Newsies converge on Vatican City

Pope's funeral rites attract int'l media

ROME — Pope John Paul II’s funeral rites in St. Peter’s Basilica beamed into TV homes worldwide today via live linkup with Italo pubcaster RAI and the Vatican Television Center (CTV), which have exclusive access to the event.

RAI has deployed vast manpower in Vatican City, including most of its top anchormen, tons of techies and an army of camera operators. RAI co-produced the pope’s funeral feed with CTV, the Holy See’s TV arm, which holds exclusive rights to all images shot within the Vatican walls.

In Italy, the three-hour service aired live on seven out of eight of the country’s terrestrial channels. (The only exception is Mediaset’s youth-oriented Italia-1, which is counterprogramming with U.S. skein “Boston Public.”) Even MTV Italia, which goes out on terrestrial, carried the pontiff’s final rites.

“This is the biggest media event Rome has ever seen,” said Giovanni Celsi, news editor of RAI satellite news channel RAI News 24.

Since the pope’s death Saturday, RAI and commercial rival Mediaset have covered every conceivable aspect of the papal story, including morbid details of John Paul II’s embalming, rumors of his canonization and plenty of anecdote-filled interviews.

The pope’s skiing companion, the chief of the Campo Felice ski resort, near Rome, gained instant talkshow celebrity status.

In Italy, where the pope was a TV news staple for more than two decades, criticism of his pontificate so far has been practically non-existent.

“What’s prevailing at the moment is a homage to his charismatic figure,” Celsi said. “TV commentators (weren’t) even touching on the issue of his succession before the funeral.”

Elsewhere in Europe, German media struck a more irreverent note. Most Teutonic news outlets and publications have highlighted the stark differences between progressive German Catholics and the pope’s conservative views on birth control, abortion and homosexuality.

“What’s so great about such merciless theology?” asked the weekly Der Spiegel.

Despite that, German coverage of the pope’s death has been extensive. On Sunday, pubcaster ARD news magazine “Brennpunkt” attracted 7.3 million viewers with its special “Mourning for the Pope.” Tribute was bested in the ratings by ARD’s crime drama hit “Tatort.”

In predominantly Catholic France, the papal doings have had so much TV play that a backlash is brewing.

Satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine led its front page with a story complaining that “the pope’s death has unleashed a sticky flood of piety.”

In Blighty, the BBC — which has spent a handsome sum to secure a rooftop vantage point for its cameras at the funeral — provided extensive live funeral coverage on flagship web BBC1, fronted by news anchor Huw Edwards, who has been reporting from Rome since last weekend.

Several of the pubcaster’s highest-profile reporters, including world-affairs editor John Simpson, are involved in papal funeral duties and the reaction in the late pontiff’s native Poland.

(Steve Clarke in London, Alison James in Paris and Ed Meza in Berlin contributed to this report.)

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