Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Maddy backlash well under way

As the parents of Madeleine McCann return home Deborah McAleese looks at the media campaign which has surrounded the disappearance of the toddler

The tragic case of missing Madeleine McCann has exposed the best and the worst of human nature.

On the one hand there are the hundreds of thousands of people who desperately want to show their support in whatever way they can for Kate and Gerry McCann.

For the past 117 days they have sent letters of support, posted messages of comfort on the internet, donated money to the Find Madeleine campaign and circulated posters across Europe. Many have flocked to the small church in Praia da Luz every Friday to pray for the four-year-old and to personally offer a kind word to her devastated parents.

On the other hand, there are those who feel it is justifiable to insult and spread nasty rumours about a couple who are struggling to deal with the disappearance of their daughter.

It is inevitable that due to the media interest in the case the McCanns would come under public scrutiny, but what started out as whisperings of disapproval over their decision to leave their children unsupervised has transformed into a full blown witch-hunt.

Hundreds of websites, blog- spots and internet chatrooms are inundated every day with slurs against the McCanns and unfounded speculation about the fate of their daughter.

Unlike the McCann's supporters, the majority of their critics prefer to hide behind the anonymity of a computer when carrying out their public persecution of the couple.

Overnight the case created a media frenzy which has shown very little sign of abating and due to intense pressure for the press to produce new and exclusive stories much of this on-line speculation is being recycled in national newspapers in the UK, Portugal and across Europe.

While it is important for the couple to ensure their daughter's plight remains in the public consciousness, the McCanns have in a sense become victims of the publicity the case has generated. The story is no longer about Madeleine but about her parents.

Madeleine's father Gerry McCann has described the publicity as a "double-edged sword" and said he finds it difficult to understand why Madeleine's disappearance has generated so much media coverage and why it has been so sustained.

In his daily blog this week he said he was certain that the coverage would not have been nearly as great if this had happened 10 years ago.

"No doubt Madeleine's physical appearance also captured the public's imagination as well as the highly unusual circumstances of a foreign child being abducted on holiday," he said.

Gerry added: "Our family decided to try and make as many people as possible aware that Madeleine was missing quickly.

"After the first few weeks we fully expected the media attention to die down, but this has just not happened.

" Some sections of the media now question their roles in the coverage of the news story that is Madeleine.

"Kate and I quickly realised that much of the coverage was pure speculation, which was often negative and certainly unhelpful for us.

"We decided to rely on information only from official sources and this has certainly helped us remain on a fairly even keel, despite some of the lurid headlines."

The incessant, negative, media coverage has begun to take its toll on the McCanns and it is likely it is one of the main factors that swayed their decision to return home.

Gerry said that while it will be difficult leaving Portugal without Madeleine he now feels that staying there may be " counterproductive".

In an interview at the Edinburgh Television Festival recently, Mr McCann said: "We cannot sustain that level of interest and Kate and I want to withdraw from the campaign."

However, whether their move home within the next few weeks will help switch the media agenda away from them and back to Madeleine remains to be seen.

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