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Its not like last Sunday was a slow news day: The city of Homs in Syria was under heavy artillery attack, Greek MPs were voting on austerity measures, Luis Saurez was not shaking Patrice Evra’s hand, and not yet apologising for not shaking Patrice Evra’s hand. The future of the NHS was being debated and the Turkish air force was bombing the sovereign nation of Iraq. Kurdish bit of Iraq, to be precise. Oh, and an American celebrity was found dead.

This last, of course, was the most important story; the only story in many ways. Everything else was pushed to one side so that someone’s death could be reported.

The thing about death is that it is not affected by media coverage. No amount of reportage will bring the dead back to life, or comfort those closest to the deceased. On the contrary it only confirms the unchangeable, and must surely often twist a knife that is already causing unimaginable pain.

Whereas good journalism and public outcry and genuine debate might yet have an effect on Syrian oppression and NHS reform, it will have no effect on Death. Death is not deterred by sanctions and does not need to seek re-election. Death is in no way transformed by the Journalist’s spotlight, and yet Death seems somehow to hog so much of it. Not just any death of course; only celebrity death.

At the very bottom of the BBC news homepage last Sunday, there was the story of an 18 year old man, arrested over the death by strangulation of a 17 year old girl in East London. But this did not matter as much, because neither of them were famous.

The other 150,000 or so people who died last Sunday around the world didn’t get a mention on the BBC news homepage at all. They do not matter to us. Very few of the 7 billion people who did not die last Sunday got a mention either. Where are the tributes to them; the outpourings of love? Maybe if we celebrated our own lives like we celebrate the lives of the recently deceased, the world would be a better place. Maybe we should pay our respects to the living. Maybe everyone should have the right to access their own obituary online.

Today was the celebrity’s funeral. BBC radio yesterday announced that close friends and family had asked for a private ceremony and then BBC radio proceeded to interview many of the people who didn’t know her personally but had nevertheless turned up out of “respect”. Live video coverage of friends and family arriving at this private ceremony is the third highest story on the BBC News homepage as i write these words.

The fifth highest story on the BBC news homepage is also about a funeral. In Syria. This in itself is not news; there are lots of funerals in Syria. Torture, too. This funeral only became news because the mourners followed the example of the young men they mourned and became protesters, and then further followed the example of the young men they mourned in being shot at by “security forces”. Now its news. But its only the fifth most important news story because this kind of thing happens in Syria all the time right now and its not every day that the family and friends of a bona fide global star attempt to bury her with dignity and in privacy. I suppose they should be glad the assembled media were only shooting footage, and not semi-automatics: Small mercies.

I’d tell you the names of the young men they were burying in Syria, only the article didn’t bother to mention them.

In fairness to the Beeb, it put the Syria story first on another of its news pages (World news), with celebrity death second. Google’s news feed had the American celebrity top even on its UK edition. On the US edition, the celebrity is top and the Syria story is currently Sixth, two places below a feature on Jeremy Lin, a basketball player. In both editions of the Google feed, the news that Iran has sent warships into the Mediterranean has been relegated to the world news section at the bottom of the page, and it doesn’t even get a mention on the Beeb’s world news homepage. Goodness knows what else has been going on in the world today that we don’t know about cos we’re too busy invading the privacy of people trying to mourn their daughter/sister/mother/friend.

There was no mention today of the lass from East London, or her family, or the man who was arrested. They do not matter to us any more.

And for all her fame, tomorrow, the American celebrity will not be news any more. For most of us at least. Within a week or so the massive spike in sales of her music will fade back down to normal background levels, and the obituaries and tributes and retrospectives and features will be so many chip wrappers. Someone else will matter instead.

Of course, for her family, her death will still be the top news story. For a while, it will be the only story. And i can only assume that the intrusion and subsequent fickle disinterest of the media will add an unwelcome edge to disarming grief.

When my Dad died, it did not make the BBC news homepage, if there even was one then. He was not famous and he was not murdered, so it did not matter to us.

Except, of course, it did, and it does.

It will always matter. It does not define me, i hope. But it will always be a part of who i am, that i lost my father when i did; that for a long time the top story, the only story, was that he had died.

It used to hit me at the moment of waking. Before i remembered my name, or what day it was. It would hit me like the first chime of Big Ben’s clock on the old ITN Ten O’Clock News, where Trevor McDonald would anounce the headlines, one after each chime.


Dad’s dead.

And then the rest of who I was and whatever day it was would flood in, and we would get on with whatever it was that faced us that day, but every day would start like this and every day, all day, this would be the top story; in many ways the only story.

It isn’t like that any more; there is no awful, fresh announcement. But its still there on the news feed; it’s still an important story, an important part of my story. It always will be.

There is a family at the centre of this, and close friends, and deep, gut-wrenching grief. No-one else has a right to any real part of it right now, and nothing that anyone outside of that group can do can bring any comfort yet. Certainly nothing can change the facts.

Meanwhile, Syria, and Iran, and a girl in East London, and 150,000 people mourned today and 7 Billion lives worth living.


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