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Friday, April 01, 2005


"I'm not dead yet!"

Is it just me or is tonight's endless TV coverage of the Pope's final hours unnecessarily ghoulish?

On Boxing Day, I
posted in despair at the treatment of the tsunami by the 24-hour news channels. Now, once again, these channels are filling the air with fatuous comment in the absence of any hard news.

The Vatican is publishing health bulletins at two-hourly intervals. The cardinals are forbidden to speculate openly about the succession until after the Pope's funeral. These are thin pickings but they aren't preventing the TV news channels from hauling anyone with some rosary beads into the studio to offer their two penn'orth, interspersed with 'live' coverage of nothing much happening in night-time Rome.

Worst of all, every TV station wants to be first with the scoop and some are jumping the gun. This
posting on ICT Etcetera earlier this evening sums it up:

CNN reported 30 minutes ago that the Pope had died, but now they're retracting the story as fast as a Monty Python character can say, "I'm not dead yet!" Yes, it comes as no surprise that the Italian media jumped the gun on the passing of Pope John Paul II, which in turn caused Reuters and CNN to do the same. Meanwhile, Yahoo's homepage seems to be changing every few minutes, reporting the Pope as critical, dead, then critical again.

It seems we're in a situation not unlike Yassir Arafat's end of days, in which the media reported that the PLO chairman had "died" on numerous occasions until they finally got the story right. It doesn't seem to matter that the death of the Pope will be one of the biggest stories of the year, if not the biggest; there's so much pressure for the media to be first out of the gate with the scoop, they don't seem to care much if they make a mistake on something as important as the death of the most recognized religious leader on the planet. But I think there's plenty of blame to go around, considering the public doesn't exactly cry foul whenever the media pulls stunts like this; it's almost as if we expect the media to blow it a few times before they get the story right. So is this a result of the 24-hour news cycle, the increasing number of blogs competing with TV journalism, or both?
Meanwhile, if you think tonight's coverage is tasteless, consider what happened in 1963 when Pope John XXIII died. A pirate radio DJ, broadcasting from a ship moored in the North Sea, was playing records when word came through that there was to be a newsflash. Desperate for a pee, he dashed to the lavatory while a colleague solemnly broadcast the news that the Pope had died. The DJ returned to the microphone, relieved but oblivious of the news, and announced to his listeners, "Well, thanks for that newsflash, and now for our next record, 'Arrivederci Roma ' ..."

I'm still waiting to see somewhere, either online or on Sky News, the caption 'Breaking News: Pope still not dead.'
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