By Hafsa Zarook
Although Canada is a constitutional monarchy, like many parliamentary democracies in the Commonwealth, the monarchy is of little consequence to the ordinary lives of Canadians. . The recent tour by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge seems to have captivated the imagination of many people, from dedicated Royal watchers, to the occasionally curious, to the mainstream Canadian news media, who are simply captivated by the youthful exuberance of this newlywed Royal couple.
Our story starts in Ottawa, the nation’s capital, where the royal couple began their tour of Canada with the laying of a wreath at the National War Memorial. It was an appropriate opening for the Prince, being a military man himself. The next day was July first, Canada day! The Royals attended the Citizenship Ceremony at the Canadian Museum of Civilization where 45 freshly minted ‘Canadian Citizens’ celebrated the day with the rest of us. The participation of the Royal couple in this event was not only symbolically significant, it was also a great opportunity for the 500+ international news organizations that followed the Royals around to peek in and share with the rest of the world, an institutional practice that, as a nation of immigrants, Canadians take great pride in. During the coverage of this day and the day following, we saw the couple mingle seamlessly with veterans at the Canadian War Museum, chuckling and joking with the elderly service men, women, wives and husbands. The pomp and circumstance that Royals normally court seems to have been abandoned by this lively couple, for a less formal approach.
However, I can’t help but wonder at the way in which the Canadian news Media seems to have become sucked in to “Will and Kate in Canada” all day, all the time. The rest of the news makers around the world seem to slot in awkwardly from time to time, almost as if they were a quick interruption. Completely unintentional I’m sure, but for someone who follows the news every day, the vast amount of coverage that this visit has taken cannot be explained except as infotainment.
Bob Franklin’s Canonical book, Newszak describes infotainment in familiar terms.
“Entertainment has superseded the provision of information, human interest has supplanted the public interest; measured judgement has succumbed to sensationalism; the trivial has triumphed over the weighty; the intimate relationship of celebrities from soap operas, the world of sport or the royal family are judged more ‘newsworthy’ than the reporting of significant issues and events of international consequence. Traditional news values have been undermined by new values; ‘infortainment is rampant.”
In fact, it’s quite astounding to watch it play out so blatantly, and there’s always an opportunity cost in news coverage due to the amount of content that needs to get covered in a short span of time. For instance, when the Royals visited Montreal’s Sainte-Justine University Hospital Centre, there were protestors outside of the building chanting and holding placards that read “Parasite, Go Home”. While the CBC news coverage referred to the protestors, there was really no attention paid to the reason as to why the protestors were there in the first place – was it all about having to pay tax money for these visits? As a layperson, even if you were bothered that a few million tax dollars went into maintaining such a ‘diplomatic’ visit, the coverage on our news should be more than enough to warm you to the couple and loosen the noose around your pockets a little bit. If this is not a cause for concern for media critics, I don’t know what is.
Most Canadians are neither monarchists nor anti-monarchists. There are organizations such as the Monarchist leagues of Canada that support the current state of governance and the Citizens for a Canadian Republic that supports the replacement of the Canadian system of constitutional monarchy with a republican form of government. However, these are often part of a fringe debate. I find myself prefacing my discussions about this Royal visit with friends by adding an, “I’m not a monarchist nor an anti-monarchist…”, and most people feel the same way because monarchy simply doesn’t have that much of a consequence on our lives. This, coupled with the constant sound bites on the Canadian designers that the Duchess has chosen to wear, inevitably steers our conversations to less serious matters like what Kate was wearing, how she makes her hair and how becoming blue shirts & khaki trousers look on Prince William. These two star personalities that we are hosting as a nation are the legacy of a painful past for the First Nation’s people, yet here they were at Yellowknife, visiting a first nation’s community and Prince William speaking a few words in one of the languages. It’s a place often ignored by official visits, not just international ones but by our own members of parliament. The amount of international media attention that it received was a welcome wind of change. Likewise, a day earlier in Prince Edward Island Prince William and Kate took part in a local Dragon boat race, and were blessed by an elder-woman from the Mi’kmaq First Nation’s people. However, in all of this, the closest anyone in the mainstream television news coverage came to referring to history was in saying that the young Royal couple certainly seem to be “re-energizing the colonies”.
One need not be a monarchist to appreciate the fund-raising efforts, patronages and contributions made by the members of the Royal family to worthy organizations across the world, but they cannot simply donate away the stains of the past, nor should these first nation’s people be reduced to perform their beautiful ceremonials dances for newer arrivals. This articulate and amiable Royal couple seems to have great potential to influence change in issues that matter to this generation, like the respect for public service, recognizing aboriginal culture and lifestyle, health and youth justice. This could have been a great opportunity for the mainstream news media to again highlight some of the ways in which the couple can help to address the deep seating issues youth and families face in isolated aboriginal reserves. The last thing we need is for our mainstream news coverage to wholeheartedly abandon its critical role and go ‘fangirlsy’.
Hafsa Zarook is not a raving anti monarchist and is a recent graduate from McGill University. She is a community activist, photographer and a socially conscious sartorialist from Canada. She plans to pursue her post-graduate education in issues related to media reform.
Photo Credits - ibtimes.com
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