Belfast Telegraph

Gail Walker: Maddy mystery ... and the media

What are we to make of Gerry McCann's call to scale down the media campaign to find his missing daughter Madeleine?

Just the day before, his sisters had appeared on TV's This Morning and Richard and Judy.

And Mr McCann himself made his request during a highly publicised appearance at the Edinburgh Television Festival.

For the Press, the mystery of what happened to Madeleine on May 3 has been one of the most extraordinary episodes in media history - and certainly not its finest hour.

Initially, understandably, every outlet got behind the family. This was a story the public could not get enough of - and desperately wanted a positive outcome to. It involved people's darkest fears - child abduction.

A young, white, middle-class British couple, both doctors, found themselves engulfed by terrible events.

Yet, there was something it seemed unfair and spiteful to mention.

They had left Madeleine and her twin brother and sister alone in their unlocked apartment, which opened onto the public highway, while they dined with friends at a Tapas bar some distance away.

Some of you will be shocked by that statement. You won't have read it all joined up like that in the papers.

Put whatever spin you want on it - they were checking regularly, it was just like being in their garden at home - but this was where the whole McCann campaign began to come unstuck. The papers had to accommodate it without implying any criticism of the McCanns.

Meanwhile, the parents certainly didn't brook any criticism of their actions.

Give or take a few critical pieces from commentators, the media remained on message. Even if some of the public did not.

Remember those early May evenings in Praia de Luz? The TV satellite vans' permanent presence; the photocalls with Mr and Mrs McCann as they walked to and from church; the trips to Fatima and the Vatican.

What you won't recall are any of the more standard news breaks on a story such as this.

There had been considerable restraint surrounding the story. Oddly, there was no information relating to the seven other people in the holiday party - to the extent no one even knew what their names were. And no effort, apparently, to find out.

Odd all round, because for newspapers, that is the type of information - the routine 'human' side of the story - which keeps a story 'alive' when there's nothing happening. For some reason, this anomaly in the campaign survived.

Until about 15 days ago, when the first of what Mr McCann describes as "wild speculation" appeared in the Portuguese Press about the case - allegations that have been reprinted in many British papers.

"I can see more clearly that staying in Portugal may be counter-productive," he says. "That generated pressure on people to write things and maybe the pressure is too great."

Of course, Mr McCann must also be troubled by the wild speculation that is rampant on web forums.

Log on to some of those sites and you'll find extremely harsh criticism of the McCanns. That's where the latest translations of Portuguese papers appear early every day.

Mr McCann is right to be concerned. But turning off the media spotlight is not going to be a matter of simply asking the media to go away.

The difficulty is "the campaign" hasn't been setting the agenda for some time now. The first intimations from Portugal - since confirmed - that the police were considering the possibility that Madeleine had died on the evening she disappeared effectively moved the focus of attention.

The steam went out of the campaign to find Madeleine McCann because while she was still missing, she was close to being presumed dead.

That fuelled speculation in the Portuguese Press and created a frenzy around other possible options - none of those driven by the McCann campaign.

The McCanns can't turn off what they didn't start. Now, the question of what happened to Madeleine McCann has been returned to where it probably should have been exclusively all along - not in TV studios, not on wristbands, not inside copies of Harry Potter.

But in some poorly-lit, messy office in police headquarters, Portimaio, Portugal.

Oh Brother, it seems we haven't seen the last of this!

It brought us Vanessa Feltz writing things like the mad woman in the attic, Les Dennis having a breakdown live, George Galloway (far right) pretending to be a cat instead of representing his constituents, the true love match that was Preston and Chantelle, and cheered the heart of every neo-Nazi racist.

But, alas, Celebrity Big Brother is no more. Channel 4 have decided to axe the show.

Except, true to the show's Orwellian roots, the channel has denied killing the show outright due to all the big bad publicity.

No, no, no, the show is going through a 'creative renewal'. It might be back.

'Creative renewal'. What a wonderful euphemism - and one suitable for more or less every painful situation in life.

"Jenkins, you're not being fired. You're being creatively renewed."

"Bill, don't think of me sleeping with your best friend as you being dumped. Think of it as creatively renewing our relationship."

"Nobby, following your three own goals and assaulting the referee last week, I'm creatively renewing you from the team."

Now, if we can only get BB itself creatively renewed.

Just think, no more micro-celebrities getting their kits off for Nuts and Zoo. No more 'My Plans to Get Wiggy with Ziggy' exclusives. No more Dermot, no more Davina. No more failed camp comedians going on and on about it as if it really matters. No more of those annoying newspaper graphics showing who's up and who's down. No more Guardian articles assessing the socio-political-cultural implications of blah, blah, blah ?

Who knows? With all that airtime to fill maybe Channel 4 may even creatively renew itself by making a real programme. With actors and everyfink.

Saints alive! This dirrty girl is no Mother Theresa

Apparently Amnesty International's recent decision to support women's access to abortion in certain circumstances is causing ructions, with many Catholic members very unhappy about the decision.

Indeed, the argument has spread to former high profile supporters of Amnesty projects such as Christina Aguilera (right) and Avril Lavigne - both of whom have made emphatic statements against abortion. As the row has lumbered on, at least one paper has called Aguilera a 'devout Catholic'.

Now, I don't wish to discuss Amnesty (a bunch of pinkos) or indeed abortion (an endless debate, both sides of which we can all rehearse in our sleep) but I am a bit concerned about this conversion of the 'dirrty' girl into the new Mother Theresa. Is this the same Christina Aguilera who goes about with no backside in her trousers singing she's "too dirrty to clean up my act/If you ain't dirrty/You ain't here to party (woo!)"

Woo indeed! And what about that Candyman who makes "all the panties drop".

I don't recall that sort of language in Hymns Ancient and Modern.

Could it possibly be that Aguilera's devout Catholicism is a bit like Beyonce's once ubiquitous Christianity - an a la carte affair.

Religion's okay as far as it goes as long as you don't have to keep your clothes on.

Vatican II has a lot to answer for ...

A wise decision Camilla

It's nice to know there is at least one person in Clarence House who still has a sense of propriety.

The Duchess of Cornwall's eleventh hour decision not to attend the memorial service to mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, is the wise move.

It means the event won't be marred by everyone craning their necks to see how discomfited Camilla looks to be paying her respects to the woman whose husband she had been sleeping with. It's not about tact, it's about common sense.

The problem is it leaves the Prince of Wales rather high and dry. His first wife couldn't stick him; his second wife won't stick by him.

It'll be another one of those occasions, when he'll be alone on a pew, with the entire population of Britain staring into the back of his neck, watching it go red and white by turns as the tributes pour forth.

Belfast Telegraph


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