Death of Margaret Thatcher Leads to Mixed Reporting

Posted by Taylor Siedlik

The death of Margaret Thatcher on April 8, 2013 graced headlines around the world and garnered the attention of millions on Twitter. Soon, Thatcher’s death was trending and journalists began scrambling to report on the death of the only female and longest serving prime minister of Britain. The handling of this news by a variety of journalists ultimately showed different opinions on the matter.

NBC News staff writer Erin McClam began her article by stating a quote from current Prime Minister David Cameron. “Margaret Thatcher didn’t just lead our country — she saved our country.” Rather than focusing on how a variety of citizens viewed Thatcher’s policies during her time in power, McClam reported on current leaders’ praise for Thatcher and all she was able to accomplish. Granted, she did report on all aspects including reasons for Thatcher leaving the office, which allowed the readers to finalize and determine their own opinions on her.

On the flip side, news from the Telegraph, a UK news center, reported on the hundreds of “celebrators” rioting over the Iron Lady’s death resulting in the injury of police. Anti- Thatcher graffiti and banners reading “Rejoice, Thatcher is dead” found their ways onto Twitter as hundreds took to the street. Protestors relishing in the death of Thatcher was the only focus of this article and indeed painted the picture that all of Britain was joyous that the perceived witch was finally dead.

Journalists taking care to report on the death of prominent figures was one debate that figured into Thatcher’s death. Should they focus on the good that was done, even though it was highly unpopular at the time? Or should the disrespectful opinions be allowed, no matter if the figure is now deceased?


9 responses to “Death of Margaret Thatcher Leads to Mixed Reporting

  1. I believe as journalist it is always our job to be unbiased and report both sides of any story. Of course it is also a part of our job description to “do no harm”but we should report on both the positive and negative regardless of if the person is deceased. Although I can also see how this may challenge some journalist ethics because we live in a society where we only speak on the positive aspects of the deceased. At the end of the day it is our job to report the entire story, not allowing ourselves to be persuaded by either sides opinion.

    • I agree that it is a slippery slope. It’s our duty to report all sides of an issue, but if the figure is dead, where does it end? It has become the norm to only speak well of the dead, and maybe this needs to change.

  2. In my opinion reports of decreased public figures should contain an accurate portrait of the individual even if that means some aspects that made that person unpopular.

    If the story is a feature like a highlight of the life of Margaret Thatcher then excluding critiques of her time in office seems appropriate because it is established outright (in the headline) that the article is intended to glorify the Thatcher’s good deeds. In basic news stories, journalists should focus on the news- the public figure died. The reporting should explain the 5 w’s and a small portion of the article could demonstrate a brief, objective portrait of the individual.

    I think as long as reports are done respectfully, critique or glorification have a certain audience.

    Also, it is important to remember when reporting on deceased people in the United States defamation laws include to dead people in some states.

    • I hadn’t even considered defamation laws. Obviously journalists shouldn’t even consider reporting anything that may be untrue, especially when it comes to those that are deceased. I agree that it does depend on the news outlet and what the audience is looking for in a story.

  3. I agree, journalists should consider what is relevant/newsworthy and ensure accuracy. Obviously the riots were newsworthy, but should they have overpowered the news of Thatcher’s death? Well, that’s up to the news outlets. They are the ones that decide whether they’re being ethical and if they want to minimize harm. This issue seems to happen almost every time a public figure dies. It’s unfortunate when the negative steals the show, but if the story is important or affects the public, than it should be shared–as long as it is true.

  4. We continually stress the importance of being unbiased as journalists, and I think this is a good example of how hard it can be to do so. I agree with everyone that it is our job to report everything about someone even after they have died. The riots that happened should have been reported on because they were newsworthy, but it’s unfortunate that they took over the news of her death. I know that many people in Britain have strong opinions about Margret Thatcher, but the media made it seem like the only thing that happened after her death were the riots. There should have been a balance between reporting on the riots, but also reporting on Thatcher’s life. It wouldn’t have to be all nice and sugarcoated, but there should have been more emphasis on things she accomplished in her lifetime.

  5. I definitely agree that someone being dead is not a reason to say only nice things about them. While sensitivity may be more necessary, journalists should always remember that being truthful is more important than being polite.

  6. She did so many good and bad things that it is hard to just pick one side to report on. Journalist, as always, should be unbiased but I think since her death was recent that reporters may want to put in a sentence or two more on the side about her good side. I think it is very disrespectful what people did in Britain but at the same time, we didn’t live through what they did so I don’t know what I would have done if I was in their shoes. It’s tricky and reporters have to be careful and make sure their facts are 100% accurate!
    I also think where this article will be posted is a major factor as well, who’s the main audience?

  7. I was definitely thinking about media coverage of Margaret Thatcher’s death too, so I’m glad you wrote about this subject. I think generally when a public figure dies, the media tends to romanticize the figure a bit, at least at first, by skipping over the more controversial aspects of their life. However, in this case, I didn’t see that at all. In fact, there were a lot of negative obituaries written about Thatcher that highlighted some of her not so popular actions. I suppose it was fitting that a polarizing figure in life was equally as polarizing in death. I think this kind of open debate in the media is great, as long as it’s done respectfully. No matter if the person is alive or dead, journalists have a responsibility to treat public figures as people and as others have mentioned, give a balanced, fact-based portrayal of their lives.

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