No expense spared in royal wedding media frenzy

2011-04-08 07:58

London – When it comes to Britain’s royal wedding, the tight foreign news budgets of international media organisations are not an issue.

Despite the financial strain posed by an incessant stream of news on massacres, war and revolution, no expense has been spared on the “good news event” of the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton at Westminster Abbey on April 29.

“It will be the biggest event in television history because there are no bigger celebrities in the world than the royals,” says Piers Morgan, a former British tabloid editor.

In the royal parks around Buckingham Palace, structures are being erected to accommodate studios and camera viewing stands for the estimated 8 000 television and radio journalists and technical staff expected to descend on London.

It will, according to the Guardian newspaper, be the biggest team of foreign broadcast crews and reporters seen in London. Around the world, an estimated 2 billion people are expected to watch the live coverage.

In 1981, when Prince Charles married Princess Diana at St Paul’s Cathedral, there was a global audience of 750 million.

The BBC is attempting its biggest international live broadcast, with coverage carried in the US on BBC America, and on BBC Entertainment Channels across Asia, India, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Australia.

The BBC has assigned 400 personnel to the day’s coverage, while US satellite broadcaster CNN is supplementing its London team with 50 extra staff.

Its chief presenter, Richard Quest, told the Guardian: “The Americans see it as a reality show, a soap opera that perhaps people in Britain miss because this is about their future head of state.”

This is an assessment shared by royal watchers in Britain, who detect a marked difference between the intense foreign media “hype” and the comparatively moderate coverage – so far – at home.

“While the foreign media seem to be overwhelmed, we appear to be distinctly underwhelmed,” says leading social commentator Peter York.

A certain degree of apathy, or perhaps a lack of openly displayed emotion, was confirmed in an ICM opinion poll last month which showed that 79 percent of Britons were “largely indifferent” or “couldn’t care less” about the event.

Even if the poll, commissioned by anti-monarchy group Republic, leaves some room for interpretation, its results are echoed in comments given by independent observers.

“To me it feels different from 1981. There is less enthusiasm, less passion than 30 years ago,” says Peter Kellner, the head of polling institute YouGov, comparing the event with the wedding of Charles and Diana three decades ago.

While there was not necessarily greater “anti-monarchy feeling”, people were just “shrugging their shoulders”, says Kellner.

The 1990’s decade of royal scandals and divorces, culminating in the 1997 death of Princess Diana, has clearly left its mark, while the entire media landscape and the relations between royalty and the press has also changed.

In the run-up to the 1981 wedding, there were acres of daily newspaper stories and pictures. In 2011, partly due to the low profile sought by William and Kate themselves – coverage was restrained.

William, in particular, who blamed the death of his mother on the paparazzi photographers who pursued her, has been keen to change the relationship. As a result, rules on harassment were tightened and the paparazzi choked off the market.

But none of this, believes magazine editor Rachel Johnson, will come into play on the big day.

“The mood will completely change on the day. Nobody will be underwhelmed. It will be the greatest show on earth.”

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