Kate is a TV reporter who confirms that she is standing outside Windsor Castle. And it’s true. Yes, we can see that, but what we can’t see is why she’s doing it. Is the castle about to make a Major Statement? Unlikely. Will a member of the royal family pop out to offer privileged insights into the current state of play regarding Harry and Meghan, Queen Camilla, or that revered scion of the royal establishment, Andrew Albert Christian Edward? Just as unlikely.
We frequently find reporters outside buildings including, Buckingham Palace, 10 Downing Street, New Scotland Yard, the Ministry of Defence and Stormont Castle, where the Legislative Assembly is seldom to be found in session these days. What lies behind this behaviour?
Well, it wouldn’t happen in radio, but I assume this habit is to show television viewers that the reporters of Sky, the BBC and so on, are always on the spot – the spot being where the action is or, more frequently, where it is not. So forget about the wasted time and effort and admire the visual credentials of the broadcast media.
However, as misreported by those same media, Downing Street, unlike Windsor Castle, actually does make statements. This is a way of avoiding the attribution of the statements in question to actual people and saving them having to defend them. It’s gone on for so many years now that most of us take it for granted, According to Downing Street . . . But it’s an evasion. I have examined several pictures of 10 Downing Street and there is no sign of a mouth on any of them.
There is one major exception where standing outside makes sense. Reporters often gather outside courts of law where a judgement is expected. This is especially true in contentious cases where litigants and lawyers will spill outside onto the pavement after the conclusion of a trial to read prepared statements and sometimes answer questions. Despite the verdict of the court, Captain Sparrow stoutly asseverates his innocence of the charges and intends to lodge an appeal at the earliest opportunity. We’ve never Heard the like.
The saying a picture is worth a thousand words is as popular as it is untrue. Leaving aside the fact that that it has never been easier to doctor visual images than it is now, engaging in a discussion involving concepts can be accomplished elegantly with words – not so easily with oil on canvas. Take death. An artist or photographer can show us one or more dead bodies, the result of death. But what of death itself, death as a concept? To take but one example, how do we define death when it comes to deciding when to switch off the ventilator? To deal with such questions only words will do.
I could easily have sprinkled throughout this post images of Windsor Castle, 10 Down Street and New Scotland Yard, not to mention mugshots of Prince Edward (is that really his hand?) and Johnny Depp. but since they would have added nothing at all to the meaning, chose not to do so.
Despite the fact that they are often subverted by politicians and cheating partners, words remain the best medium of communication we have. But I would say that, wouldn’t I.