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Critique of Worldwide Media Coverage

Aired April 9, 2005 - 21:00:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Beck Anderson, in London.
Welcome to CNN'S INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where examine how the media are covering the big stories of the moment.

He was known as the media pope. For 26 years, journalists followed John Paul II's every move. His world travels, Sunday blessings, creation of cardinals and saints and now his death.

Remarkable images of the pope's wooden coffin emerging from St. Peter's Basilica were broadcast around the world. Presidents, prime ministers, kings, religious leaders and millions of pilgrims traveled to Rome to bid farewell to the pontiff while the world watched hour upon hour of coverage of his funeral and the events surrounding it.

CNN's Tom Foreman reports on the pope's media legacy.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As much as he was a strong leader and a great thinker, John Paul II was a man well chosen for his time.

When he took the papacy almost by stealth in 1978, television, radio and the Internet were taking the world by storm. The world's first global TV news organization, CNN, was born a year and a half later. And from the beginning, the pope, who was trained as an actor and playwright, saw the potential.

MONSIGNOR KEVIN IRWIN, CATHOLIC UNIV. OF AMERICA: This is a man who mastered timing. He mastered a gesture. He mastered an angle. He mastered how to communicate with an audience very early in his life.

FOREMAN: He put his skills to use by creating the Vatican TV Service, which documented every step in his long journeys around the globe. He pushed the idea of a Vatican Web site. He participated in regular photo ops that would do any politician proud. He even took part in recording a much heralded CD, his words matched to music.

(on camera): time and again, in his books, his speeches and his actions, he made it clear he was a lifelong student of the media and he prodded his followers to use the media to spread human rights, justice and tolerance everywhere.

(voice-over): Simply put, John Paul took the church, in which change is often painfully slow, and he revolutionized its public outreach.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you go back all of these years that he's been the pope and you trace back where Rome, the Vatican is today, compared to then, with the use of the media, with modern technology, they have come years and years.

FOREMAN: Although John Paul became one of the world's most recognized faces, Vatican watchers say he handpicked his public relations team, and they picked his media moments to underscore church principles.

IRWIN: And so the images that we have of him, of coming down from a plane and kissing the ground, or we have of him shaking his finger at a recalcitrant politician, or we have the image of him in a cell, forgiving his attempted assassin, images that he I'm sure crafted to communicate in addition to the words that he would speak.

FOREMAN: Plenty of American Catholics were troubled by his firm opposition to abortion rights, divorce, women in the clergy.

HOWARD KURTZ, "THE WASHINGTON POST": He somehow managed to rise above those day to day controversies, in party by the pictures, the images. This was a pope who understood the power of that camera to elevate him and what he was trying to get across, beyond the disputes that any political figure inevitably gets involved in.

FOREMAN: The lessons continue. His death was announced through e- mail. Video of his body is being carried around the world. And it is fitting. Once a TV crew asking John Paul if they could take his picture. He smiled in agreement, and said, "If it doesn't happen on television, it doesn't happen."

Tome Foreman, CNN, Washington.


ANDERSON: Well, to discuss the pope's relationship with the media and the coverage of his final moments, I'm joined now from Rome by Christopher Winner, who is founding editor of the "American" magazine, and the papal biographer, Michael Walsh.

Gentlemen, we thank you very much indeed for joining us.

Christopher, was it a calculated move on the part of the Vatican and perhaps more so on the part of John Paul II to effectively manipulate the media into carrying a very positive message of the papacy?

CHRISTOPHER WINNER, "AMERICAN" MAGAZINE: Yes, but we have to use the word calculated judiciously. This is a pope who understood the growing power of the mass media.

Remember, in 1978 there was no CNN, as difficult as that is to imagine. There was no mass media, 24 hour mass media, as we know it now. He was able to adjust himself in the course of his first two years of his papacy, understanding the importance of personal contact, which he had in Poland, and adjust himself to this growing lens of television, which he understood would communicate his message and also his charisma throughout the world.

So there was an understanding on hs part of the efficiency of television in transmitting a message, that's certainly true.

ANDERSON: Is that fair?

MICHAEL WALSH, PAPAL BIOGRAPHER: Well, I think it's perfectly fair, but I think what is being left out of that description is the fact that, of course, in his youth, he wanted to be an actor, so he already had this notion of communicating with people through the spoken word.

I mean, he wrote plays -- not very good plays, but he did write plays, and they all depend upon the power of the word. They don't really depend upon props or scenery or anything else. They all depend upon the power of the word.

He wanted to get his word out there. He understood that he could do this. He could work crowds. I mean, from the very first time he appeared on the balcony of St. Peter's, and the crowd was stunned becaues they hadn't expected a Polish pope, they didn't know who this man Karol Wojtyla, was, and he won the Italian crowd over by making a little remark, which was clearly calculated -- in that sense, I think so, that was perfectly right.

But he naturally, I think, understood the media.

ANDERSON: Christopher, some have suggested that the pope's protracted death has been a PR boon for Catholicism, the fact that the cable news networks have been following the period until his death and that afterwards 24 hours a day -- is this indeed good news for Catholicism at the end of the day?

WINNER: No, I don't think so. I think the die was already cast. The media in 2005 is what it is. The Catholic Church knows this, governments know this. They know that their movements will be covered. This is not a surprise, nor is it an act of promotion of the Catholic Church.

The importance of the pope's message is that he be present and visible, and therefore it is inevitable that he would also be filmed. The decision that might have been taken at another time was simply not to appear, but that was no longer feasible, again, from 1990 on, or even before, in the 1980s.

So to call it a manipulation of the press or an attempt to forward- thrust Catholicism, I think is a big glib.

ANDERSON: What will happen next, do you think, Michael? Will the Catholic Church be as able to project its message the way its projected it over the last, let's say, 15 to 20 years, although the papacy has been 26. You know, the mass media have been on to this, haven't they, over the last sort of 15?

WALSH: I noticed an article in the "London Times" suggesting that the way the pope died made it impossible for one ever to resign, because it was such an immense media event. They always want to go -- which I think is a bit harsh, frankly. But it's an interesting thought.

I mean, the church is an immense organization. I mean, even to communicate with other parts of the church, the media is absolutely essential.

You know, one of the things, when we say how good the media are, I don't know if you've ever tried to use the Vatican's Web site, but it ain't user friendly. It could certainly be improved. But it's had a radio for a long time. It's now got a television service. It understands the value of these things and will continue to use them, clearly.

But I think it does depend -- I mean, part of the success was actually the personality of the pope. I mean, had he been somebody quite different -- this means that they may not be able to -- they really wouldn't be able to choose a shy and retiring person as pope because that wouldn't work. So it's going to limit perhaps the cardinals choices as they come to the conclave.

ANDERSON: Christopher Winner, in Rome; Michael Walsh, in London, we thank you.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, amid the grief and emotion, did the media strike the right tone?

Stay with us.


ANDERSON: Welcome back.

Now Asia and the Arab states, Africa or Australasia -- doesn't matter where you are, there was little chance of escaping the wall to wall coverage of Pope John Paul II's death and his funeral. Even on a small island off the coast of Wales, Catholic monks flew in a satellite dish to watch the service.

All of this indicates what an extraordinary man this pope was, but has the relentless media gaze proved a fitting tribute?

I'm joined now from Paris by Christian Mallard. He's foreign correspondent for France 3 Television; Ahmad Al-Rikaby, an Iraqi journalist; and Joan Smith, of Britain's "Independent" newspaper.

I thank you all very much indeed for joining us.

Ahmad, coverage of the pope's death in the Arab states has been almost wall to wall. Is that a surprise?

AHMAD AL-RIKABY, JOURNALIST: The pope was a very special pope, the current pope. He was the one who started a dialogue between the Christian Catholic Church and the Muslims. He made many trips to the Arab world, Egypt, all over the Arab countries, even in countries like Saudi Arabia, where you don't have Christians at all. The local press wrote many positive things about the pope.

ANDERSON: Christian, an Islamic activist has been reported as saying, "This is too much, it's unbelievable. How can the death of a non-Muslim be a loss to the Muslim world." Perhaps not a surprise, a comment like that, but how has the coverage been across Europe?

CHRISTIAN MALLARD, FRANCE 3 TV: It has been a very extended over coverage for a week now. Every morning, afternoon, evening, it was about Pope John Paul II.

And it is true that the man came to France eight times. It is the European country where he came the greatest number of times during his 26- year long mandate. And at the same time, everybody has to understand, even if I have heard people saying enough is enough, well, you have to tell them that this pope was a world political pope. He is the one who contributed, as you know, to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of Communism. He has been interfering in Africa. He has been everywhere, trying to put Muslim, Jewish, Christian together.

So it is -- 26 years, it is three times more than the president of the superpowers mandate, like Bill Clinton or former President Reagan or even George Bush very soon. So it is understandable that we have this coverage. A lot of people here are believers. There are a lot of Catholics in this country. These people did not say it was enough, but some of the people probably thought, fine, it's good to pay tribute to this pope, but maybe we have done a bit too much.

ANDERSON: Joan, does this sort of coverage exemplify what many are seeing as the glorification of what now appear to be celebrities around the world?

JOAN SMITH, "INDEPENDENT" NEWSPAPER: I think it's exactly that. In the last decade or so, we've become aware of a sort of hunger for communal experience, and I think that explains why so many people who are not Catholics, who are perhaps not even Christian, feel drawn to take part in the ceremony.

In the past, people would go to church in the Christian countries. They would have some kind of outlet for feelings. They would do it regularly. Now we don't have that so much. And what is extraordinary about this is that first of all, it resembles the mourning for Princess Diana in its vagueness. People just say, oh, he liked peace an he liked democracy and all those kinds of things, and they don't look at the paradox of somebody who was the unelected leader of one of the most undemocratic institutions in the world, being seen as the champion of democracy.

But I think also it's a phenomenon of global celebrity. 500 years ago, Pope Julius II commissioned in 1505 a tomb by Michael Angelo. This pope organized a very, very good PR campaign.

ANDERSON: It's interesting, isn't it, Ahmad, that there is this sense by some that the pope has been glorified by the media, but if we consider the way that this funeral and his death has been covered in the Middle East, surely this is a good thing at the end of the day. This is a coming together of all faiths, isn't it? Is this the media leading or is this the media following what they believe people are thinking?

AL-RIKABY: It was actually following. I don't think it was serving a need in the street, but definitely it is contributing to the dialogue between the major faiths in the world.

ANDERSON: Joan, would it be unfair to suggest that the 200 world leaders and dignitaries who were at John Paul II's funeral were there because they believed they should be there, because they wanted to be there, or because they believed it was a good media opportunity?

SMITH: I should imagine very much the latter. I think it's be there or be square.

And you know, you have this absurd gathering of people, from Mugabe to Bush to President Assad of Syria, and I think all of them see some kind of political advantage to being there.

I think what's very interesting is I don't think that his reputation, that John Paul's reputation, will last. I think that people will look at his spirit in the papacy and see that there was a tremendous loss of power by the Catholic Church in Western Europe and Latin America to evangelical American churches, particularly in Latin America.

He presided over one of the worst child sex scandals that the Catholic Church has ever had to deal with in the United States, and most of us feel that he dealt with that very, very badly. He was very sympathetic to very unpleasant regimes. This is the pope, after all, who interceded with the British government and asked them to let Pinochet go and not extradite him to Spain. I mean, this pope was very much on the side of power.

ANDERSON: Is that right -- Christian?

MALLARD: Well, I think globally, this pope will be remembered as somebody who has done great, good things.

ANDERSON: We're going to leave it there.

We thank you very much indeed, Christian Mallard, Ahmad Al-Rikaby, and Joan Smith. Thank you all for joining me.

Up next on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, the royal wedding that is a box office bonanza.

Stay with us.


ANDERSON: Welcome back.

Queen Camilla, she could be, but the title of Charles' second wife is just one of many controversies surrounding this royal romance.

For three decades, it's been nothing short of a scandalous affair, but for the media, every twist and turn, of course, this week's ceremony itself, is a gift from the gods.

To discuss this further, I'm joined now by ITV's former royal correspondent Tom Bradby and Camilla Long, arts and features editor at "Tattler" magazine.

Guys, we thank you very much indeed for joining us.

Tom, the relationship between the British media and the royal family, particularly that of Prince Charles, isn't particularly good, is it? Why is that?

TOM BRADBY, FMR. ITV CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's diabolical.

I think essentially the press just doesn't like Charles, and that's something that has built up over the years. Partly about his romantic history, partly they view him as being too wing-jing (ph) and petulant.

I think part of it has to be taken as a general comment about their attitude toward the royal family. I think the royal family exists in Britain these days in part so the media can occasionally take them out and torture them, about every week. It's some sort of public catharsis, I think. I don't know why it is. I think probably if you looked at it closely, it would come down to media companies bottom lines, you know, royalty sells, good, bad or indifferent, and bad news is easier to come by than good news.

ANDERSON: No love lost certainly between the royal family, Camilla, and the tabloids, and perhaps one might say the broadcast journalists. But for magazines like your own, particularly for the international audience that you have, there is this inane interest in the royal family. Why?

CAMILLA LONG, "TATTLER" MAGAZINE: I think it's because they're basically fascinating. They're a sort of special kind of celebrity. They're quite different from the normal people you see flopping around on the beach.

And of course, Britain is very, very good a pomp and circumstance and at ceremony and doing things in a sort of fabulous kind of way, and I think the royal family, obviously, after centuries, has got that down pat, and I think that's what they're expected to do, and I think tomorrow they're going to do it amazingly well.

And it's just fantastic to watch, if anything, and the details are always amazing to pick over, like dresses, horoscopes, everything. There is an endless supply of sort of details.

ANDERSON: Pomp and ceremony they may have off pat, Tom, but they haven't wanted this wedding certainly to be an open one. Indeed, the media not allowed into the civil ceremony. It's an interesting point, isn't it, that in the past the royal family have been prepared to see everything, have everything seen that is going on in a situation like this. 750 million people watched the wedding of Charles and Diana, and yet this time no go.

BRADBY: Yes, but that's the problem, isn't it. 750 million people all around the world watched that, and they watched him make his vows, and unfortunately, pretty much every month since then there has been bad news, there has been news about he broke his vows, the affair and everything else.

Unfortunately, this marriage cannot be sold in the same way. They've gone into a lot of very complicated considerations. I mean, one consideration which was should it be televised at all, should any of it be televised, and that was a consideration at one point.

So the church in this country, and particularly with reference to the churches around the world, a lot of churchman in this country have been very concerned, for example, about how this is going to play to an international audience, how it will play in Africa and places like that.

So it's been a huge consideration, and you could say it's a triumph for Prince Charles' closest officials and for him himself that any of it is being televised, because that's certainly what they wanted, but they were frightened of comparisons of what went before.

ANDERSON: Princess Diana, the former princess of Wales, was often called the princess of sales. She was a huge pull as far as the media was concerned.

To the likes of your readers, where does Camilla stand? Is she as big a draw or will she be as big a draw in the future as those have been in the past?

LONG: The thing about Camilla is that she quite deliberately doesn't entertain the press. She's never given any interviews, and there is an air of mystique to her, and I think that by sort of contrast she has got that kind of difference to her which is attractive to various sections of the media.

ANDERSON: Tom, this is the last chapter in a decades-old story of mutual dependence and loathing between the royal family and the British tabloid press. Will things change going forward?

BRADBY: Well, that's difficult to say. I think one of the things you've got to consider in that question is how will William and Harry play things.

Funny enough, they have a much more sophisticated -- I mean, for a start, they read the newspapers every day. They essentially have their mother's approach to the press. They're quite fascinated by it. They're very sophisticated in their consumption of the press. I mean, Prince Charles hasn't read a newspaper for years. I mean, he really hasn't. He just doesn't. It's not a joke. He really doesn't read it.

ANDERSON: Camilla as a cover girl, a future cover girl, for "Tattler"?

LONG: Absolutely. Camilla Parker Bowles would be, I think, a number of magazine editors first choice for a cover. I think she's looking great at the moment. I think she's lost a bit of weight, her hair looks good, nice clothes. So definitely. Love to have her on the cover of "Tattler," I'm sure.

ANDERSON: We thank you both very much indeed.

And that is all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Tune in again next time for another look at how the media are handling the big issues.

I'm Becky Anderson. Thanks for joining us.



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