Media can learn from Queen’s funeral coverage
Trust the British to put up a magnificent show! They did not disappoint with the funeral of their late monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Their media, led by the age-old BBC, followed in their near dour tradition with a reportage that was sombre, historical and yet still able to relay the emotions of a nation in mourning.
For a start, the release of the death of the monarch was managed, stage by stage, such that it was not a surprise by the time the final announcement came that the monarch was no more. Everybody was already expecting it and reduced the possibility of shocking the public.
It started with the reporting that the monarch was having morbidity issues and would be staying at her residence. The next was news that the monarch was receiving medical attention from her doctors followed by information that her family was rushing to be by her side. By then everybody seemed to guess that the Queen was embarking on her long journey of no return.
More intriguing was the relay of the stories, the pictures, and the tone of the reporters. All the reporters wore black. Yet in the middle of the story, the BBC still had time to let their listeners know what was happening in Russia and Ukraine, and Japan and the meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
The British media coverage of their monarch’s funeral provided opportunity for media that are not used to covering high profile events of this nature to draw lessons on how to present sidebars. It is not for nothing that Kenyans pejoratively refer to their media as githeri media. For this follows an incident when, in an effort to provide a sidebar, journalists got carried away with the story of a man who carried githeri to munch away as he lined up and waited to vote.
There are many similar instances that one can draw from when rather than focus on a story that contributes to the main theme our media highlight distractions. The sidebar often is focused on attention seekers, individuals who risk all to breach the security lines to deliver a note to a VIP.
Such individuals are never missing in any event. They will wear colorful dresses to draw attention, violate the protocols so that they are noticed, and simply be the odd one out. Sometimes this has paid off. In the case of the githeri man, he got himself awarded a State commendation, thus encouraging both those aspiring for attention and journalists who fall for it. One may cash on such recognition.
Consider how the British media kept off the screen, only mentioning in passing, some of the idiosyncratic actors such as the individual who attempted to move closer to the coffin of the monarch.
While it is obvious that they had the pictures but the camera moved away quickly, the anchor mentioned it as if it was a non-issue and the reporting proceeded on.
Most of our media houses would probably considered this as a good comic relief and the camera would have dwelt on it for a while, breaking only to be repeated later in the main bullet in.
We delight in showing public figures doze off and magnify the gaffe of public officials. Recently, when a man broke through the security line of the then President-elect the media focused on it as an important incident to highlight. But it adds little value to the news of the day.
If anything, it may just encourage other copycat actors hoping for at least a moment of fame and later boasting rights. The BBC, to a great extent, succeeded in covering an international event with the focus remaining on solemn mourning of the departed monarch.
Given that media usually set agenda and provide talking points to the public, it should not be too easy for comedians and attention seekers to occupy the public’s attention
—The writer is the dean, School of Communication, Daystar University