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The Duchess, the BBC, and the Scouts - Is This Stuff Really News?

22/04/2013 12:01 BST | Updated 21/06/2013 10:12 BST
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Today I was at work, as I always am on Sundays, at a grotty service station on the M6 (that shall remain anonymous, for obvious reasons). I was changing the bins in the dining area and contemplating why on Earth I bother, when I glanced over at the big-screen TV that shows BBC News to the customers twenty-four hours a day. I saw the Duchess of Cambridge walking in front of some scouts at an event in the grounds of Windsor Castle. This, apparently, was 'Breaking News'. The subtitles, on time delay, told me she was wearing a pink hat, which my eyes confirmed to me mere milliseconds later. I rolled the aforementioned eyes, and then carried on with the mind-numbing drudgery of my day.

When I got home, I did my usual trawl of the news websites, looking out for the Kate story which had been plastered all over the rolling news network of Britain's main public service broadcaster. Sure enough, it sat proudly atop the pile of news at the Telegraph, adjudged to be worthy of more attention than the upcoming local elections and the exclusive serialisation of Charles Moore's biography of Margaret Thatcher. It got top-billing at the Mail too, that bastion of sexist ogling and trigger of overt hatred for the left-wing. Here I learned that the Duchess's hat was not, in fact, pink, but 'fawn', so thanks, Rebecca English, royal correspondent, for that one. The Huffington Post, sadly, was just as guilty - though the main story on the site at that time was concerning George Galloway, a nice contrast. Kate couldn't be found, though, at the Times, or the royal-hating Guardian, so a bit of my faith in humanity was restored somewhat.

I still can't get over the BBC's prioritising of this story, though. I understand the Mail and the Telegraph's logic, as much as I have disdain for it - they want to get hits and they understand the psychology of their readers. The BBC is different. It isn't a commercial entity, it's a public service broadcaster, and it has a responsibility to the public to provide relevant and appropriate news content. Laying my cards on the table here - as you can probably tell, I am a republican, and I'm not especially interested in any aspect of the monarchy. I do understand that a lot of people, probably a majority, do want to hear this sort of thing, but I really don't believe it serves the public discourse in a positive way to stare at the stomach of a woman like the Duchess of Cambridge, and I don't believe it is the BBC's role to act in this way. The Duchess is a woman of no, or limited, consequence. I have nothing against her personally, because I know nothing about her personality. She does not do anything, or at least, nothing truly newsworthy. She does charity work, we know this, but we can't assume she does charity work because she's a wondrous individual, worthy of beatification. It's her job to do this, her duty to 'The Firm', the family into which she married. This work is an obligation and matters only superficially, primarily to the people with whom she engages on these visits. It's not, or shouldn't be, national news worthy of such focus and attention. It's light fluff, entertainment, a minor distraction.

Why then does the BBC choose to cover these things in such a way? It can't be to chase viewers, because the role of BBC News isn't to garner huge viewing figures. As a public broadcaster, its role is to provide an objective summary of important and noteworthy events. The Duchess and the scouts is neither important or noteworthy. A supreme optimist may say that what the BBC is doing is choosing to highlight the scouts here, which is an admirable thing to do; old English tradition, rural, local, community, good for children, et cetera. That's a nice point but not a relevant one, as that isn't the BBC's job, nor was it the ambition of the piece. I wasn't told about the scouts by the correspondent, I was told about the Duchess, her baby bump and her (fawn) hat. (In fairness to the BBC, the online write-up of the event was geared more towards the scouts, and wasn't especially high up on their news site.)

The main reason, in fact, the only reason why the BBC has chosen to prioritise the royals, throughout the Duchess's pregnancy, throughout her marriage to Prince William, throughout the jubilee, is because it is pandering to the right-wing media, of which it is absolutely and permanently petrified. The BBC is supposed to be impartial and unbiased, yet its coverage of the royals borders on simpering nonsense, designed to curry favour with the Mail and the Express. The colour of the Duchess of Cambridge's hat (sorry to keep coming back to this) IS NOT NEWS. And yet, it's reported on the BBC News Channel like it is news, because the campaigning power of the right-wing tabloids against the arch-nemesis, the Beeb, is a constant threat that needs to be avoided. They've taken all the spice out of the corporation's comedy output, they've eviscerated it over the Savile case, and they've attacked it about how much it pays out to the big stars. Our public service broadcaster is being held to ransom and it's starting to affect content.

The BBC appointed a new director of news, James Harding, this week. It has to be hoped, for fans of objective and relevant journalism, that he is able to put some steel back in the BBC's newsroom, for the sake of all of us. Otherwise, we'll have nothing to rely on but Sky News. God only knows what Kay Burley thinks of Kate's outfits.