Goodbye England's Rose

4th Sep 2017

Diana Portrait

“I always believed the press would kill her in the end, but not even I could believe they would take such a direct hand in her death.  It would appear that every proprietor and every editor of every publication that has paid for intrusive and exploitative photographs of her, encouraging greedy and ruthless individuals to risk everything in pursuit of Diana’s image, has blood on his hands today.” Earl Spencer

It is hard to believe that it is 20 years since Princess Diana died.  20 years since the world mourned the passing of an icon.  20 years since her brother, Earl Spencer, poured scorn on the involvement of the press in her tragic death (see quote above).  20 years since I last bought a newspaper.

The press were given a hard time from many quarters in the aftermath of her death .  They were criticised for hounding her, for chasing her vehicle, for taking intrusive photos many times and some were even accused of prioritising taking photos rather than helping in the immediate aftermath of her accident.  It was a difficult time to love the media.  

Of course, news outlets have a role in society and yet many of us would believe their ethos seems to be to focus on the negative. I actually really fell out of love with the press sometime before Diana died.  It was the point when, in the period before her death, photos of her leaving a gym were published.  The photos didn't focus on her smile, her having fun or the positivity of her keeping fit - it focussed on the back of her legs, which somebody had snapped showing cellulite.

If there is overstepping a line of decency I saw this as a leap and, as even her children have recognised since, this particular reporting caused great distress to Diana.  At the time the  By the time she died I had already stopped buying newspapers and the media backlash after her passing simply cemented this choice.  It is now a few months over 20 years since I last bought a paper and I will never buy one again.

We live in a troubled world and yet maybe some of this trouble is stuff we create ourselves.  The press focus on negative just doesn't mesh with my own preferred focus on positivity.  What if more of us didn't look for the bad in people and instead highlighted the good?  If the newspapers hadn't looked for the cellulite and instead celebrated her having fun in her leisure time.  Who knows, but surely every smile we offer brings a smile to others? 

Of course, at that time we lived in a different world.  A world, hard as it is to believe now, before social media.  A time without the widespread access to computers or the internet which we all enjoy (and are ruled by?!) now.  Maybe now the power of newspapers is less significant simply because people use them less, and yet the power of the overall media is surely more significant now than it has ever been.

My decision not to buy newspapers was, it seemed to me, a way to somehow take back a little control and make a personal stand for media integrity, and yet I also understand now that I was quite naive about Diana’s relationship with the press back then.  It is certainly true that she was hounded and her privacy was invaded, and yet she also used the press and manipulated aspects of her relationship with them to meet her own ends too.

In this new connected world we inhabit, celebrities do the same and even businesses, like mine, do too.  If we offer something to a magazine or website then we want something in return.  A credit for a photo, a bio to accompany that article or a link to our website to go along with that advice piece.  We put stuff out there and always seek something in return.

The difference, though, it seems to me, is that we are largely in an equal relationship.  If a media outlet wants something then we will discuss the arrangement and agree terms beforehand.  We all know where we stand.  But when Diana was chased into a tunnel by paparazzi it wasn’t a mutually agreed event.  She wasn't given a choice.

Most of us aren't going to be chased by photographers anytime soon, and yet we still may fall foul of media exposure we don’t want.  This is more likely to come from comments on social media or from people using photos that haven't been agreed.  This is true in the climbing and outdoor world just as much as it is true elsewhere.  There are some websites I no longer visit because their forums are like a viper pit of antagonism just as there are similar groups I no longer use on Facebook.  I have friends that simply never use any form of social media and I suspect that, if I didn't find them useful for business, I might not either.

Yet, as negative as some outlets can be, they can also be fantastic sources of inspiration.  They offer ways to stay connected to family and friends and a place to see heart warming stories and videos of amazing people, places and acts of kindness.  They are, like the press that hounded Diana, somehow the best and yet also the worst of humanity.  They are also something of a drug to which many of us are drawn.

Perhaps what I worry about most is what the future holds for the many of us that use these sources?  It was only that time, 20 years ago, when we had to turn to TV or newspapers for our news - nowadays the President of the most powerful country in earth is sharing world changing news via Twitter.  We don't need more than our smartphone to keep abreast of everything we need to know and we can easily keep in touch with friends this way too.  We are, there is a risk, becoming more insular.

One of the things I love most about travelling to developing countries or many small rural villages in Europe is the ethos of community gatherings.  People will congregate around the village square or meet for a boules game in the park and families will come together in the community hall or local football pitch for a picnic or a chat.  There is no need to be glued to a phone when there is the chance to be face to face.

I watched a programme about Diana's death last week and it left me wondering where we have come in the intervening years.  If Diana were alive today she would observe many changes and it would be interesting to see how the media would be treating her now.  The nation poured out its grief when she had gone and yet there was a huge amount of negativity when she was alive.  It must of been heart wrenching for her to see the privacy invading photos of her cellulite when all she really wanted was to be valued for the good she sought to bring to the world.  

Of course, Diana is merely one person and there are thousands that have been victim of intrusive and unwarranted media attention.  Then there will be millions more that have fallen foul of negativity on social media.  I wished Diana could have been around to see how the world responded to her death.  She deserved to see that she was admired and appreciated by billions.  Maybe, from wherever she is, she did see.  It is surely imperative that, as a society, we stop focusing on the negative and start celebrating the positive?

Posted by Paul

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