Diana is dead - the media need to get over her

Newsweek's latest cover featuring a resurrected Diana is grubby, undignified and demeaning attempt t

It's hard to know where to begin with Newsweek's spectacularly tasteless "Diana at 50" cover, which has the People's Princess artificially aged and somewhat messily photoshopped next to a picture of Kate Middleton. Is it genius? Is it satire? Is it just a right old horlicks?

"If she were here now," is the wistful coverline plugging a feature by Tina Brown. If she were now, what would she think? Presumably, she wouldn't be thinking: "What the fuck have they done, mucking around with an old picture of me like that?" because they wouldn't have to. If she were here now, I like to think Diana would be hiding away in a bunker somewhere from the cavalcade of manky old tat being written about "DIANA AT 50", thinking: "Oh please, make it stop, make it stop. Why can't they pick on someone else for once?"

Newsweek cover

Actually, that's not fair. My hope is that if Diana were still alive, she wouldn't be as hounded nowadays as she was when she was alive. Even for those of us who don't like royalty, privilege and all it stands for, I think there was something human and kindly about her, the way in which she decontaminated subjects like AIDS or used her enormous fame to bring public notice to issues such as landmines; there was something decent and dignified about the Pestered Princess. Something much more dignified and decent than the kind of people still feasting on her legacy all these years later.

Well, you be the judge. The article is here, and there's even a page on what Diana's Facebook would be like (friends with Jo Rowling and Rafa Nadal! Messages on her wall from Sarah Ferguson and Deepak Chopra!) if she hadn't been killed in 1997.

Oh, what would she have made of Twitter and Facebook? What would she have made of blogging, one wonders? Well, we shall never know. She's dead. Why speculate? She's dead. No amount of dancing on her grave will bring her back to life or let us know the things we never found out, those tiny corners of a very public life that somehow remained private. Now it's 50... next it will be 60... and so on, and so on, until the very last essence is wrung dry.

Just as with Vanity Fair's rather unpleasant 'Imagine if John Lennon were still alive' supposed tribute article of last year, this kind of thing is a bit grubby, a bit undignified, a bit demeaning for the author as much as for the poor victim. The photo appears to be of Kate Middleton at the wedding of Sam Waley-Cohen, with the Diana-alike crudely splodged next to her. Subtle, it ain't. But then I suppose that's the whole point: create a bit of a stir, get more attention for what you're doing. It's all part of the show.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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