The BBC’s coverage of the papal visit so far has been very good. Jim Naughtie on the Today programme this morning was almost Dimblebyian in his gravity and respect and sense of occasion, and the TV reporters did well too. We should be proud of our national broadcaster, in spite of its many faults. Not all of us are. Some have suggested that last night the BBC gave too much prominence to Cardinal Kasper’s chance remark that landing at Heathrow was like landing in the Third World. But did other broadcasting outlets not give it equal prominence? It’s what we call a “good” story – ie, it was bad news – and it therefore got a lot of coverage everywhere. It was the front-page lead in the Daily Mail and the Guardian, which between them cover all shades of opinion in Britain.
To be sure, it was distressing that a mini-scandal should erupt on the eve of the visit, but you’d hardly be human if you did not laugh at the explanation for the “gaffe” that came from the Vatican. According to a spokesman, the cardinal had “no negative intention or appreciation” towards Britain. “He was simply saying that when arriving at London airport – as happens at any other large city airport in the world – but especially in London, you are aware that you are in a country with many different human realities from all over the world.”
“Human realities” is, I suppose, one way of describing black and brown people who dress in exotic robes. But are these different human realities “especially” evident in London? Personally, I have always found JFK more Third World than Heathrow, perhaps because when an Englishman enters the US he counts as an alien and has to stand in line behind hundreds of Third Worlders with bulging cardboard suitcases and cooking pots hanging from their belts. Purpose of visit? Vacation. Many of these people will disappear immediately into the black economy. But an American friend who is here to cover the papal visit told me last night that London is now more “cosmopolitan” than New York. It’s easier to find someone who speaks English in New York than it is in London, he said. So let’s not diss Cardinal Kasper.
Back to the BBC. Last night it risked the wrath of secular humanists by broadcasting two very interesting and sympathetic papal specials – Mark Dowd’s Benedict: Trials of a Pope (BBC1) and Vatican – the Hidden World (BBC4). I have not yet seen the second of these, but it must have been good because it attracted the rather prim disapproval of the Independent’s Today’s Choice feature: “This documentary is eye-popping for its access to the Holy See, and also for its uncritical tone.”