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The Maastricht Diplomat

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Sensationalism: Truth or Stunt?

We all have heard the phrase “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. But what if unconsciously, we want it to happen? Let me be clear … isn’t it possible that – deep down – we desire a narrative in which history repeats itself because of our unconscious need for scandal and sensationalism for sheer “entertainment” and for people to talk and speculate?

This week, in a twist of fate, an enigmatic accident involving the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, has unfolded as an echo from the past.

The couple, in fact, seems to have been involved in a “near catastrophic” two-hours car chase through the streets of New York due to a group of aggressive paparazzi. Doesn’t that sound familiar? For those who might not know, a situation eerily similar to this one was the cause of Princess Diana’s death in Paris in 1997.

The couple attended Ms. Foundation’s Women of Vision Awards, as Meghan is involved in global advocacy to empower women and girls. After the couple left the red carpet is when the events unfolded.

Part of the royal security, Chris Sanchez, reported being followed by a dozen vehicles. This not only put pedestrians at risk but obliged the couple to switch cars during the chase from a black limousine to a yellow cab. Yet there are many contrasting views on what actually occurred. The taxi driver and the New York Police Department claim the situation was “challenging” but not threatening. However, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s spokesperson said the long pursuit resulted in multiple “near collisions”.

But what is the truth? Is there any chance this story might have been reported differently from how it actually developed? One cannot help but consider the role of the media in shaping the narrative, and influencing the course of events, and our feelings towards the beloved couple which has already been repeatedly in the media spotlight.

As witnessed in the aftermath of Princess Diana, certain media outlets employ many tactics to benefit from tragedy. This insatiable appetite for sensationalism not only disregards personal boundaries but also easily induces us – as the audience – to accept every narrative we are provided with. This attitude, however, is caused by the power of cultural memory and collective recall. Cultural memory plays a fundamental role in shaping our understanding of events. The historical parallel with Princess Diana’s accident triggers our collective recall of emotions, narratives, and public responses. This influences the way we react to the present incident, catching our attention due to the collective desire for truth and justice. Still, these recalling of sentiments can make it challenging for the audience to untangle truth from fiction as the letter often seems to be more “interesting” than the truth and more “fulfilling” for our appetite for sensationalism.

With this in mind, I would like to give you a few questions to reflect upon … Are people destined to relive the tragedies of the past for pure speculation, or is this a mere coincidence tinged with a sense of déjà vu? Does the media hold the power to perpetuate the mistakes of the past? And are we condemned to witness a recurrence of incessant speculation, invasive coverage, and a disregard for the well-being of those in the spotlight?

As the media and the news attempt to uncover the details and dynamics of this incident, we should therefore question its intentions and be aware of the relevance of responsible journalism. By learning from the past, the media has the opportunity to break the cycle of historical mistakes repeating themselves and we – as spectators – should commit to the truth and demand ethical reporting in order to strive for a future where history is not doomed to endlessly repeat itself.


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