BBC confirms itself as Pope’s propaganda arm – but ITV keeps it in proportion

The BBC has this week announced that it plans saturation coverage of the Pope’s visit with twelve and a half hours of pope adulation on BBC1 and BBC2, with Radio 4, Radio 5 Live and other BBC TV, radio and online services adding more hours to the overkill. ITV, on the other hand, will not interrupt its regular schedules for papal events, but will cover the visit in its news bulletins and have a Tonight special looking at how the sex abuse scandal has affected perceptions of the Church.

In addition to the blanket live coverage during the papal visit on the BBC, there will be “some current affairs programming looking at the different aspects of the Catholic Church”.

There are also a wide range of papal-themed documentaries. BBC2 is airing two documentaries, Benedict: Trials of a Pope and Newman: Saint or Sinner? fronted by Ann Widdecombe, plus highlights of the trip in The Pope’s Visit.

BBC 4 is screening Vatican – The Hidden World of God's Servants and Radio 4 is airing The Pope's British Divisions, which will feature Mark Dowd examining the impact of the sex abuse crisis in Britain's Catholic community, plus highlights of the beatification of Cardinal Newman.

Radio 2 will air a special hour-long edition of Sunday Half Hour from a vigil in Hyde Park, while Radio 5 Live will have “extensive” coverage led by Shelagh Fogarty and including live broadcasts of the Pope's arrival in Edinburgh on Thursday 16 September and of his first mass the same day during 5 Live Drive.

The following day, Friday, Fogarty will present 5 Live Breakfast from Twickenham, where Pope Benedict will be staying, with "live coverage of his official engagements throughout the day", plus broadcast of the final mass of the visit. The BBC said it "will also be covering other events during the papal visit on the BBC News Channel".

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said: “It is disgraceful that the national broadcaster is being used like this to ram the pope down everyone’s throat, whether they like it or not. The BBC’s own research show that viewers rate religious programming at the very bottom of the list of what they like to see on TV, so why have such vast resources been given to this?”

But at least we will be spared the Pope on Thought for the Day. The ‘Pontiff’ has declined the invitation to spout his papal bull during the Today programme. And he won’t be appearing on any other part of the Today programme, either, or any other current affairs programme that might result in him being asked awkward questions.