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AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

BBC Under Fire For Coverage of Death of Queen Mum

Aired April 3, 2002 - 07:52   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, the British Broadcasting Corporation, the BBC, is under fire for its coverage of the death of the queen mum. The passing of the beloved royal matriarch had long been anticipated, but the British public appears to be unimpressed with the state broadcaster's lack of reverence for her death.

Diana Muriel reports from London.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DIANA MURIEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This was a story decades in the planning. The queen mother's death was always going to be big for British broadcasters, but for the British Broadcasting Corporation, the BBC, royal coverage is considered its stock in trade.

Whole careers had been built around the event, code named Operation Lion, and it was regularly rehearsed, the last just a week ago.

A glass box holding obituary reports, a manual to direct funeral coverage and even black ties and a black dress for use by on-air journalists was at one time and stored in the main BBC news room, yet many who saw that night's coverage believed the corporation got it wrong, very wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Monarchy is something that reaches into the real marrow of the soul of the British people. It's a very important thing deep down inside us, and the BBC executives, they somehow couldn't care about that, and it's a bad misjudgment.

MURIEL: It was interviews like this by veteran anchorman, Peter Sissons, that upset viewers.

PETER SISSONS, BBC ANCHORMAN: After you all came out, what happened then?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, sorry, I really don't want to go into those sorts of details. I just want to say how much she will be missed and how much she was loved.

MURIEL: Unlike its chief U.K. competitor, Independent Television News, BBC reporters and anchors did not don those black ties and suits, instead somber clothes were the order, a move criticized as impertinent and insensitive by many. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it was absolutely awful, because there was no black tie, OK, and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) myself to wear a black tie right now just for the occasion.

MURIEL: The BBC says journalists will wear black ties for coverage of the state procession to the palace of Westminster on Friday and the funeral itself on Tuesday. The corporation insists palace officials are not unhappy with the BBC's coverage. However, the prince of Wales appeared unamused, choosing to grant his first interview since the death of his darling grandmother to archrival, ITN.

(on camera): In a Britain that is increasingly less reverential towards its royal family, the BBC's coverage of the death of the queen mother may have been considered by some as politically correct, but as the state broadcaster, the BBC is seen here as the guardian of the nation's culture and traditions, and the British like coverage of their royal stories to be just that: traditional.

Diana Muriel, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And Chris Cramer spent 25 years with the BBC and knew the drill, if you will, for the passing of the queen mum. He is now the president of CNN International, and he joins us this morning from Atlanta -- good morning -- good to see you, Chris.

CHRIS CRAMER, PRESIDENT, CNN INTERNATIONAL NETWORKS: Good morning, Paula.

ZAHN: The one thing that has happened since Diana actually filed her report is that a senior member of the queen's staff has come out and basically said that the monarchy had no problem with how the BBC had covered the passing of the queen mum, but the public is still outraged. What's going on?

CRAMER: Well, I think this places in context -- I mean, at times of crisis, people tune into the BBC, like they tune into CNN here. The difference is that there are two institutions in the U.K., one is the royal family, one is the BBC. It's funded by the public purse. It has to be -- it has to provide a comprehensive at times of crisis.

And I think this not about the wearing of a black tie. It's not about one anchor, very distinguished anchor. This is about gauging the mood of the nation, and I think the BBC, after the death of the princess of Wales, was criticized for going over the top. What has happened in the last year or so is they have decided to adjust their coverage accordingly, and have certainly enraged a large part of the population.

ZAHN: Tell us about how you prepared for the queen mum's death, when you worked at the BBC.

CRAMER: Well, it has been said that, you know, strong lie awake crying at night about screwing up the coverage of any royal death, in particular the queen mother's death. This death has been planned at the BBC. It's the worst kept secret in the media there for the last 30 years. There are two formal rehearsals on the part of all parts of the BBC every single year, one rehearsal the weekend before she died.

When I was at the BBC, there was a cupboard, and there were black dresses and there were black ties. There was a glass cabinet, because we were paranoid that people would lose the key to the cupboard. So in fact, there was a little hammer, and you used the hammer (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to use the hammer to actually get the ties and the dresses and the scripts out. That gives you a sense of the precision and the paranoia concerning this particular royal event.

ZAHN: But against this backdrop, it would appear as though the BBC is sort of relaxing some of those rules. One of their executives was quoted in the "London Times," saying the days of solemn music and wall-to-wall coverage is no longer with us. Is he out of step with the British public completely?

CRAMER: Well, the BBC is between a rock and a hard place here. On Saturday night, my father, a loyal royalist, 86 years of age, rang me in Atlanta, screaming because he thought the BBC was going over the top of the coverage. He said, she is 101 years of age. It's no surprise that she has died. The coverage should be adjusted accordingly. So that gives you a sense of the difference of opinion in the U.K.

ZAHN: Well, you'll just have to make sure we do everything correctly Tuesday, when we do our own coverage from here. Chris Cramer, thanks for joining us this morning.

CRAMER: Thank you.

ZAHN: Nice to have you with us.

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