Death of Emblematic Queen Elizabeth II Leads Global Broadcasters to Rewrite Schedules, Deliver Wall-to-Wall Coverage

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The impact of the death of Queen Elizabeth II is being felt widely outside Britain. Many global broadcasters tore up their usual programming schedules within minutes of the news, in order to pay tribute to a beloved monarch’s legacy.

“Whenever something of this massive scale happens, whether it’s a death, a natural disaster, a declaration of war or an attack, news takes priority over all programming,” said Aline Pivot, head of news at TF1, France’s leading commercial TV channel.

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Pivot said her news department began to get ready its dedicated coverage from Thursday morning when the BBC first reported that the Queen had been placed under medical surveillance. “We immediately sent correspondents to Balmoral [in the Scottish Highlands, where the Queen died],” Pivot continued.

TF1’s programming was entirely dedicated to the Queen’s death on Thursday evening, with a special magazine show hosted by a pair of star journalists from around 7:30 p.m. local time to 10:30pm, and again Friday morning from 8:20 a.m. “We don’t know when we’ll revert to our usual programming,” Pivot said, adding that more special programming will be slotted in during the next two weeks.

“There’s always been a friendship uniting France and the Queen Elizabeth II. She spoke French fluently and knew all our presidents! There was a real attachment, not only due to the proximity of our countries, but because the history of the Royal Family touches us,” said Pivot, who also mentioned that France had been deeply marked by the death of Princess Diana in Paris.

France’s public broadcaster France Televisions also rolled out a rich programming to pay tribute to the Queen Elizabeth II, with a pair of premium documentaries “Un jour un Destin — The Queen,” and “Elizabeth II, Histoire d’un Couronnement,” along with live news magazines.

Antoine Boilley, co-director of marketing and communication at France Televisions, said the broadcaster held an emergency meeting at 4 p.m. with the head of programming, head of channels and news heads for each channel to put together a slate of shows with renown journalists and experts on the Royal Family, notably Stephane Bern.

“Queen Elizabeth II was an extraordinary symbol who was at the heart of the world for nearly 100 years. People of all ages have been fascinated by her across multiple generations, which is why we saw huge audiences when we covered the Jubilee celebration,” said Boilley, pointing out that the primetime live news show on the Queen was watched by more than 4 million viewers, while more than 1.3 million people tuned into the documentary “Elizabeth II, Histoire d’un Couronnement,” despite the fact that it aired at 10.30pm.

The Queen’s death also shook programming schedules in Italy, where public broadcaster RAI replaced its planned early evening prime-time content on flagship station RAI-1 with a special program.

Mediaset, meanwhile, pulled its prime-time movie and also aired a special. That was followed by locally produced documentary “The Queen — La Favola,” which translates and “The Queen–The Fairy Tale.”

PayTV group Sky Italia is airing a slew of Queen Elizabeth-related movies, documentaries and TV series including Roger Michell’s “Elizabeth: a Portrait in Parts,” British vintage TV series “The Royals” with Elizabeth Hurley, and the “The Queen” by Stephen Frears.

In Germany, SAT.1, a leading channel which is part of the Seven.One Group, reported live from London in a special two-hour broadcast, starting at 8:15 pm. Afterwards, the station showed a documentary about Queen Elizabeth II. “Today (Friday), the news program SAT.1-Frühstücksfernsehen is two hours longer than usual and will last until noon local time. In addition to short newsflashes, there will be another two-hour special program, “SAT.1 SPEZIAL [starting at 6:00 p.m],” said a spokesman.

“Many of our viewers are big fans of the British royal family and are very interested in the coverage, so in the next few days, ProSieben and SAT.1 will continue to inform viewers in detail in their magazines. SAT.1 will also broadcast the funeral service live from Westminster Abbey,” said Michael Ulich, VP of news, sports, factual and fiction at Seven.One.

Another major German outlet, RTL News, also jumped on the news. Gerhard Kohlenbach, editor-in-Chief at RTL News, said the group’s RTL and ntv channels canceled regular programming to broadcast several special programmes late in the night. “Currently we are providing background information in extended editions of our news formats and several short-term specials,” added Kohlenbach.

In India, the death of Queen Elizabeth II is just one of the many big stories in a vast country that has no dearth of urgent, breaking news.

Rajdeep Sardesai, consulting editor at the respected India Today broadcast news organization and one of India’s best-known media personalities told Variety: “It was breaking news last night at 11 o’clock. And I think we went well past midnight. We’ve got a full-time person in London, who’s tracking the story for us. It is a big news story. But, in India, there is so much else also happening that while it’s a big story, it’s one of the big stories. It’s not the only story that we’re tracking. When the funeral actually takes place, that will be the big live event – [Thursday] was much more just immediate reactions to what had happened.”

The first speech of King Charles III will also be covered. “We’ll cut live to that,” Sardesai said.

“Frankly, there is an entire Indian generation, which now has no real connect to the Raj or indeed to the Queen. But there is a tiny elite which went to English speaking schools, particularly convent, Jesuit schools, and for this tiny metropolitan elite, I think the Raj and Queen Elizabeth were enduring figures.”

India, now 75 years independent from the British Raj, is making some cosmetic efforts to erase its colonial past, especially under the current Hindu nationalist government. Post-independence, Kingsway, a central boulevard in the country’s capital New Delhi, was renamed Rajpath (path of kings). On Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi renamed it Kartavyapath, or path of duty.

India, which remains part of the British commonwealth like Australia, has declared Sunday as a day of mourning for Queen Elizabeth II.

“The fact is, we are a member of the Commonwealth, I don’t think India has ever debated in recent times, to withdraw from the Commonwealth. While we need to introspect and look at the way in which the British Raj, in a way pauperized India and how India lost out in those years, the truth is that I think 75 years on we are more self-confident nation, and therefore can easily deal with the Raj without getting caught up in decolonization debates,” said Sardesai.

In Australia, public radio and TV broadcaster Australian Broadcasting Corporation newsreaders dressed in black and programming has switched to reflect the Queen’s life and seven decades of reign. A gun salute will be held at the Parliament House at dusk Friday, with one round fired for every year of the Queen’s life. A national day of mourning was also declared to mark the Queen’s death. Parliament will be suspended for 15 days.

Elsewhere in Asia, Hong Kong chief executive, John Lee, released a statement on Friday saying the monarch “was greatly respected, admired and praised by the British people.”

In spite of tensions between China and the U.K., Chinese President Xi Jinping also sent a message of condolence to British King Charles III, stressing the importance of China-Britain relations, according to the Chinese press agency Xinhua.

Patrick Frater, Leo Barraclough and Nick Vivarelli contributed to this report.


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