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Mother Teresa’s funeral causes difficulties for networks

September 13, 1997 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ It was the second straight week TV networks carried the funeral of a prominent woman at hours when most Americans slept. The parallels ended there.

Audio and video problems and the inherent difficulties in portraying a multilingual ceremony made Mother Teresa’s funeral Saturday a challenging experience for television.

The solemn event undoubtedly captured a fraction of the audience that tuned in to Princess Diana’s funeral in England a week ago.

Some believe guilt over excessive Diana coverage was one of the factors in networks carrying Mother Teresa’s funeral live. It was certainly a unique moment for American TV: the three top anchormen presenting post-midnight coverage of a three-hour Catholic mass to honor a humanitarian nun in her hometown of Calcutta, India.

``It was a day that will be burned in memory for so many of us here,″ CBS’s Dan Rather said after the ceremony.

Mother Teresa, considered by many of the poor to be an angel, died Sept. 5 at age 87. Her body, in an open casket that showed her clutching rosary beads in her folded hands, was laid before an altar with a banner reading, ``Works of love are works of peace.″

Networks were left largely to rely on video and audio feeds from Indian television, and that caused difficulties. Microphones could barely pick up the words of the funeral’s first speaker, prompting apologies from Rather, NBC’s Tom Brokaw and CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. A buzzing sound seeped into the audio throughout.

There was interference with Indian TV’s pictures 80 minutes into the funeral and, in general, the camera work wasn’t up to standards most American viewers were used to.

ABC had a marked advantage in sight and sound. Its audio quality was superior to its rivals and it had access to better pictures. Several times during the ceremony, ABC cameras caught the speaker while other networks showed an awkward, faraway shot from directly above the body.

Correspondent Deborah Wong and her crew stationed inside Netaji Indoor Stadium helped ABC gain this edge, a spokesman said.

Much of the ceremony was in English, but it also included Latin and two Indian languages. CBS occasionally tried a translator, while other networks cut to interviews or religious experts who could explain the funeral to non-Catholics.

``This is a service that mixed much of India in it,″ ABC’s Peter Jennings said.

Although the ceremony had its touching moments _ particularly a gospel reading that all but defined how Mother Teresa lived her life _ it clearly lacked the television drama of Diana’s funeral.