God (Don't) Save the Queen?

Now that you mention it, I did wonder what happened to republicans.

I don't mean the big 'R' Republicans who are trying to retake America's White House. I mean the small 'r' republicans who want the United Kingdom to be more like America.

They are so miffed by the coverage of the Queen's jubilee celebrations that they are threatening to take the BBC to court for breaching their own legal mandate to impartiality.

"Republic", a campaign group aiming for a "democratic alternative to the monarchy" said in a press release this week:

"The BBC has a legal duty of impartiality when it comes to controversial subjects like the monarchy. Reporters are required by law to ensure that a full range a views and perspectives are heard. We hope this action will focus attention on the BBC’s obligations and lead to fundamental reform of its relationship with the Palace.

Queen Elizabeth II jubilee celebrations are being held this year . AP

“We’re not asking the BBC to ignore the jubilee, but simply to report it as a political event about which there are a wide range of views. All too often, the BBC comes across as part of the royal PR machine – ignoring or dismissing the quarter of the population that wants to see the monarchy abolished and many more who wish to see it changed or challenged.

“Polls show that support for the monarchy has actually weakened in the past year, while our campaign has continued to grow – yet the BBC acts as if the royal family is universally adored.

“The BBC must learn that it is there to report on the monarchy, not to celebrate and promote it. The same level of journalistic scrutiny must be applied to the palace, the royal family and all their PR events that is applied to politicians and other public servants.”

But to paraphrase one reporter colleague, "Well, the majority are in favour of the monarchy."

Actually, the majority are probably just in favour of the Queen. And maybe Will and Kate after their wedding last year. And maybe Prince Charles, after he auditioned to be a weather girl.

But those are individual personalities. Ask people what system of government they really want, and it might be far less clear.

So there are probably a multitude of voices, as with any story. Should the BBC ensure all views are included in every story?

This is a persistent problem with trying to be impartial. Whenever there is a story on the gay community, the BBC, and others, don't ask ordinary members of society or leading politicians to comment; they go to outspoken opponents of homosexuality, if not homophobes. Conversely, if they run a story on Islamic fundamentalism, nobody would dare put up quotes from the racist English Defence League or British National Party to "balance" coverage. What do you include and when?

If you applied the logic of only reporting on the majority, there would never be coverage of any minority, any fringe political party, any alternative thought to that of the anonymous seething masses. So obviously, that approach doesn't work either.

Within hours of Republic's statement against the BBC, BBC News' online magazine ran a feature on the Punk musicians of 1977 who then opposed the Queen's Silver Jubilee.

Author Jon Savage told the magazine: "The Jubilee in 1977, as now, seemed to have nothing to do with what was actually going on in society, which had rising unemployment and decaying inner cities.

"My attitude to the Jubilee now hasn't changed at all. It's disinterest, moving towards irritation. The recent fawning in the media over Prince Harry makes me feel sick."

It's probably a coincidence that this feature ran after Republic's court threat, but it is a fair and interesting feature on dissent from the majority. Yet it still doesn't answer whether the BBC is breaking impartiality by promoting the 2012 jubilee.

The BBC takes the same approach to the Olympics - one or two pieces questioning the lasting legacy and cost of the games, but overall promoting its coverage. I'm about as bored of the Olympics as I am with the jubilee at this point - wall-to-wall ads promoting the events and associated products Reporting a story on Olympic or jubilee preparations do not require or generally accommodate dissenting voices each time - that's unrealistic.

Occasional features on alternate views are important and probably provide a degree of balance to overall coverage, but don't satisfy calls for alternatives at each individual story.

The real problem is that with everyone able to express their unique views on social media at any moment, it is simply impossible to include all the thousands or millions of views simultaneously available. Either that means the end of journalism, or we need to change how we define balanced and/or impartial reporting.

Updated Date: May 18, 2012 18:32 PM

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