By Anastasia Burton
I have recently found myself fascinated and intrigue by the media coverage of the mysterious disappearance of a young girl called Madeleine McCann. This is a world–famous case that has cost both the Portuguese and British police forces millions, and has touched every corner of the world. To this day, nobody knows what had happened to this girl. Was it an abduction, murder or accident? There are millions of theories and possibilities as to what happened, and I’ve found myself roaming through piles of sources, most of which have been documentaries made by journalists from the BBC, Sky News and statements from Portuguese authorities and journalists. From my consumption of these media sources, I have drawn a few theories of my own and a reflection on how each source handled the sensitive topic and how it made yours truly see the case.
Firstly, the background of this case is well known; the McCann family and nine of their friends had planned a vacation with their children. On the night of Madeleines’ disappearance, the adults had left their children in the apartments. The fact that the parents had left their young children alone has sparked both anger and claims of neglect from the authorities, public and journalists alike. However, this case has proven to be highly profitable for media outlets which the McCann family had contacted in hopes of reaching a wider audience to help them search for their daughter. Journalism is an art in its own right, which usually involves removing oneself from empathy and writing factual articles on this sensitive case regardless of one’s personal view on the case and their suspicions of it.
The Portuguese media outlets and the British outlets differed greatly in their deliverance of the case to their public audience. The Portuguese were convinced that the parents were at fault and were truly the ones who murdered their daughter and covered up their tracks. The Portuguese focused heavily on evidence which had proven to be insufficient for further investigation into the McCann involvement with Madeleine’s disappearance. However, the British media were convinced that the young girl was abducted and that her poor parents were frantically looking for their daughter. One major flaw, which is a recurring issue in the journalistic realm, is the presentation of assumptions and an almost storytelling legend like style and tone in articles dealing with cases which have very little evidence and closure of any sort. The flaw with the McCann case is that it is yet to be announced as an abduction case; it has been named an abduction case by the parents of Madeleine, but the authorities have corrected this statement by issuing it as a missing child case, because calling it an abduction would mean that there was evidence to prove that the girl had been kidnapped, and such evidence is yet to be presented.
It is obviously an interesting topic, which most journalists would find highly entertaining and mind teasing to write about, but we should always keep in mind that this is a criminal case that has been running cold for the last eleven years. Fact checking on such a case, which has yet to show a body or a real suspect of some kind, can be difficult and often uncomfortable to write about. So far, in my research of different media outlet coverages of this case, I cannot say that I am fully satisfied with any of the reports. Many of the articles contain bias and the author’s side in the theory of what happened to Madeleine, which kills the purpose of journalism, which is to report news rather than speculations and accusations which to this day cannot be proved or disproved.
If I were to take on an article on the McCann case, I feel like a good place to start would be police reports, statements and such. Then, I would proceed with reviewing every interview in which the McCanns spoke of that night and see if any new information has been added. I would then glance at the different theories and conspiracy theories which are floating about the web and nitpick ones which I would find the most compelling given their accuracy to facts which are already known. I would then compile the information and write an article on the progression of the case and reasons behind its standstill and the absence of new evidence. I strongly believe that in criminal cases which are being reported, the journalist should be mindful of the information they use and the sources they quote. It is important to have an outreached view on the case to avoid bias in the article, to avoid heavy criticism and unjust suspicion.
In conclusion, from my consumption of the media surrounding the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, I can say that there were many examples of poor journalism in many of the Portuguese new outlets, and the differences between how the British and Portuguese viewed the case. This had opened my mind to the possibility of hostility between the UK and Portugal, which is also a reflection from the media I have studied.
I found many of the media outlets argue their case and their believe that their article covered the basis of the case and had informed their audience of what happened on May 3rd 2007. However, there is no doubt that this case is an interesting practice for a factual/ criminal–based media opportunity which is still relevant to this day. making it a perfect example of a news story which hasn’t ceased to be considered news for over a decade.