Television Review

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There was a telling moment in Diary of a Princess (BBC1) when Diana was talking to an injured patient in an Angolan hospital. An offscreen hand was pushing a microphone under the patient's nose and the Princess kept pushing it away again. The gesture was meant to be seen - a way of saying that this tender moment shouldn't be sullied by the intrusions of the press. But it looked slightly odd on screen, more like a tussle for the attention of the victim than a solicitous intervention. Besides, if the Princess really thought media attention was an affront to these people, what exactly was she doing there in the first place? Was it not precisely so that the voices of the injured might be heard? In that scene you saw a collision between Diana's old private agenda ("For God's sake, leave me alone") and her new public role ("Why don't you pay attention to what I do"). Not being a member of the Appreciation Society I watched with some trepidation, fearing a repetition of Panorama's ceremony of the self. But Heart of the Matter's programme, which the Princess narrated as a journal of her four-day trip to Angola, was quite different in its nature.

Watching the Princess and the press is always a strange sight - as she moves, the cameras follow with eerie synchronisation. It reminds you of iron filings crowding round a magnet, never quite touching but always aligned to those invisible lines of force. Now Diana has grasped that her attractive powers might be something more than a personal nuisance, drawing the volitionless particles of the press to places they would not otherwise visit. Karina Brennan's film emphasised the biddability of the media by showing the front pages which followed the photo-opportunities - all virtually identical, a reflex spasm in response to Princess Cuddling Amputee or Princess In A Minefield. These pictures weren't exactly truthful - those of the young amputee being fitted for a prosthesis caught the one moment when a smile flickered across her face, suggesting, quite misleadingly, that the Princess's visit had been an unalloyed joy. The other was a careful concoction of novelty - Diana in body-armour - and suggested hazard. But, however meretricious, the pictures will still have been useful to those who want to stop ordinary civilians being horribly maimed. Above all, in the face of that disreputable tactic of moral evasion - the assertion of complexity - Princess Diana properly asserts that the issue is simple enough for anyone to understand. She is right to preserve her naivety about such issues, right to employ such sophisticated manipulation to publicise them.

The previous night's Panorama (BBC1) in which Fergal Keane returned to Rwanda to report on the country's dismal prospects, made for an intriguing comparison with the Heart of the Matter programme; both films began with African drumming and singing (a well-understood cue for feelings of First World sympathy); both used a young African woman to serve as a focus for general issues of Western responsibility; both were object lessons in the celebrity of compassion. Keane too has become famous for feeling, having evolved a reporting style in which his own melancholy disillusionment is part of the story. There's nothing very wrong with this, I suppose, in a world short of decent sentiments, but it's still possible to feel uneasy when a flavour of self-righteousness is added to the mix. Keane permitted himself some angry ironies at the expense of the former UN Secretary General, who visited the site of one dreadful massacre, descending for 18 minutes with a retinue of bodyguards. But is Boutros Ghali alone to take the blame for Western inaction and would it really have been better if he had not come at all? When Diana uttered that cliche of liberal indignation, "It's about time something was done," she at least knew what the "something" was - a worldwide ban on the sale of landmines. In Panorama your pity and outrage - powerfully evoked - were simply left hanging. It reminded you that international journalism was not much more effective than the UN on that dreadful occasion.

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