Clarence Mitchell: The McCanns and the Media
Date: Wednesday 30 January 2008
Venue: New Theatre, East Building
Speakers: Clarence Mitchell, Justine McGuiness, Kelvin MacKenzie, Roy Greenslade
Chair: Steve Hewlett
"The McCanns were the biggest media story of 2007. This event goes behind the headlines to ask why it became a media obsession, whether information or entertainment triumphed, and what impact the coverage has as the case continues."
Press Association: British police and child protection officers do not suspect Madeleine McCann's parents of involvement in her disappearance, the couple's spokesman has said.
Clarence Mitchell said officials had assured him in private briefings that they were treating the case as one of "rare stranger abduction".
He was speaking as he launched an outspoken attack on the "appalling" standards of some media coverage of the disappearance of the Kate and Gerry McCann's daughter in Portugal in May.
Mr Mitchell, who acted as the couple's spokesman shortly after Madeleine went missing and reprised this role four-and-a-half months ago, said he was completely convinced of their innocence.
He told a packed theatre: "I have never once seen or heard anything from either of them to give me any cause for suspicion in any shape or form.
"I have also had briefings privately from the police and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP)* centre that also gave me complete reassurance that the authorities, in this country certainly, are treating this as a case of rare stranger abduction, as they call it."
But Mr Mitchell said he felt "shamed" as a former reporter by the "sloppiness" and "laziness" of certain journalists in covering the story.
Speaking at a debate on The McCanns and the Media at the London School of Economics, Mr Mitchell said: "What we have taken issue with, and our lawyers continue to review, is the aspect of coverage that is not only distorted but wilfully misrepresentative at times of the facts as we know them or the lack of facts. In that vacuum I'm afraid some very sloppy standards have crept in."
He singled out "the sloppiness and laziness of some of the journalists, and the lack of independence of thought and checking of facts".
Mr Mitchell said he understood putting a story about Madeleine's disappearance on the front page could add 70,000 sales to some newspapers, meaning there was "definitely a commercial imperative" to reporting on the case. He assured the audience they could be certain that "every single one" of the negative stories they read or heard about the McCanns was untrue.
*The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), formed in April 2006, is a UK cross agency and cross business department of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which is tasked to work both nationally and internationally to bring online child sex offenders to the UK courts.
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