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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Chicken and egg debate

The telly was awash with the news that the Duchess of Cornwall had decided against attending the memorial service scheduled to mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Huh? Sometime I think I needed a British-American dictionary to get through the London visit.

But the translation was fairly swift: Camilla Parker Bowles Windsor, the second wife of the heir to the British throne, decided (eight months late in the eyes of royals watchers) not to attend today's memorial for Princess Diana.

So in that context, it was rather interesting to hear a report from Jeremy Paxman, a BBC "presenter," blasting the way television works in the UK today.

"The problem is that news is determined not by its importance but by its availability," he said. "How else can we explain the decision to interrupt reporting of floods in Britain to go live to America breathlessly, to cover Paris Hilton's release from jail?

But it was a bit of a shock to hear Lionel Shriver, an expatriate American author, say the problems all stem from the US cable networks and the OJ Simpson story. Say what?

Shriver said UK news programmes were "streets ahead of their American counterparts" which air more pharmaceutical adverts than current affairs, but British TV was guilty of turning to the US for inspiration.

New and challenging programmes had been sacrificed for "bloated sagas" on Paris Hilton's jail sentence, the trials of OJ Simpson and Michael Jackson, and Diana's death.

This is not a defense of the garbage that cable network news has become -- whether it is the sad story of chasing Paris Hilton, Scott Peterson or OJ Simpson. Or Diana and Dodi.

But the description of British television news is as accurate as that of its American counterpart. Just ask Rupert Murdoch, the owner of SkyNews, Britain's alternative to the staid, stuffy and "fair and balanced" BBC. Or the numerous tabloid papers which he owns that serve daily scandals and topless women on Page 3.

So it was a bit jarring to hearing an American laying the blame at the feet of OJ. Unless I miss my calendar, the wedding of Diana and Charles was on every screen across the world -- in 1981. The Simpson slow speed chase came 13 years later.

Every British outlet has a "royals reporter," who spends ample airtime and print space chronicling the trials and tribulations of what may be the world's most dysfunctional family (and that includes the Simpsons).

Stockholm syndrome only applies to people who are kept against there will and Ms. Shriver seems to be a happy resident of the UK. So it is hard to explain how she managed to reverse the chicken and the egg or bad television news.

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