A strange thought occurred to me while I was watching the news a couple of days ago, the afternoon after Maggie Thatcher died:
'Thank God for Jon Snow's tie'.
For those of you who watch the Channel 4 news regularly, this isn't such an odd thing to think; Jon Snow as a news presenter is defined by two somewhat oxymoronic features; a sombre, effortlessly professional etiquette and delivery, and a range of wacky, colourful ties.
It's not something I tune in for specifically, but I've seen them in the past.
I mention this because, on the day of Mrs Thatcher's passing, I was watching South East Today. I turn on the tv, and there are the usual presenters, Rob Smith and Polly Evans, in full funeral-wear; black ties, and dark suits. When they crossed to Rachel Mackley for the weather, she was wearing a large black dress with a collar that looked like it had enveloped her neck to the point of strangulation. They proceeded to present the death of Maggie Thatcher in local terms; they had another reporter (also in black, obviously) in Dartford, where she had run unsuccessfully as an MP, and where she met her husband Dennis.
I didn't have any problem with them covering this story; that's a part of regional news, sometimes a story is so big you simply have to find a way to make it seem especially relevant to your area, even as it dominates the whole nation (I still chuckle when I remember the headline of the Birmingham Mail after Pope Benedict resigned: 'POPE LEAVES OFFICE 2 YEARS AFTER VISITING BIRMINGHAM').
My problem was the dour presentation, with everyone dressed in black, as if they were in personal mourning; as if one of the South-East's own had tragically died, when the fact is, she was born in Lincolnshire, went to University in Oxfordshire, and had a constituency in Middlesex. And the politically-neutral BBC of South East England looked like it was treating her, unneccessarily, as a personal friend in her death.
A small point; but an irritating one.
I jumped channels, to see if every news outlet was behaving like this; i landed on the Channel 4 news, and-
Thank God for Jon Snow's tie.
He was presenting the story of Mrs Thatcher's death. He was getting commentary, mostly from people who adored her, people who could be personally touched by her passing, who knew her, or cared deeply about her political philosophies, and her impact on this nation. People who had the right to wear black. And he was doing it all in a bright pink and orange number, as if today was just any other day, showing the Beeb exactly how the concept of political neutrality should be a goal extended to every facet of presentation, especially in television.
This mundane story returned to me earlier today, thanks to a handful of articles in the Daily Mail, complaining about the BBC's coverage of the death of Mrs Thatcher (the link's at the bottom of the blog, but I'm sure you can find it; it's the one just above the article about how someone who organized a street dance celebrating Thatcher's death had a boob job). As it so often does, The DM used a handful of tweets from incensed people who share their feelings on matters to turn 'opinion' into 'news', complaining because, in between the fawning rhetoric about her 'legacy' and 'achievements' from reporters (some of whom WERE NOT WEARING BLACK TIES!), they actually thought to interview people who didn't like her; Ken Livingstone. Tony Benn. The following day, in a column, Stephen Glover asked if negative questions about her ought to be asked 'so soon', which, in news terms, might as well be 'at all'.
Leaving aside the fact that this is a newspaper which, only a week ago had a line on the front page of their paper claiming that six dead children had been 'bred' as opposed to 'born' that is questioning the BBC's approach to respect for the dead, the simple answer to that question is 'yes'. Yes, we should ask these questions, just like we would at the death of any individual whose death sparked parties in the streets. Because newspapers get to be partisan, and broadcast news does not. That's why I feel uncomfortable whenever I see a sign of familiarity, or special treatment shown to any figure as politically charged as Margaret Thatcher was. That's why I hate the idea of a right-wing newspaper trying to hard to push this juggernaut of neutrality further away from the centre in any way. We should be covering all the street parties held by those who hated her, whose livelihoods were destroyed as a direct result of her, without taking a drink on the dancefloor ourselves. Just like we should cover the heartfelt public statements of people who knew and supported her, without joining in the mourning.
I'd sooner just cover them both while wearing one of Jon Snow's ties.