but not in the sense that he would like it to be.

I don’t think he has any ideological commit­ment to the Assad regime. Some of his fellow travellers certainly have. Baroness Cox told a journalist from the UAE paper The National, who was on the same trip, that President Assad should be granted a state visit to the UK, and that Russia had a more ethical foreign policy in Syria than Britain. Neither is really a position to defend on The Moral Maze.

The Syrian war is so dreadful, and Britain’s power there is so limited, that almost anything anyone says here is vain posturing. The war is an occasion for prayer, if you believe that prayer makes any difference, and for the delivery of aid to the refugees. But, otherwise, you would be better off talking about our royal family.

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