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David Quinn: RTE's Will and Kate coverage is out of tune with viewers

I'VE been in Australia and New Zealand visiting family. In both countries one topic has been absolutely unavoidable, namely next week's royal wedding.

On the Air New Zealand flight from Brisbane to Wellington, for example, we were presented by the flight attendants with our coffee in cups that were the last word in cheesiness. Emblazoned on the sides of the cups were the words 'Will n Kate foreva' (sic), and 'I love u princess'.

In Wellington we came across notices in shop windows advertising special royal wedding parties.

New Zealand news programmes went out of their way each night to find some new angle on the wedding. Cousins of the Middletons seemed to be coming out of the woodwork, or else were being dragged out by reporters eager and anxious to find something to give their newsdesks back home.

It was (and is) the same in Australia. All of the news shows on the commercial channels have a Will and Kate item each evening. One hapless journalist reported from Anglesey where the royal couple-to-be have a home and the most interesting titbit of information he could come up with is that the Welsh island has more sheep than people.

This got me thinking about the coverage of the upcoming wedding on RTE news. It was suddenly obvious that RTE news has been doing its level best to pretend the royal wedding doesn't exist. The station itself is broadcasting the wedding but RTE news has refused to come down from its lofty height and do anything as vulgar as their Kiwi or Aussie counterparts. Why is that?

One obvious reason is that New Zealand and Australia are part of the Commonwealth and we are not. Therefore the British royal family is their royal family also.

Another reason is that the commercial news shows in the antipodes are awesomely, mind-meltingly trivial. Australia is even worse than New Zealand.

The Australian news and current events shows are two parts human interest stories, one part hard(ish) news.

While I was in Australia, one channel's equivalent of 'Prime Time' ran as its main item a story about how some butchers were gluing meat pieces together.

As commercial stations they are also completely driven by the bottom line. Australians are interested in the royal wedding and therefore the news programmes keeping reporting the wedding.

On the other hand, even the much more august ABC, Australia's BBC, has been running Will and Kate stories.

ABC news is at least as hard-news driven as RTE news but it has still found space for the occasional royal wedding story.

RTE news does find space for the odd soft news story. For example, it has been happy to run items about the baby gorilla at Dublin Zoo. So if it's not above running such stories why the resistance to Will and Kate? Does it really all come down to the fact that we're a republic?

But no, that can't be it, not entirely anyway because America is also a republic and its new shows have been going into overdrive in their coverage of the wedding and the reason is that the American public are hugely interested in it.

The Irish public undoubtedly are too. As Mary Kenny shows in her excellent book, 'Crown and Shamrock', it always has been interested in British royalty -- and not because of any urge to tug the forelock but because deep down a lot of us like pomp and circumstance and archetypal human events like royal weddings.

So the question we're then forced to ask ourselves is whether RTE is actually downplaying the wedding, not necessarily deliberately, but out of some weird sub-conscious republican snobbery that doesn't afflict Americans in the same way because they've been out from under Britain's shadow a lot longer than us.

The queen is, of course, coming to Ireland next month and that is a huge and long overdue milestone in the normalisation of relations between our two countries.

But maybe relations aren't yet as normal as we'd like to think. If they were, RTE's coverage of the royal wedding would be far more reflective of the true level of public interest in it.

If relations between Britain and Ireland were more normal, if we really were out from under the shadow of our history, RTE would cover it in the the same, fairly matter-of-fact way as Australia's ABC.

But precisely because we're not yet fully out from under that shadow, we downplay the wedding to show we're good republicans and no longer Britain's lackey.

The last big royal wedding took place 30 years ago in 1981. The next one will probably take place around 2041. If the RTE of that year covers it in a relaxed manner, giving it space that is truer to the actual level of public interest in it, then we will know that relations between Britain and Ireland really have normalised at long last. We're not there yet, it seems.

Irish Independent