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Mediating the Royal Family

Public Relations, Social Networks and Media Images of British Royalty since 1997

Examensarbeit 2013 106 Seiten

Anglistik - Sonstiges



1. Introduction

2. Mediating a Royal Household: Theoretical and Methodological Considerations
2.1 Public Relations
2.2 Social Networks
2.3 Mass Media Images

3. A Brief History of the British Royal Family Since 1917

4. The Windsors in Mass Media
4.1 The Official Website of the British Monarchy
4.2 The British Monarchy on Facebook and Twitter
4.3 Mass Media Representations of British Royalty in Newspapers

5. Mass Media Events Within the British Monarchy Since 1997
5.1 The Death of Diana, Princess of Wales
5.2 The Wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton
5.3 The Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II

6. Conclusion: The Constant Struggle Between Public Life and Privacy

7. Works Cited

1. Introduction

The British monarchy is one of the oldest in the world and therefore stands out due to its historical and traditional values. Although it seems that voices are often raised against the monarchical institution favouring the process of Europeanisation and the implementation of republicanism, opinion polls indicate that the British population and the citizens of the Commonwealth are in favour of a constitutional monarchy. This approval is apparent from mediatised public royal events as well as the reporting on royal matters. The public responds quite lively to such occasions, which indicates that the interest in the British monarchy still dominates the minds of the British and a worldwide population.

The fame of the British monarchy is mainly due to a politically conservative British media system, which unreservedly supports the status quo and determinedly speaks out against arising tendencies of republicanism or trade unions (cf. Blain and O’Donnell 2003: 3). This behaviour of the British media has become both beneficial and disadvantageous for its subjects throughout the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, as the lives of the Royal Family1 ’s members have been extensively depicted in positive as well as in negative ways, which has led to an increased accessibility of a social circle whose private life is otherwise shielded from the public’s attention. Therefore, it may be argued that the British monarchy and the media maintain a beneficial relationship, which is, however, rendered controversial if the unpleasant incidents in which the British media were involved are taken into account. As consumption is a characteristic of a postmodern society and culture, the media’s targeted audience and its hunger for news of any kind is difficult to satisfy and is further prevented by a growing media industry (cf. Blain and O’Donnell 2003: 19), which “’serves a need’ by spending so much time on, and devoting so much space to, royal phenomena” (Blain and O’Donnell 2003: 60).

Comparing the degree of the current Royal Family’s receptiveness to an interested public with the behaviour of former ones towards the media, striking differences may be observed. Not only did a mediatisation of the Royal Family take place, but also a so-called aestheticisation (cf. Blain and O’Donnell 2003: 20) arose and involved a growing interest in aesthetic values of royal life, such as outstanding events or fashion matters. This development was mainly influenced by the deceased Princess of Wales’s media control and domination and reached one of its most critical stages with the death of a woman who simultaneously became a star and a victim of the media industry and an untamed public appetite for sensation (ib.). The previously mentioned problematic stage of British royalty involved another development mainly influenced by Tony Blair, Prime Minister at that time, who referred to the passed Princess of Wales as the ‘people’s princess’ and therefore lent her an ordinary characteristic, which kept herself apart from the rest of the Royal Family. As “[t]his celebration of the ordinary becomes a prime economic weapon in the hands of the media in Britain” (Blain and O’Donnell 2003: 21), the movement towards a public-oriented monarchy resembling the model of a company or a ‘firm’ as it is often referred to by the Duke of Edinburgh (cf. von Preußen 2011: 102), has been sealed. An ordinary perspective on royalty is further enhanced by the depiction of the Royal Family members’ lives as narratives, most notably the one of a soap opera, which followed a fairy tale narrative associated with the wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales whose divorce lead to its substitution by a rather realistic view of the Royal Family focusing on the various marital and interpersonal problems and scandals thus providing “a negative and even condescending view of the British Royal family” (Blain and O’Donnell 2003: 85).

With the underlying work it is attempted to portray the popularity and peculiarity of the British monarchy, personified by its Royal Family and outlined above, which comes into effect on the occasion of royal events that involve the public in any kind and are broadcast on television and various Internet sources. Because of the fact that the Queen “has managed to remain mysterious” (Marr 2011: 5), the interest in royal matters and in members of the British Royal Family seems to constantly increase, as they are regarded as ordinary citizens because of their loss of political power on the one hand and, on the other hand, are represented as an exceptional part of social life that leaves its mark on and forms an understanding and feeling of national pride and cohesion. Certainly, this owes to the fact that the nation’s monarch is a symbolic figure who has served the country with an incomparable duty and did so as the second-longest-serving monarch in British history (cf. Marr 2011: 6).

However, the affection towards the monarchical institution is not only the result of a long-reigning monarch, but also of a beneficial and controversial relationship with the media. The case of Queen Victoria, who avoided public appearances after her husband’s death and thus had to put up with a decrease of popularity, showed that holding a royal status does not automatically cause a positive esteem and reputation. It rather depends on the depiction of royalty within the public context, which is mainly brought about by means of adequate media effectiveness. Nevertheless, this relationship should not exclusively be regarded in positive terms, as it may also illumine the media’s subjects in a problematic way, as was the case in the days succeeding the accidental death of Diana, Princess of Wales and a rather reluctant Royal Family who finally subjected to the population’s desires. Referring back to Robert Lacey, a biographer of the Queen, Marr states that monarchy “will be looked back on above all in terms not of the particular political crises but of the way in which the monarchy adapted to the media” (2011: 252). Moreover, it has to be argued that monarchy also clearly adapted to the people’s desires, as it shows unambiguous signs of middle-class characteristics, e.g. in the case of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s rather independent life on the Welsh Isle Anglesey. After all, “[t]he middle class, strategically situated in the centre of the social order, is the best place from which to view society. The longer they remain there, the better will be their insight into the lives of their […] subjects” (Paterson 2013: 221). Although this is often looked at from a critical point of view, the majority of citizens consider this fact as a positive feature of the British Royal Family since many of its members do not immediately engage in royal duties, but are able to show a professional career, such as the Duke of Cambridge’s work as a rescue pilot in the Royal Air Force or the Countess of Wessex’ career in public relations. Therefore, democracy and royalty are nowadays placed alongside each other (cf. Paterson 2013: 250).

Since the image and perception of the British monarchy has considerably changed in the course of time, which is, inter alia, a result of an attentive and keen media industry, the underlying work is an attempt to portray the result of this development in that it depicts the current situation in the royal household and its intertwined relationship with the British media system. Therefore, the three areas of public relations, social networks and mass media images, which recur throughout the entire work, are taken into consideration from different perspectives. The examinations start with the year 1997 because it represents a turning point of the British Royal Family’s way to deal with the mass media after the death of the Princess of Wales had caused an unprecedented media attention that even changed traditional values at court. It is that public relations refer to the official website of the British monarchy, the area of social networks deals with the British monarchy’s representation on Facebook and Twitter and the field of mass media images is concerned with the representation of the British monarchy in the British tabloid press.

After a methodological consideration of the underlying topic in which the work’s approach is being outlined, a theoretical examination of the three above-mentioned fields is going to take place in order to establish a meaningful basis for the later practical investigation. Afterwards, a brief historical overview of the Windsor family is given starting with the reign of King George V and Queen Mary who gave the British monarchy its current name. In a next step, the findings of the theoretical considerations are practically applied to an investigation of the British monarchy’s official website, the royal household’s representation on Facebook and Twitter and the monarchy’s representation in the British tabloid press. Dealing with selected mass media events within the British monarchy since 1997, this extensive account of the often-conflicting relationship between the British monarchy and the British press and media system is completed.

Regarding terminological aspects, it should be mentioned that if there is talk of the British Royal Family, the monarchical institution or British royalty, no distinction should be made between the three terms, but they should rather be ascribed to the notion of British monarchy.

2. Mediating a Royal Household: Theoretical and Methodological Considerations

Websites, social networks and the tabloid press often happen to be regarded as manifestations of popular culture. In most cases, the assumption owes to the increased quantity of individuals using these forms of media as sources of information. Since premature decisions of that kind mostly lack a necessary degree of reflection and foundation with regard to the media’s origin and their justification, they do not turn out to be representative at all. Taking into account the reinforced interest in the above-mentioned media and considering their extreme influence on their users’ perceptions of public life, the underlying work aims at depicting them in a different way. Therefore, the three fields of public relations, social networks and mass media images will be put in the centre of attention of this chapter and will appear in different contexts throughout the entire work’s structure. In this respect, it is noteworthy that the considered fields are described in the backdrop of a practical investigation of the three areas of interest and their authentic manifestations for which this chapter serves as the theoretical basis.

A theoretical foundation will be established in a first instance by taking account of how to read and decode the fields of consideration, as the design of a website and the venture of launching social network accounts involve both beneficial outcomes and problematic aspects with regard to an incontrollable world wide web and a heterogeneous community of Internet users. Moreover, the theoretical considerations are to highlight the basic structures of a basal marketing conception such ventures involve because both examples of websites and social network accounts do not only intend to represent reliable sources of information, but mainly aim at manipulating a target audience. Therefore, the theoretical observations adopt an economic and marketing-oriented perspective on the one hand and, on the other hand, a media-psychological one in order to bear in mind the processes the design of a website, a social network account or an article in a tabloid newspaper actuates in the perception of the target audience. The theoretical considerations often relate to a purely economic conception of supply and demand, but they serve as an explanatory principle to exemplify the conceptions and processes underlying the three fields of interest with regard to a mediatized British Royal Family who increasingly tends to become a constituent of the free market economy.

Public relations deals in this context with the official website of the British monarchy, the branch of social networks is concerned with the royal household’s representation on Facebook and Twitter and the area of mass media images focuses on tabloid newspapers. Just like the practical analysis, the field of mass media images exclusively concentrates on tabloid newspapers. It was decided to put the emphasis on that genre of British print media, as it contains the majority of reporting on the British Royal Family and presents a variety of controversial views on the aspect of British monarchy and thus often constructs discrepancies between a mediatized and an authentic reality.

2.1 Public Relations

The Internet has become the most rapidly developing medium ever since. The majority of worldwide companies and firms heavily rely on their Internet presence and online-marketing making their success and market share indispensable. As previously mentioned, this section about the royal household’s endeavours in the field of public relations is going to concentrate on their representation on the Internet in the form of an official website, which will be described in chapter 4.1.

Before going into detail, a definition of the underlying term of public relations is considered to be necessary. L’Etang (2007: 18) suggests that “public relations involves the communication and exchange of ideas either in response to, or to facilitate change. It entails argument and case-making. It is thus intrinsically connected to policy initiatives”. Because of the fact that the term ‘public’ relates to connections and actions manifesting themselves publicly, the underlying field always has to be set in a broader context of political and legal guidelines. Pursuing effective relationships between an institution and its target, an adequate evaluation and analysis of the measures undertaken in this respect are vital. Dealing with public relations, it is considered to be essential to take account of the royal household’s online-marketing strategies, as the venture of launching a website clearly aims at reaching a broad audience. The notion of online marketing denotes measures on the Internet by means of which the active Internet user is to be appealed to. One distinguishes in this respect between push and pull measures, i.e. the advertiser represents the active part and arranges the promotional measures to convince the user at any price in the former case, whereas the latter one emphasizes the user’s activity of going in quest of required information (cf. Düweke and Rabsch 2012: 25).

Due to the British Commonwealth, the British monarchy is involved in a worldwide frame and needs to be accessible to anyone, at any place and at any time. This is guaranteed by the online presence of a ‘firm’ - a commonly used notion for the British Royal Family – by which means information may be changed and updated immediately. Moreover, a website is able to impress with multimedia construction, i.e. a combination of different digital media, such as a mixture of text, animation and video (cf. Düweke and Rabsch 2012: 27).

It is, however, vital to point to a term that is indispensable as soon as a website is launched. There is talk of ‘usability’, i.e. a website needs to be created in a way that permits its users to make unproblematic use of it in order to achieve the intended objectives. This aspect is often closely intertwined with the users’ wish to change certain aspects of a website if they are not satisfied with its design or because they needed too much time to find the desired bit of information. Therefore, it is essential to grant the users the possibility to make suggestions for improvement and to personally contact the website’s creators or the company leading to a dynamic conception of a website (cf. Düweke and Rabsch 2012: 29). The previously mentioned points are of significant importance with regard to the British monarchy. The institution decided to launch a website in order to provide an unspecified audience with information from an authoritative source. This audience may include supporters, but also opponents of the monarchy and even visitors who want to acquire further knowledge about the institution if they do not know enough about it. Thus, if the website is not structured in a clear way, the user may leave and it is possible to assume that this experience is applied to the overall image of British royalty: It would risk becoming a foreign part of society that is difficult to understand. Creating a ‘usable’ website is closely related to the notion of ‘accessibility’, which emphasizes the use of the Internet by persons with physical disabilities. For them, the computer often becomes a means of integration and participation in social life, which is why special attention should be paid to this aspect (cf. Düweke and Rabsch 2012: 524).

Referring to the royal website, its user is welcomed by the royal household and is shown an active window confronting him with the cookie tracking, i.e. a way to measure the website’s success. A cookie is a text file immediately saved on the user’s computer and stores information relating to the user and his behaviour. This capacity enables the website to identify the user as soon as he visits it the next time and personalizes the using process without distributing personal information throughout the web (cf. Düweke and Rabsch 2012: 89).

An arising question may concentrate on how the Internet users are enabled to take notice of a website, e.g. the official website of the British monarchy to be later analysed. The answer is provided by available online public relations including search engine entries, newsletters or further publications on the web (cf. Düweke and Rabsch 2012: 157). Therefore, traditional information and advertising sources have been replenished by online media. As in the case of the British monarchy’s official website and its online version of the Court Circular, i.e. a daily updated diary of royal visits and events, press releases may be part of an Internet website. They may resemble traditional press releases, but differ with regard to their audience and, consequently, their relevance, as they do not only reach journalists, but also private users who try to seize the main points during a short scanning process (cf. Düweke and Rabsch 2012: 160).

Another aspect of reaching an intended audience is the so-called ‘targeting’, which is part of an effective media planning. This process involves advertising one’s website on other webpages, e.g. in the form of banners. It is advisable to make use of such techniques on pages that are known to be visited by the target group, which can be traced back with the help of the websites’ and their marketers’ provision of necessary media data to detect different user groups on the corresponding websites (cf. Düweke and Rabsch 2012: 500). Furthermore, it is vital to pursue a clear and user-friendly website structure to take into account the visitors’ desires and objectives. The overall aim should be in this respect to keep the users and to achieve their repeated visits in the future, which may further be enabled by including interesting, entertaining or current contents as well as the integration of supplementary tools to navigate the site (cf. Düweke and Rabsch 2012: 505).

So far, the constructional aspect has been looked at, while the potential website user and his personal preconditions have not been closer investigated. In what follows, an overview of central media psychological assumptions will be given to explain why Internet users access certain websites and why they do not do so. These acknowledgements do also serve the use of social networks, but they are mentioned in this section, as they are predominantly applicable to the decoding process of websites. According to Unz (2008: 15), user-related motives, needs, experiences and aspired moods influence a user’s choice of website and his decision to deal with it. Following the ‘uses and gratifications approach’, a media user chooses a medium if he expects to satisfy specific needs, i.e. he proceeds in a purposeful manner. Aelker (2008a: 18) furthermore holds in this respect that the user’s past failures in satisfying his desires are included in the approach and are taken to explain the future use of media. Another approach is the one of ‘selective exposure’ suggesting that the user’s behaviour is controlled by unconscious processes, i.e. by techniques of omission or exclusion, while the user himself only continues to use a medium if he is satisfied by it. That point of view refers to the so-called ‘sovereign consumer’ describing a behaviour to protect oneself against an increased information overload (cf. Haferkamp 2008: 23) that is accepted without any reflective consideration. The ‘mood management theory’ claims that the choice of dealing with a medium is managed by the user’s wish to achieve or maintain a positive feeling (cf. Unz 2008: 15). In order to achieve that goal, the individual falls back upon media offers, which represent external stimuli that are easily accessible and controllable. Following the assumptions of operant conditioning, the individual coincidentally chooses certain media and uses them more frequently if they entail positive emotions and reduce negative affective states. However, the respective motives inducing the individual to use the corresponding media are unconscious (cf. Aelker 2008b: 29).

2.2 Social Networks

Communicating with each other is a central aspect of human life. As the Austrian psychotherapist, philosopher and sociologist Paul Watzlawick put it, “one cannot not communicate” because all forms of human interaction convey a certain message to the individual’s fellow beings (cf. Watzlawick et al. 1967: 51). It has, however, occurred a change of the communicational manifestations, as individuals do not only communicate face to face, but mainly do so independently from place and time, which was further promoted by the advent of the Internet and online communication, e.g. via social networks (cf. Bernecker and Beilharz 2012: 19). Social media permit Internet users from all social classes to communicate with each other, thus ignoring social boarders that often exist in traditional face-to-face communications. Such a peculiarity has also been recognized by companies whose abilities to contact their customers and target groups more easily, to give them an insight in their management structures and to increase the customer satisfaction, thus improving their popularity, have been facilitated (cf. Bernecker and Beilharz 2012: 20).

This section’s interest focuses on the two social networks of Facebook and Twitter and their use within the context of organisations, institutions and companies. In this respect, the institution of the British monarchy should always be kept in mind, as the considerations in this chapter occur against the backdrop of the royal household’s ventures of launching both Twitter and Facebook accounts. The two networks were selected because they have to show the largest quantity of registered users and are therefore most meaningfully represented in the corresponding specialized literature.

Facebook used to be a university platform permitting students to keep up with their fellow students founded in the year 2004 by the Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg. After the platform’s use was authorized for private users in 2006, its expansion quickly began (cf. Adda 2012: 22) and has nowadays reached a community of around 800 million registered members (cf. Weinberg 2012: 218). The network’s major feature is, next to innovative applications, the exchange of information between its members who are enabled to comment on entries of other users, which are referred to as ‘posts’, to show their approval by means of a button called ‘like’, to recommend and share other users’ contents and to upload their own pictures. The process of publishing these posts is called ‘posting’.

Twitter is a free micro-blogging service permitting its members to write short text messages that consist of a maximum of 140 signs, and was launched in the year 2006. It currently lists around 200 million registered users and predominantly functions as an information and communication channel. Its contents orient themselves towards current happenings and therefore take pleasure in the lively participation of its users (cf. Weinberg 2012: 165). A publicized message is referred to as ‘tweet’, while ‘retweet’ denotes a piece of news received by another user and distributed to further registered members. Moreover, ‘tweets’ are supplied with hashtags in order to render the short messages as comprehensible and interesting as possible. Persons being interested in a profile are called ‘followers’ whose actions are referred to as ‘following’ (cf. Weinberg 2012: 168).

Twitter and Facebook have become important means to appeal to a broad circle of possible customers, i.e. in the case of the British monarchy supporters (cf. Weinberg 2012: 173). The micro-blogging online service Twitter has proved to be effective with regard to the accessibility and contactability of target groups for they may be individually addressed and can thus easily identify with the webpage’s host. It can be mainly ascribed to the networking and friendly character of Twitter that a mutual relationship between host and user is established: “Be authentic. Twitter chiefly serves the communication on equal terms with one’s clients and partners”2 (Weinberg 2012: 189). Via ‘retweet’, or the function of ‘sharing’ in the case of Facebook, interesting contributions may be publicized by users, which is of considerable relevance to the entire webpage and its audience becoming possible through the establishment of – although mostly superficial – friendships and the orientation of the page’s contents to its users’ desires (cf. Weinberg 2012: 172). The use of the underlying social networks as means to communicate current news to an account’s followers is of vital importance to the royal household as will be seen in chapter 4.2 because it includes the official overview of the members of the Royal Family’s official visits and engagements. An appropriate number of followers can, however, only be guaranteed if the account is adequately promoted (cf. Weinberg 2012: 184) realizable through regular and interesting ‘tweets’, or ‘posts’ as referred to on Facebook, and the users’ guarantee to actively make their personal opinion known to the host.

The presence of the British monarchy on Facebook and Twitter is supposed to be dealt with in the underlying section. The royal household’s Twitter account was launched in the year 2009, which was one year before the British monarchy decided to join Facebook. An aim that was certainly accompanying these ventures was to pursue the overall goal of social media marketing, which is regarded as the main purpose of the royal household’s endeavours within the fields of public relations and social networks. Therefore, social media marketing forms the basis of the undertaken considerations and investigations in this work.

Social media marketing is a process that empowers individuals to promote their websites, products, or services through online social channels and to communicate with and tap into a much larger community that may not have been available via traditional advertising channels. (Weinberg 2009: 3)

This new trend of marketing arose with the advent of social networks and represents a long-term factor of success, as the spread of social media occurs in an extraordinary pace enabling companies who choose to make use of social networks in order to establish effective relationships with possible customers and multipliers. Therefore, social media marketing constitutes an innovative way of improving a company’s status, of gaining new customers and of intensifying relationships because the distance to clients is reduced and their needs become more obvious (cf. Weinberg 2012: 6). Since a heterogeneous group of Internet users forms the possible target group of companies that pursue the strategy of social media marketing, the greatest challenge consists in taking advantage of the target audience’s diversity and using it in an effective way (cf. Weinberg 2012: 9). Current tendencies of social media marketing indicate that more and more companies forego their websites in favour of their social network accounts, which, however, includes several disadvantages as to the immediate disconnection of the site in the case of rule infringement or the total dependence on social networks (cf. Bernecker and Beilharz 2012: 36). It should also be pointed to the intense popularity of Facebook in this context. According to Adda’s explanations in this respect, the network resembles a “revolution that did not only mark and change all our lives and behaviour, but also turned the long-acquired and meticulously developed marketing rules of […] advertising strategies inside out” (2012: 21) in its composition and with its means. He deduces from this that many organisations and institutions face the question of how to come across the constantly rising number of registered users and how to contact them adequately and effectively (cf. Adda 2012: 21).

Relating the above-mentioned aspects of social media marketing to the British monarchy’s Facebook and Twitter representation, it has to be noted above all that the monarchical institution is increasingly considered to be a company, which is obliged to gain the public’s favour. Therefore, it has to act in a comparable way to companies in the free market economy. Owing to the fact that social network users are influenced by contents other users share, it is likely that, if the webpage is designed in an appealing way, which is a major aspect of successful social media marketing, the webpage will be ‘liked’ or ‘followed’ by a variety of registered social network users and will therefore have a positive impact on the organisation’s, in this case the British monarchy’s, reputation.

As in the instance of websites offering its visitors the opportunity to ventilate their own opinion, social networks may elicit negative attitudes and comments with regard to certain contents of the webpage from its users (cf. Bernecker and Beilharz 2012: 20). In the case of monarchy, this may imply a citizen who was personally disappointed by certain members of the Royal Family and, consequently, formulates his displeasure by means of the commenting function of Facebook, or an own ‘tweet’, which, of course, is apparent to a worldwide audience. Thus, the reputation of an institution or an enterprise may suffer from the uncontrollable speed of spreading information, which, in turn, induces the webpages’ owners to counteract negative criticism. Adopting such measures is called ‘Reputation Management’, which may also be of use to the affected webpage owner, as it enables them to avert a negative publicity disaster (cf. Weinberg 2012: 109). Bernecker and Beilharz report that, because of the facilitated ways of direct communication in social networks, negative incidents occurring in a company or in a context comparable to the one underlying this work should always be treated in an open way, as their cover-up may lead to the opposite effect, which would weigh upon the relation to the target group (2012: 22). Especially the use of search engines represents a dangerous source of conflicting material because the user is provided with additional suggestions his search entails. If the institution or company had been involved in a scandalous situation before, the Internet user will immediately be pointed out to it (Bernecker and Beilharz 2012: 133).

2.3 Mass Media Images

This section’s objective is to give an overview of the British print media and their function, as the topic of the underlying work is also investigated against the backdrop of British newspapers, most notably of tabloid newspapers, which represent the category of mass media images. The emphasis is put on tabloids since they have a peculiar role within the British media system and represent, next to another group of daily newspapers, i.e. the so-called ‘quality press’ or ‘broadsheets’, an integral part of the readership’s range of available print media. Moreover, a large amount of information considering the British monarchy and, most notably, its Royal Family, completed with a variety of private details, turn up through tabloids, what further underlines their relevance to the underlying work.

A distinction needs to be made between red top tabloids and compact tabloids, as they differ with regard to their editorial style and format (cf. Keeble 2005: 23). The equating of tabloid with the adjective ‘popular’ is certainly a well-known criterion to differentiate between tabloids and other categories of newspapers, but it does not seem to be applicable to tabloids such as The Independent or The Times, which are certainly not popular but rather orient themselves towards international standards and are representative sources of political, economic, cultural and social information. The distinction made above mainly results from the magazines’ design. Red top tabloids got their name because of their red-coloured mastheads. Their public-oriented and grammatically simplistic style and content clearly correspond to an audience’s expectation that prefers celebrity, sensational and gossip news, whereas compact tabloids stylistically and content-wise rather resemble broadsheet newspapers that have been reduced in their size for practical reasons, but still do cover comparable subjects similar to red top tabloids (ib.). Broadly spoken, tabloid newspapers mainly entertain a commercial function. “Their political role is essentially passive. They wish to maintain the status quo and encourage conditions in which they are best able to maximize profits” (Sparks and Tulloch 2000: 92). To pursue that goal, tabloids aim at appealing to an audience that shares the same interests and thus concentrate on topics with the broadest attraction, which is also reflected in royal news matters that notably concern the younger generation of the British Royal Family (cf. Sparks and Tulloch 2000: 93). Being confronted with such a hefty media attention that appears to be even disrespectful at times, the members of the Royal Family as well as the royal household and its media representatives are obliged to take protective measures in many ways including the royal representatives’ reputation management and their personal safety.

Although tabloid newspapers are often considered to be solely the mouthpiece of a sensation-seeking community of journalists and readers, who are keen on reporting on and reading about gossip and sensations, these are, by far, not the only characteristics of the underlying genre. Their conspicuous layout, provided with sensational headlines, large-format photographs and scandalous and outrageous stories represents the main features of tabloids making them so popular amongst their targeted readers (cf. Höke 2007: 20). They have become an indispensible constituent of the popular mass media, as they rapidly pass on complex contents and structures to their readers in a concise manner (cf. Seymour-Ure 2001: 7). Since this is done in an appealing way that emphasizes the readers’ emotions (cf. Höke 2007: 23), the targeted audience is enabled to easily identify with the papers’ contents, which often correspond to topics that stem from their fields of interest and concern their own realities of life. The strategy of appealing to the readers’ emotions is referred to as ‘human-interest orientation’ (ib.) and represents one of the major aims and functions of tabloids. According to Marlow, this function involves a “quasi-moralistic tone that seeks both to persuade and to command a certain authority” (2002: 340). In this respect, topics focusing on human interests that are commonly understandable and require a degree of empathy are to be named (cf. Höke 2007: 24). A possible danger consists in the neglect of a news story’s actual informational content for the benefit of emotionally charged supplementary information (cf. Höke 2007: 25).

Beside the previously mentioned ‘human-interest orientation’, the characteristics of privatisation and personalisation cause the tabloid’s popularity as well. The illumination of public figures’ private lives is a way to appeal to the readers’ array of emotions. Beyond that, the readership is familiarized with these persons through a form of address including special descriptions, abbreviations or nicknames (cf. Höke 2007: 27). Referring to the British Royal Family, the intimate abbreviation of ‘Wills’ when referring to the current Duke of Cambridge, and the widely-known pejorative nickname of ‘Waity-Katie’ for his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, during the time of their separation, may be named as examples.

Constantly bearing in mind the overall objective of improving and maintaining their sales figures, tabloids make use of a partial, judgemental and widely subjective language and style that often shows traces of colloquial speech and slang (cf. Höke 2007: 30). This strategy co-occurs with the aim of satisfying the target audience’s needs for sensations and gossip by an appropriate design, the distortion of news contents, a certain degree of superficiality and the above-mentioned ‘human-interest orientation’ (cf. Dulinski 2003: 80). In order to get to know the readers’ desires and to take them into account, newspaper agencies conduct market and reader interest analyses in order to control and include the readers’ requests (cf. Höke 2007: 21).

While it is often assumed that the typical tabloid readers stem from the lower, uneducated social classes, Seymour-Ure argues that the only difference between readers of popular papers and quality papers is that well-educated readers can choose between a larger quantity of publications than less-educated ones (2001: 148). Moreover, readers of tabloids are assumed to enjoy their reading more than readers of the quality papers for they feel personally involved due to the papers’ contents that are to be situated within their own reality (cf. Seymour-Ure 2001: 148). Therefore, overgeneralisations concerning a typical target group of tabloid newspaper readers should be rejected, as there is no typical reader of tabloids because the circle of recipients is of considerable variety and diversity (cf. Bird 1992: 209).

The particular interest in tabloid newspapers causes a considerable concern in royal matters, as members of the British Royal Family are frequently the objects of this genre’s news stories. Next to the previously mentioned technique of dramatizing, tabloid journalists fall back upon stereotypes. This, however, indicates that no truthful image of reality is to find in tabloids because they represent an exaggerated and only approximate image of reality (cf. Höke 2007: 50). Nevertheless, current tendencies indicate that a so-called ‘tabloidisation’ of the entire British press takes place. This implies that even quality papers adjust their choice of topics to the one of the tabloid press (cf. Höke 2007: 63). This tendency may be another reason for the increased interest in private details of royal life, as the selectivity between the different genres of print media and newspapers tends to become blurred.

Although not closely investigated in the underlying work except for a consideration in the course of the events around the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, television as a mass media manifestation is supposed to be mentioned in this chapter as well. Television has been a popular medium since the early 1950s (cf. Corner 1991: 1) where it became a crucial part of the people’s lives used for recreation purposes and for entertainment reasons (cf. Corner 1991: 2) and has widely taken over the function of the radio, which can be seen as the first mass medium. Particularly the 1950s formed the point of time where television gained more spectators than radio did because “television was […] in the process of becoming the principal instrument both of public information and of national cultural identity” (Corner 1991: 4). Oftentimes, the transmission of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in the year 1953 is seen as the breakthrough of television because “the viewing figures are hugely impressive in their indication of a society united in national public ceremony via the means of live ‘secondary participation’” (cf. Corner 1991: 4). It can be argued that this phenomenon has continued up to the present day when contemporary accounts of the broadcasting of royal events are considered, as they trigger large viewing figures and lead to the impression that watching these events unites the entire British nation, which is, of course, not only the case within the United Kingdom, but also in other countries. The uniting character of television is further enhanced by the fact that the community of television spectators is provided with the same access to certain occasions that would usually be restricted to a limited number of live spectators, e.g. royal events such as royal weddings, or speeches given by members of the Royal Family (cf. Scannell 2000: 48).

Television enjoys a great popularity, as it became a fixed part of every household during its beginnings in the 1950s disregarding the social class of its owners (cf. Corner 1991: 6). This development entailed a change of social customs and behaviours as well as of free-time activities (ib.), which had not been happening to such an extent in the case of the radio. Therefore, also the people’s tastes with regard to the presented contents changed. British television, however, represents a particularity, as its chosen system consists in the one of a public service broadcasting (cf. Buscombe 2000: 2), which has a variety of assets such as a political independence and a certain intellectual influence, but its detriments should not be neglected, as the system’s conservative attitudes appear to be adamant (ib.). Referring to John Reith, the first managing director of the British Broadcasting Company, Scannell states that “[t]he preservation of a high moral tone – the avoidance of the vulgar and the hurtful – was of paramount importance” (2000: 47) when defining the characteristics of a British television. For this reason, British television may often be referred to as elevated in its organisation and programme. However, the television executives’ objective to reach the broad masses is said to have led to a decrease in quality in the course of the years because the fulfilment of this aim had implied the necessity to appeal “to a low level of public taste” (Scannell 2000: 52), which is due to a change of social values and a different preference of entertainment. It can therefore be assumed that the ceaseless interest in royal news and matters is grounded in the altered taste with regard to television contents and its popularity amongst the target audience that concerns all social classes.

3. A Brief History of the British Royal Family Since 1917

The underlying work is an investigation of the current British Royal Family and its representation in the field of mass media. In order to guarantee adequate statements as well as the greatest possible correctness of the observations made in this respect, it is regarded as being necessary to consider the history of the royal house of Windsor. This objective will be realised by retracing the development of the British Royal Family since 1917, i.e. the year in which the family’s name was changed from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to Windsor, to this day. Facing the highly mediatised age of the contemporary days, certain phenomena are taken for granted without being reflected on. As the royal household could not ignore this development either and had to submit to the modern tendencies of self-marketing, current manifestations of royalty and the way the institution sees itself are considered to be natural. This however, should not be the case, as modern influences were not always welcome in the history of the British monarchy since 1917, which is why great significance must be attached to the current media policy of the British royal household. It follows from this that the historical aspect is taken account of in order to prove that the media and the institution of monarchy do not represent a natural alliance and may possess a positive and a negative connotation. Therefore, this chapter does not represent a mere historical overview but rather an outline with a media-related emphasis that also reflects the relation between the British Royal Family and its subjects.

In the course of the First World War, Britain had to suffer a defeat in various ways. In 1917, the war had reached a point that led the country into a nonreturnable and hopeless situation, as the British armies were not prepared for their enemies’ use of innovative weaponry and thus were weakened. Various bombardments and the radically opposing German forces led to the decision of the British to remove any symbols connected with the German enemy from the British reality involving the detention of German citizens, or the looting of German shops. Nevertheless, there remained one symbol reminding the British nation of the German enemy. There is talk of the Royal Family. Although the King had taken action against the German opponent, certain symbols like the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens, or the German coat of arms of Queen Victoria and her consort still belonged to the British scenery. These obvious facts and symbols brought about an unavoidable anti-German attitude in the British civilisation, which flowed into disrespect towards the Royal Family and ended up in the Prime Minister’s approval of and his beseeching the regent to suppress all connections related to the German enemy (cf. Marr 2011: 30). “With King George’s decree, the British royal family publicly shed all connections with its German heritage. It did so in the nick of time; waiting even a few months more might have been leaving it too late” (Paterson 2013: 22). The objective was realised by abandoning the German family name and by replacing it with the English one of Windsor. While the King considered the decision to be an act of capitulation, the nation was in favour of it and welcomed the change. The venture was followed by the search for an appropriate name and resulted, after various dismissed suggestions, in the choice of ‘Windsor’ proposed by the King’s private secretary, Lord Stamfordham. This was the first time a British Royal Family had a surname, as the former one had not been used by the family’s members. Now that even the royals had a surname the British monarchy seemed to come closer to its ordinary population being in favour of the choice of name, which represented a promising future to the country (cf. Paterson 2013: 24).

With the reign of King George V and Queen Mary, the British monarchy also underwent a change of image although the King did not have a broad appeal at the beginning of his reign. He was regarded as futile in his role as Duke of York exclusively pursuing his personal interests. However, his public image changed when he became King and proved to know extraordinarily well how to cope with socialist politicians and a weakened aristocracy (cf. Marr 2011: 39). As the First World War had been a unique experience involving all social classes, the Royal Family moved directly into the ordinary population’s scope. This development was reinforced by its charitable commitment, most notably promoted by Queen Mary paying over 300 visits to British hospitals, King George visiting industrial areas of England, Scotland and Wales and the couple’s gaining an insight into the poor housing conditions of their country (cf. Marr 2011: 38). Hence, they satisfied the growing need for royal public appearances, which owed to the fact that “royalty was sharing the day-to-day hardships and anxieties of its subjects. Members of the royal family were seen to be concerned about the plight of ordinary citizens” (Paterson 2013: 25).

The fundamental change of the relationship between the British Royal Family and the public was accompanied and supported by the advent of the mass media, i.e. the cinema and the popular press:

Now there would also be wireless. The magazines and pictorial newspapers enjoying a heyday were always looking for ways to engage public attention, and would focus on the activities of the royal family in a way they had not previously done. (Paterson 2013:


The new way of dealing with and depicting the Royal Family was given a reply to by its members’ public acting, which was characterized by a charismatic Prince of Wales and a home loving, warm family. Today, however, the emergence of mass media is also considered to have had a negative impact on the British Royal Family, as they have also implied an intrusion in and often-incorrect statements about its members and their lives (cf. Paterson 2013: 235).

Significant and future-oriented decisions such as King George’s resolution to grant members of the Royal Family to enter into wedlock with British citizens (cf. Marr 2011: 31) led to an altered perception of monarchy. Paterson notes in this respect that “[t]his, more than anything else, was to change the character of the British monarchy and make it into the middle-class-writ-large that it has been ever since” (2013: 27). Still today, the monarchy’s competence to respond to and, at the same time, form the public’s expectations is a key feature that causes its popularity. Thus, it constantly satisfies a mixture of curiosity and interest, but, in return, requires a necessary degree of reverence and respect (cf. Levine 2005: 10).

As shown above, the British monarchy became an institution, hence gaining the status of a ‘firm’ (cf. Marr 2011: 40) that had to respond to and satisfy its subjects’ wishes and desires. This view on monarchy was also dominant in problematic economic, social or international periods where “treading a fine line between ancient and modern, grandeur and thrift, influence and neutrality” (Paterson 2013: 27) has become a valued quality.

Often, the innovative vibrations arose from outside the Royal Family and were caused by the women who married the British heirs to the throne. Starting off with Queen Mary, who adored her social position and became the most majestic Queen, the list of respected royal wives continues with Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the spouse of George VI whose creative power concentrated on the support of her introverted husband being King and her daughter’s preparation for becoming Queen. Her outstanding quality of getting in contact with the ordinary people and communicating her sincere feelings produced the current image of monarchy. Also Prince Philip, the current Duke of Edinburgh, followed in his mother-in-law’s footsteps and proved that his intelligence, his directness as well as his interest in the technological field and sports led the institution of monarchy on a future-oriented path. Diana Spencer, the deceased ex-wife of the current Prince of Wales, had initially seemed to represent the same values, but the situation developed into a monarchical crisis when the unsolvable marital difficulties between her and her husband ended up in a divorce entailing an unpleasant war between the spouses that was held to the detriment of their sons, the reputation of the British monarchy and the Queen. Also Catherine Middleton lends the monarchical institution of Britain a modern character, as she was a member of the wealthy middle-class and was not familiar with the conventions at court before entering the Royal Family circle. Nevertheless, she “has already demonstrated a personal charisma that is winning her more and more admiration and has shown that an ancient institution can still successfully absorb outsiders” (Paterson 2013: 28). Working closely together with her husband, she does not forget her background, which contributes to her popularity with the British society. As their royal wedding proved to be a helpful support to the monarchy’s survival (cf. Paterson 2013: 27), the nation appears to be in favour of their lifestyle and leadership, which anticipates the future of the British monarchy.

Nevertheless, the negatively connoted periods – one may refer to them as crises – should not be neglected in this brief overview. The crisis around Diana, Princess of Wales will be outlined in chapter 5.1, but another crisis, which lies beyond the scope of this work, as it does not concern the considered time span, should be in the focus of this section. When Edward VIII became King in 1936 his reputation in the British press made him one of the most respected men in the kingdom, and he quickly became the glimmer of hope of the British Empire (cf. Marr 2011: 45). However, this positive image decreased as soon as his lifestyle changed into an extravagant, at times disrespectful splendour. Marr describes this development as “the prime example of what can happen when a leading member of the royal family starts to behave like a celebrity” (2011: 46). Edward’s criticized lifestyle led him in the arms of Wallis Simpson, an American socialite, who was the reason for the King’s abdication, as he decided to lead a life by the side of this controversial woman (Marr 2011: 49). With this decision he made the way for his brother and, thus, also for his niece, Elizabeth. The case of Edward VIII shows that the selectivity between a royal status and the one of celebrity is often blurred and that this difficulty is not exclusively a modern phenomenon. George VI, however, did not feel prepared for his entrusted position, as he had never aimed at becoming King and showed considerable personal obstacles (cf. Chapman 2002: 84). George was “[u]nable to speak well in public, untrained in statecraft, physically in poor shape, though a good rider and tennis player” (Marr 2011: 53). However, the Second World War lent him the role of the omnipresent and adored regent because he did not leave the capital during the Blitz, supported the Indian independence and fought against the South African apartheid (cf. Marr 2011: 59).

Another such troubled era of the British monarchy is represented by the year of 1992, which is an accumulation of unpleasant events made up by a fire at Windsor Castle, the separation of the Duke and Duchess of York, the Princess Royal’s announcement of divorce and the marriage crisis of the Prince and Princess of Wales, which took its course and was reinforced by Diana’s understanding of using the media to convey a positive depiction of herself and, in turn, a negative one of her husband. This aim was inter alia realized with Andrew Morton’s book Diana, Her True Story and meant a veritable image crisis to the royal house of Windsor, as “[t]he book changed everything. Because Diana had collaborated with the writer, not simply with photographers, she had smashed all the old codes of privacy” (Marr 2011: 317), which is why delicate and extraordinarily private details transpired that were not meant for the public. All this was made worse through a merciless press and a government that was incapable of aiding the weakened Royal Family (cf. Marr 2011: 318).

Taking into account the previous explanations, it is considered to be appropriate to refer to Walter Bagehot’s perspective on monarchy. The editor-in-chief of The Economist elaborated on his attitude towards the constitution of the United Kingdom and the coexistence of both monarchy and parliament. He asserted that the monarchical institution should not be involved in political matters, as this would render it an ordinary competitor within a political battle losing the statesmen’s necessary reverence. Therefore, he concluded that the monarchy’s “mystery is its life. We must not let in daylight upon magic” (Smith 2001: 50). In his opinion it is vital to give an insight into royal life, but he also explained that it was necessary not to do so in a too extensive way, as a lack of peculiarity might easily be the result (cf. Smith 2001: 50). This attitude is shared by a large majority of subjects who appreciate the fact that the Queen presents herself in a rather distant way towards her citizens, whereas they prefer the rest of the Royal Family to be more closely in touch with the people (cf. Paterson 2013: 234). Although certain periods outlined above unequivocally had a negative taste, they challenged the British monarchy and proved that it is a solid fortress that can bear a lot. These periods involved changes rendering the overall conservative institution more accessible, which has become a vital aspect of modern monarchies. It is, above all, a characteristic of the British example because “[r]einventing tradition is a key tactic of the British monarchy” (Marr 2011: 384) and because the Queen understands that the institution needs to adjust to a changing world demanding a Royal Family that belongs to the society and the modern world instead of being aloof.

Because of the fact that the previous demonstration of a mediated Royal Family since 1917 combined with a historical reference possessed a theoretical character, the following chapters adopt a more practical character by concentrating on concrete manifestations of the British monarchy’s mediatisation on the basis of selected public royal events and focuses on the period from 1997 until the present days.

4. The Windsors in Mass Media

Obtaining information about and being aware of what is going on within the inner and most walled off private circle of a Royal Family is considered to be normal and natural nowadays. This has, however, not always been the case as the reign of Queen Victoria suggests. Her being Queen of England was marked by a strictly kept distance between members of the British Royal Family and its subjects. Certainly, the interest in royal affairs happening behind the walls of the various palaces was the same as it is nowadays, but the means to get hold of and to distribute such information were extremely restricted. It is this chapter’s aim to portray these means of collecting information about royal matters. Therefore, this section will have a look at the mass media influences on the British Royal Family before 1997, while the following sections will consider the ones following that year.


1 It was decided to capitalize Royal Family because the term is often equated with a brand name. In all other cases, the common orthographic rules are respected.

2 own translation


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
2.6 MB
Institution / Hochschule
Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen – Institut für Anglistik - Literaturwissenschaft
13 Punkte (1,3)
British Monarchy Mediating Media Royal Family British Royalty



Titel: Mediating the Royal Family