Like many of us, I like to keep an eye on the daily news online and cannot help but note that there is hardly a day that goes by without at least one image used in which a flag is included. Occasionally the story is about the flag itself, but more often than not they are simply used to illustrate, usually rather colourfully the content of the story and to draw attention.
Today’s headline began with, ‘The government and the European Union are at loggerheads…’ and features an over-used image of both the UK’s Union flag and the European Union’s flag – this time with both in focus, although often one or other is out of focus, depending on which side holds the moral high ground.
Theresa May has been in China this week in an effort to strengthen business ties between the two countries and I find several images amongst today’s press of our Prime Minister alongside Xi Jinping, the President of the People’s Republic of China, in Beijing against the ubiquitous but nevertheless striking backdrop of bold Union flags and China’s bright scarlet flags. The featured photograph was taken at a previous meeting against a different backdrop.
Having now looked online at photos taken during their previous get-togethers and indeed Jinping’s meetings with other world leaders, I note that the Chinese premier always stands on the right. It must have something to do with this being his good side.
I scroll on further through today’s news and find a photo of a very large Russian sportsman sitting on the Winter Olympics medals podium at Sochi 2014 proudly holding aloft the tricolour Russian flag. The story, ‘Russians hail ‘triumph of justice’ as IOC doping bans are overturned’ is a sports story and, for the Russians at least, a good news story, but again a flag features here as a way of making it abundantly clear to the paper’s reader that this is a story about Russia.
Looking elsewhere I find more flags. This time a story about Meghan Markle and a photo of her with Prince Harry on a recent walkabout in Cardiff at which predominantly school children waved hand waver Welsh flags. The article asks if Meghan may have broken royal protocol by signing an autograph. She also chose to wear black on her first public appearance and caused controversy when she showed up with a messy bun. I’m not entirely sure whether this was a reference to her hasty attempts to fix her hair or that she had just emerged from a local bakery with a sticky pastry in her hand.
Looking back a few days and I find reference to the ‘special US-UK relationship’ and comments made by US President Donald Trump during the World Economic Forum in Davos. He said that the US and the UK were very much joined at the hip’. The word ‘special’ was not used but he did add that it was a ‘really great relationship’. He needs as many of those as he can get right now.
I hadn’t been looking out for stories on our cosy relationship with the US, but was drawn in once again by the brilliant combination of perhaps two of the world’s best designed and best known national flags. Against a deep blue background, a vivid display of red, white and blue, broad stripes and twinkling stars.
The conclusion I draw is that flags are a convenient way for the media to illustrate a story and a quick fix wherever there is reference to a specific country, especially at recent attempts by some to win independence from their nations. Flags do a far better job of subtly letting us know which country the news story is referring to and which countries those smiling world leaders represent. Very often those featured in the story are upstaged by the flags themselves.