News Agenda Failure?Focus On a Wedding
by Kathryn Roja G. Raymundo
Published in the May-June 2011 issue of PJR Reports
THE COVERAGE of the British royal wedding showed how the Philippine press evaluates which events are newsworthy. Of the conventional news values, human interest and prominence usually take precedence over significance. Other stories which may have a larger impact on people’s lives are not prioritized or are left out of the news agenda altogether to accommodate the “good news”, supposedly because it sells better. This journalism practice can be limiting, and worse, keeps the discourse at a shallow level.
The marriage of Prince William Arthur Philip Louis of Wales and Catherine Elizabeth Middleton took place on April 29, 2011 at Westminster Abbey, London. The British monarchy announced the engagement November last year, triggering a media frenzy over what the international media immediately dubbed as the “wedding of the century” and a “modern fairytale”.
Prince William is second in the line of succession to the British throne and the oldest son of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, who even in death is still the most popular member of the royal family. Middleton is the first commoner in 350 years to marry a presumed heir to the throne.
When they wed, the estimated global television audience was around two billion, double the number of those who watched the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales and Diana Spencer in 1981. The news reports claimed that over 8,000 journalists and technical staff covered the royal wedding.
There was a significant amount of interest in the affair and an audience for its coverage. But statistics showed that few people followed wedding-related news and that even the British public was “not quite so uniformly receptive” about it.
The Nielsen Company found that the share of news coverage from traditional media sources in the United States was considerably higher than in the United Kingdom and Australia, even if the latter two are countries of which The Queen is Head of State. (“American News Media Cover Royal Wedding More Frequently than UK Counterparts”, April 25)
The New York Times/CBS News poll, of 1,224 Americans, found that only six percent of the respondents followed wedding-related news “very closely”, and 38 percent “not at all”.
In the 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll, of 1,058 people questioned, “65 percent of Americans have no interest in the pending marriage and only a small minority are paying attention.” (“Few Americans interested in royal wedding: poll”, Jan. 31)
In a ComRes survey of 1,006 British adults conducted in November 2010, a clear majority said they were “not excited” by the wedding, some 31 percent said they “couldn’t care less” about the event and a further 28 percent described themselves as “largely indifferent”.
In its Facebook page, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility asked a similar question. Of the 259 votes, eight “very closely” followed wedding-related news and 170 “not at all”.
Of those who answered “not at all”, one wrote that the coverage was “overkill”. Another wrote, “I don’t see its relevance and I can’t understand why local media is all agog over something which doesn’t matter to the Philippines and most Filipinos.”
One commented that “Circus na masyado, karamihan ng kapitbahay ko wala pakialam, ako din. Naturalmente kasi malabong magagamot n’yan kumikirot na sikmura ng mga manggagawa (It’s a circus. Most of my neighbors don’t care, neither do I. It’s the natural reaction because this news will not address the hunger experienced by workers). ”
So, was there really a demand for wall-to-wall coverage of the wedding, or did the media overestimate audience interest in the story?
Too much on the royals
PJR Reports monitored the newspapers Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star, and the Manila Bulletin; the news channels ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC), GMANews TV, and AksyonTV; the news programs TV Patrol, 24 Oras, Aksyon, and Teledyaryo; and selected news websites from April 25 to April 30.
According to AGB Nielsen, over four million Filipinos in Mega Manila tuned in last April 29. Most television networks (free TV and cable news channels) were airing wedding-related news all throughout the day and went live for the main wedding ceremony. It would seem that nothing else was happening aside from the marriage of these two individuals whose social standing and contributions equal or could even be less than that of Hollywood celebrities.
In the days leading up to the big event, the major news organizations mobilized practically all their available resources to promote their coverage. There were advertorials and full-page advertisements in the newspapers and publicity materials aired in between TV programs. The three major news channels made arrangements with the accredited foreign media organizations (BBC, ITN, SKY or the Foreign Broadcaster Service – EBU and APTN) to ensure their access to the studios and stand-up/in-positions at the ceremonial route.
Not only did the broadcast networks prepare a number of feel-good segments on various aspects of the wedding and features on the lives of the royal family, they also sent their top reporters and anchors to London to report every little, inconsequential detail of the occasion. Some segments, which ran up to more than 10 minutes, were devoted to idle chitchat about the princes’ Filipino nanny, wedding souvenirs, the bride’s weight loss, fashion, etc. The commentaries on the wedding day were at best uninformed, and at worst embarrassing.
There was some restraint in the coverage of the local dailies. The newspapers provided supplemental pages on the event. Most news stories appropriately appeared in the entertainment and lifestyle sections. But the Manila newspapers carried almost the same copy from news wire agencies as the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, and Reuters.
What really matters
Amid the deluge of information, local media coverage barely touched on the history and relevance of the British monarchy at this time. The news reports and commentaries failed to provide the context in which the spectacle was happening—a struggling economy, political instability, and natural disasters.
According to some news reports, “the monarchy officially costs the British taxpayer around 40 million pounds (US$67 million) a year, while anti-royalists put the figure at closer to 180 million pounds.” Some Britons support the abolition of the monarchy, favoring a republic with the end goal of establishing a fully democratic constitution.
In a TV Patrol poll (April 28) which asked: “Sa panahon ng kaguluhan at krisis, isa bang magandang balita para sa inyo ang royal wedding (In the period of turmoil and crisis, do you think the royal wedding is good news)?, the answers were evenly split. After reading the result, anchor Noli de Castro said “Kanya-kanyang katwiran ‘yan.…Wala namang resulta talaga sa atin ‘yan. Ano naman ang pakialam sa atin ng London, ‘di ba? Maganda rin panoorin, excited ang mga Pilipino kung ano mangyayari, pero entertainment news (To each his own. It doesn’t affect us, what does London care about us? It’s fine to watch, Filipinos are excited about what’s going to happen, but its entertainment news).” De Castro’s statement said it all.
Unfortunately, the resources and amount of time and space spent to cover this story left little space and time for other more important matters to be discussed. For instance, with regard to international news coverage, the lives of the rich and famous pale in comparison to the impact of the unrest in the Middle East and North Africa on the people there, including Filipinos.
Because it happened on the same day as the wedding, the discussion of the resignation of Merceditas Gutierrez as Ombudsman also took a back seat. The greater part of the primetime news programs the night of the wedding and the front pages of the dailies the next day were dedicated to the nuptials. Regardless of the implications of the Gutierrez resignation, the royal wedding overshadowed a major development in the Philippine political landscape to the detriment of the Filipino need for information.
If the Philippine press cannot distinguish which events are worth reporting, then its news standards must be failing. n