“I have no doubts that the media were strategically ‘used’ in order not to allow the story to ‘die’”, university professor Madalena Oliveira told Lusa, in a written interview.
Apart from the “many initiatives” that were carried out to “keep the issue in the journalists’ agenda”, “we cannot ignore that a very strong Public Relations machine was built around the parents”, added the investigator, who has already presented communications about the issue at conferences abroad.
Since the beginning, it was visible that this was “extended news” in the media, that “seduced public opinion”, which in turn led the journalists to stay “alert to every movement” around the story, revealing a “certain will, or maybe obligation, to satiate the audiences’ interest”, Madalena Oliveira sustains.
This is where two opposed questions appear and the possibility of the “perversion of journalism itself” emerges, which is excluded if the reporters’ role is that of “mandatary of the citizens’ will and right to be informed”, but which has to be admitted if communication firms see “a strategy to give the public what the public wants” in this case.
The media process that surrounds the disappearance of the English child in the Algarve “illustrates a certain tendency in contemporary journalism to privilege actuality’s emotional charge”, in what French investigator Mac Litz calls “compassionate journalism”, the university teacher considers.
An aspect that becomes relevant is the increasing media interest in child issues, in this case augmented by a suspicion of crime, the involvement of foreigners and the inevitable implications between the diplomacies of Portugal and of the United Kingdom, she stresses.
“This is a case that will become a marker in the history of Portuguese or even international journalism”, as it illustrates the story of how “a child can individually move the public opinion of an entire country”, Madalena Oliveira concludes.
Madeleine McCann disappeared on the 3rd of May 2007 from a bedroom where she slept with her younger twin siblings, in an apartment at the “Ocean Club” resort, in Praia da Luz, near Lagos, in the Algarve.
The Judiciary Police has initially pointed towards the abduction theory, but later admitted to the child’s homicide. Nevertheless, the authorities have never managed to clarify what really happened to Madeleine McCann, who would be nearly six today.
source: Diário de Notícias, 02.05.2009
Madalena da Costa Oliveira is a researcher and professor at the Department of Communication Sciences in the University of Minho, and published the study 'Madeleine McCann: the greatest story of public opinion seduction'. She worked as a trainee journalist for TSF radio, in Lisbon, and as a press assessor to António José Seguro, the assistant Minister of the Prime Minister, in the XIV Constitutional Portuguese Government.