The media have been full with coverage of the identification of the human remains found in Leicester as those of Richard III. Obviously we in the Richard III Society welcome this.
There have been some very accurate and positive reports, looking at Richard III from a variety of angles. The Shakespeare play, The Tragedy of King Richard the Third, is brought up often enough and certainly has a place in a discussion of the historical person in contrast to the fictional character in the play. Elissa Blake wrote a very good article, ‘Twisted villain will live on despite grave findings’ on this aspect for the Sydney Morning Herald, where she interviewed among others renowned Shakespeare actor John Bell.
Unfortunately at the other extreme there have also been some very negligently researched contributions. For example I caught just the tail end of a short programme on the findings in Leicester on SBS World News last night. The reporter seemed to have made no effort to actually engage with her subject matter and made several slip-ups. In one of them she informed us that the DNA evidence showed the bones belonged to a man in his late thirties. Well, that would rule out Richard immediately, as he was only 32 when he died!
The ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) has a very detailed summary on their website, ‘Richard III’s face revealed for first time in 500 years’. A pity though that this had not filtered through to ABC News Breakfast this morning. Again a feature, really a mixture of little clips from other stations’ programmes, was presented by a reporter, who seems to have made no effort to familiarise herself with her topic. However, the worst was probably the attitude of the hosts of the news programme. Michael Rowland introduced the feature, talking about the “hunchback king”. No, he was not a hunchback! If the finding of the bones made one thing clear, it was that he was not a hunchback – scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine. The dispute whether he should be reburied in Leicester or York was also mentioned. Here Michael’s co-presenter, Karina Carvalho, made a flippant remark that maybe they should share the bones, with each getting some. This was just plain tasteless, we are talking about the remains of a human being, not a bag of sweets!
As a rule I have held coverage by the ABC and SBS in high regard as being fact-based and unbiased, so I found these two examples parrticularly disturbing. Seeing such lazy reporting full of half truths and incomplete information, made us wonder how often this might actually be the case. When it is about a subject we are familiar with, we can detect them easily (and get annoyed by them), but how often are we presented with equally negligent research on other subjects that we do not know much about? Very often we form an initial opinion about any subject based on media coverage. Nobody has the time to check out everything we read or watch, nor should we be expected to. I just wonder how often we are misled into forming incorrect opinions – a rather frightening scenario!