1.Everyone shall possess the right to freely express and publicise his thoughts in words, images or by any other means, as well as the right to inform others, inform himself and be informed without hindrance or discrimination 2.Exercise of the said rights shall not be hindered or limited by any type or form of censorship Constitution of the Portuguese Republic, Article 37.º

Coverage of the Conference: The McCanns & the Media

Podcast Here!!!

The McCanns and the Media
Speakers: Clarence Mitchell; Justine McGuiness; Kelvin MacKenzie; Roy Greenslade; Roger Graef
Chair: Steve Hewlett
This event was recorded on 30 Jan 2008 in New Theatre, East Building
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. Steve Hewlett is a media consultant and former BBC editor. Roy Greenslade is a media commentator, columnist and blogger, and Professor of Journalism at City University. Kelvin MacKenzie is former editor of the Sun, firmly establishing it as Britain's biggest selling newspaper. Clarence Mitchell is a former BBC royal correspondent and now spokesman for the McCanns. Justine McGuinness is a PR guru who manages the Find Madeleine campaign. Roger Graef was the executive producer of the recent Dispatches which featured the McCanns.
Available as:
mp3 (23 mb; approx 99 minutes)
Event Posting: The McCanns and the Media

Sky News: The Most Significant Story Of My LIfetime

There is no question that the McCanns were the biggest media story of 2007.
Newspaper sales went up by tens of thousands every time Madeleine McCann appeared on the front page, but was the mass of media coverage information or entertainment?

The McCann's spokesman Clarence Mitchell and former editor of The Sun Kelvin MacKenzie attempted to answer that question last night at the London School of Economics.

"The most significant story of my lifetime" was how Kelvin MacKenzie described it and one which he said will be in all our lives until Madeleine is found.

He told a packed auditorium that he received 10,000 emails from Sun readers after writing a piece which said we should have sympathy for the McCanns. Almost all, he said, told him he was a scumbag and that he had no idea how ordinary people felt.

"They said had this been a single black mother from Brixton I would have been saying she should be hung." And he admitted "you should all wonder if there may be some truth in that."

So why, on the one hand, was there such a public outpouring of support for the McCanns which raised £1.2 million pounds for the fund to find Madeleine, and on the other newspaper readers baying for Gerry and Kate's blood?

Kelvin MacKenzie described it as a "class war" saying people simply made up their mind from the very beginning.

As soon as the public found out that the couple had left their three children alone in the holiday apartment night after night, they fell into two categories; those who could empathise, who'd perhaps done the same thing themselves and realised how easily it could have been their child, others who felt the McCanns were somehow deserving of something happening, and that they should be charged with negligence.

The latter group were well represented at the debate - a couple handed out leaflets entitled "The Madeleine Foundation, combating child neglect".

In it they demanded the McCanns "tell the truth" about Madeleine's disappearance, asked for an investigation into the Find Madeleine Fund and called for Kate and Gerry to be prosecuted for leaving their children alone.

Even if the public had already made up their own minds, Clarence Mitchell said the coverage by some newspapers certainly didn't help.

The former Royal Correspondent for the BBC said he felt "shamed" as a journalist by the "appalling standards, sloppiness and laziness of journalism" and the lack of basic fact-checking which left him having to deny allegations on a daily basis.

Lawyers for the McCanns are still reviewing some of the coverage which Mr Mitchell said was not only "distorted, but wilfully misrepresentative at times of the facts as we known them".

Whilst co-operating with the media meant Madeleine's image was displayed all over Britain, mainland Europe and even North Africa is also meant the McCanns themselves came under the spotlight, and none more so than when they became "Arguidos" or suspects.

Do they have any regrets? I am sure they have many, but Mr Mitchell said the family remained grateful for the positive reporting since Madeleine disappeared, and he said he would defy any family in the McCann's situation not to do the same.

"The Media" he said "is a very powerful weapon" and it is, but it is also a double-edged sword.

Roy Greenslade: The McCanns' debate: from banality to an outpouring of bile

I feared that last night's debate on "The McCanns and the media" (see posting immediately below) would generate more heat than light. In fact, it generated neither heat nor light. Aside from some persistent interruptions from a group of misguided, self-appointed busy-bodies, the standing-room-only event at the LSE was marked by its banality.

That doesn't mean that we didn't hear interesting views, but - as a debate - it never took off. It didn't help that two-thirds of the panel were required to sit "off stage", thereby limiting the ease of participation. On the other hand, we did get a glimpse of the irrational prejudice blighting the whole affair.

It began well enough when Kelvin MacKenzie opened with a reasonably measured and thoughtful contribution that rightly pointed to several remarkable features of the McCanns saga that had helped to make it into what he hyperbolically called "the greatest story of my lifetime." But he mostly made a lot of good sense. Social class had played a part in the media's immediate interest and in helping to catch the public's imagination. He revealed that he had shown an understanding for the plight of Gerry and Kate McCann but readers of his Sun column had not.

He spoke of "10,000 emails" that were overwhelmingly hostile to the McCanns for having left their children in their bedroom unsupervised. His readers did not share his sympathy for the couple and, by implication, that had changed his mind somewhat.

I was altogether less enamoured with his defence of papers, especially the Express titles, for publishing wildly inaccurate stories. Kelvin's defence? Newspapers are commercial operations and you must expect them to publish stories calculated to increase sales. The temptation to ramp up circulation was too great to resist. That doesn't wash with me at all.

Next up was Clarence Mitchell, the official spokesman for the McCanns. He launched a broadside on a press guilty of carrying speculative stories without any basis in truth. Stories, incidentally, which he had often formally denied before publication.

He explained how British journalists relied for most of their stories on the Portuguese papers that also ran speculative and unverifiable material. After being spun in British tabloids, the Portuguese then picked them up the following day, pretending that the fact they had appeared in the British press was "proof" of their veracity. In other words, it was a constant recycling of gossip and innuendo, none of it based on fact.

Mitchell's concern about trying to deal with a rampant global media was echoed in the experiences of his predecessor in the role, Justine McGuinness. She spoke of the immense scale of media interest, implying that it was virtually impossible to cope with a hydra-headed media beast demanding daily, almost hourly, feeds.

Roger Graef, producer of Channel 4's Dispatches on the mystery of Madeleine McCann's disappearance, spoke of the surreal, Kafkaesque nature of making a documentary in which there were (and are) no facts and about which no-one has any genuine knowledge, including the Portuguese police.

David Mills is the man who produced a documentary for Panorama and then disowned it because key material - some of it critical of the Portuguese police - was omitted. He was concerned about the media's failure to hold the police to account and complained about the dearth of proper investigative journalism about the case.

So far, so good. But once the debate was opened out to the audience by chairman Steve Hewlett, it went nowhere helpful. A vociferous group who have formed an organisation called The Madeleine Foundation showed a lamentable grasp of debating rules by interrupting speakers and shouting out a string of offensive comments about the McCanns and their PRs.

Their anger may have been sincere, but it became abundantly clear that they are infected with prejudice. Many of the claims they made - about money donated to the McCanns' fund, about payments to PRs, about the McCanns' actions and relationship with the police - were obviously based on the inaccurate accusations and innuendos published by so many newspapers.

However, reflecting on the debate on my journey home, I realised that they represented the authentic voice of so many British people, the Sun readers Kelvin had mentioned and probably the readers of all popular papers. It is not pretty.

Their unconcealed bile, their lack of compassion for the McCanns, their sanctimonious statements about the supposed parenting inadequacies of the McCanns, do not stem wholly from poor reporting.

Certainly, false stories have contributed to their fallacious arguments. But they were uninterested in the rational statements of Mitchell and McGuinness. They took no notice of the subtle arguments of Graef and Mills.

They were the equivalent of those mobs outside courts in murder trials, deaf to facts, cocooned from reality by their own self-righteous demagoguery. Their major aim, outlined in a "manifesto" circulated within the lecture theatre, is to see the McCanns prosecuted for "abandoning" their children.

The newspapers that have retailed nonsense about this case do have a lot to answer for. But then so do the people, do they not? What the debate never touched on was whether the media could, even eight months' on, play a positive role to counter the misinformation that appears now to have taken such a grip among the population.

A comment to Roy Greenslade article (by atod)

"This is yet another piece of scurrilous sophistry from the massed ranks of the broadsheet wage slaves who have the audacity to call themselves journalists.

In simple terms, Mr Greenslade relates a statement without critical comment that not even the Portuguese police know the details of the case. Yet he is apparently appalled that the tabloids have published wildly inaccurate stories. How does he know they are inaccurate ? Does he believe the stories from Portugal of easily verifiable changes in the McCann party witness statements are irrelevant ? Is it possible the British forensics teams sent to Portugal have simply invented the evidence of blood, dna, hair and so forth in the parents car and apartment to annoy lower middle class Guardian readers and have them spit into the cappuccino ? Were the McCann's relatives and their PR spokesperson Ms McGuiness or the McCann relatives lying when they revealed that British police dogs had detected a dead body on Mrs McCanns clothes ?

Does Mr Greenslade intend visiting his local courts on a regular basis to challenge the police evidence that he has so little faith in or is is it only this particular case in which is worthy of his interest as a journalist.
He contrasts the unconcealed bile, their lack of compassion for the McCanns, the sanctimonious statements of the lower orders with the brave indefatigable public relations team battling a 'hydra-headed media beast demanding daily, almost hourly, feeds'. Not questioning why the British government sent out the head of its media monitoring unit to assist the McCanns in an act of supernatural generosity or why the same individual, Mr Mitchell is still representing the McCanns. Not only to handle media queries but apparently to employ a team of Spanish desperados who's job it is to discover sightings of Madeleine in at least three countries per week and to make statements that they absolutely know where she is and that she will be returned very quickly. No one could possibly be taken in by that nonsense.
He doesn't challenge the value of the McCann's PR spokesman's denial of the baying mob's accusation coming as they do from someone who is paid by the official suspects. Yes, Mr Mitchell is middle class but he is also a paid advocate
Does he believe that leaving three children under three years old for long periods of time alone while the parents are drinking is acceptable ? If the McCanns were car park attendants rather than doctors, would he feel the same. ? In fact, from what little we know of Dr McCann his accent, temper and drinking habits have a striking resemblance to his former neighbours in Crosshill, Glasgow. Does he believe those who think the McCanns abandoned their three year old and two year olds and like the police may have been responsible for her death should have compassion for them ?

It's clear that this circus has in many ways been caused by the apparent practice of the Portuguese police to leak evidence to the press in order to inform the public that there is a case to answer but the British press didn't publish it until they McCanns were made official suspects and it turned out to be TRUE. Not only the tabloids, but the broadsheets published acres of material.

In short this article is part of the orchestrated snobbery and racism of the British broadsheets in their handling of this sorry affair."

And one IN LOCO Report from the Conference (thank you astromum)

I arrived early to make sure of a seat towards the front. Then the speakers arrived. Clarence Mitchell and Justine McGuiness shook hands and didn't look like they had met before.
Quite alot of lone women in the audience but notably only one woman on the panel of speakers.
Kelvin Mackenzie, Steve hewlitt, the 'moderator', and Clarence Mitchell sat at the front table whilst the others sat in the front row.
Kelvin starts speaking: This is the most significant story in my lifetime. There are only 2 known facts: 1) a child is missing 2) Her parents are the main suspects.
Every other story about the disappearance of Maddie is a spin off of these two facts.
Without finding the child this story will live in our lives forever.
Uniquely this was a middle class child who was kidnapped.
the Sun readership is mostly C1's and D2's. When I wrote a story sympathetic to the Mccanns I got the largest ever email bag between 8 and 10,000 emails. 99.9percent of them were against the McCanns. They said that the coverage was classist. There is some truth in that.
Referring to the LSE audience Kelvin said an audience like this is at odds with the population.
How a big story like this works in Britain: Normally after 2/3 days journalists covering the case would have been brought together by police, off the record, and they would explain what had happened. The journalists would be given by and large 95% of the story. 5% would be held back.
Newspapers would then run a wholly accurate story which would act as a warning in a dangerous situation and stop speculation
Its now been 272 days since Madeleine has been missing. All there has been is one 3 minute conversation between the portuguese police and a UK journalist. Stories dont come from the portuguese police. Portuguese papers run opposing stories every other day. This is a problem for the McCanns. Everyone here is obsessed. when papers put the McCanns on the front page, there is a 2 to 3% rise in circulation.
The recent story with Ashley Cole, there is a rise of 2-3 per cent for the first day, maybe the second. With the McCanns its been that way for 9 months.
Steve Hewlitt asks: " Why are readers so negative? "
Kelvin" because of the neglect. Its a class war issue. Punishment is wanted.
Its an incredible(good) idea to get a PR. They stop doorstepping, phonecalls etc. Ordinary people however don't associate PR with the truth. Now there are stories that Oprah and Barbara have offered all this money.
Clarence: Thats not true by the way.
The PR was necessary but there is a downside. People are suspicious. Sombody needs to help the Mccanns in the modern era. Justine and I are a buffer so that the McCanns can get on with their lives to a certain extent.
I am trying to tell the truth.
Arguido is less perjorative than the word suspect. By the way the McCanns did not phone the press before the police. There are appalling standards of journalism. I was with them for a month as a govt advisor. I am not suspicious of them. Briefing from the police mean that I am very happy to defend them. I'm not usually a person that supports causes.
an average front page puts on 70 thousand copies when they lead with the McCanns.
In todays word , with pressure to get broadcasting out, it means standards have slipped.
The Uk press imitates the Portuguese press which then recycles the UK press. Its distorted.
Then an irish guy interrupts and says ' weve heard all this before, stop rambling on". He turns out to be from the Madeleines law campaign.
Clarence apologizes.
Steve Hewlitt asks some tough questions: this is media management ? The Morroccan sighting was untrue. Was it appropriate for this new drawing of a man to be described as a suspect in the manner of the police?
Did the police have this info?
Clarence: yes since May. And we asked Gail Cooper if the police had done a drawing of her description and she said no. So we commissioned one.

Then Roger McGraef got up and tried to be amusing (failing miserably). he said that he was constantly being asked to comment on this story which has no substance to it. He was of the "Its disgusting how everybody treats the McCanns" school of thought. Really couldnt be bothered to listen to him. But he annoyed me when he said leaving your children alone when you are on holiday is perfectly normal and everybody does it.
then David Mills gets up: He's another boring old male fart. He says "It raises issues about police proceedure, forensic science in this country, and the british press. There are precedents in the US and there are many parallels between the Ramseys and the McCanns. He says something about the Ramseys being proved to be wholly innocent. (Dont think thats true is it?)
Then a blonde woman sitting next to me catches me tutting and hands me a leaflet for the Madeleines law campaign.
Next its Justine Mcguinness: She immediately comes across as more relevant than the two previous men. She says that the McCanns represent aspirational Britain. They've worked their way up from a working class background to 'media' careers ( everybody laughs at this freudian slip) . She corrects herself " medical' careers I mean. She admits that one editor she spoke to admitted that he changed how he covered the story based on the fact that the parents are doctors.
They made decisions at the beginning:
to pool media access, no exclusives.
The experts advised them to use the media.
They made a decision to use electronic communications. And hits on websites had influenced editorial policy.
Roy Greenslade:
Everyone has a view. This story has gone in 4 phases:
1) initially- sympathy
2) skepticism, and its appropriate for journalists to adopt this tone.
3)Long period of suspicion
4) commercial cynicism.
He asks Has the media gone too far? Yes
Has the internet removed editorial limits? Yes
Have the laws on defamation been breached- Yes , people unlike journalists dont care about defamation,thats the nature of gossip.
Questions from audience start:
What this the first missing child in the UK? no
Was this the first missing child case that used a professional PR? probably.
Clarence: the portuguese police don't engage with the media at all. When they went to the british police station and saw the media room, they were like, whats this? why you need this?
Next question from audience:
Has Article 8 the right to privacy and article 10 (couldnt hear) from the Human rights legislation been breached?
Didnt hear answer.
Angela from Sky news: (dumb blonde who asked dumb blonde question) Was this story big because it was a slow news day?
Kelvin: No. The story was huge in itself.
Lady from Madeleines law said angry stuff but cant remember what.
Evening standard journalist said somehting boring.
Madeleines law lady: What about the fund ? these Private investigators. How much do they cost?
Clarence;Cost of agency 50K? But they are actually costing 7 or 8k but the rest is for operational costs.
Another lady: Whatever happened to the presumption of innocence?
Richard Peel Pr guy: Something about letting off balloons.
Justine gets up and defends decision to let off balloons.
I ask a question: These men here and Clarence in the past have said thats its normal for British parents to leave their children alone when on holiday. This makes people furious. This sort of media is not helping the McCanns. I was frustrated with what I was reading in the press, it wasn't expressing my feelings and opinions, so I found the forums like the Daily mirror which has been shut down (and Clarence says the same thing so he knows) and now the 3arguidos. There are extreme opinions, both pro and anti. I'm a fence sitter who veers towards anti.
I believe that these forums and online comments express a kind of collective gut feeling that something is amiss. I then go onto to say" please let me say one more thing: there is no investigative journalism any more. One poster, ellibean, went out to praia da luz and filmed the distance between the tapas bar and the apartment. No journalist did that. They are all too busy sitting in the bar and using their exes (expenses). Hey ellibean I namechecked you!!!
Clarence nodded his agrrement about lack of investigative journalism.
Clarence Mitchell: I'm not a PR. I'm a journalist. I'm not putting a spin on it. There is an image problem.I'm not critisizing the police overtly.
Steve Hewlitt: Is it appropriate for the family to be doing this?You are not the police.
question from the audience about fund and Justine McGuinness' wages.
Justine gets up: I received 55thousand. Actually I was very generous to the McCanns. People have to earn a living.
Woman from Madeleines law shouts" its about a missing child. How dare you?
Justine: I worked 7 days a week. I have 50 voice mails. It was ovewhelming. I'm sure it was for clarence too.
Clarence pipes up and says" well i'm not being paid from the fund, i'm being paid by Brian Kennedy. (slightly smugly i might add)
Then he says loudly you want facts. These are the facts. The fund earnt 1.2 million from the website appeal. Even now kate and gerry are getting letters with small checks from kids and people. They are very grateful.
Now the fund is down to 570k. Thats for private detectives and poster campaigns in spain
blonde madeleines law lady interrupts: I go to spain twice a week. I'm going tommorrow. I've never seen a poster there. its all spin, its a coverup.
Then Clarence says "it will be down to 346k by end of March. This is publicly donated money.
There was more but thats the bulk of it. I probably missed out stuff but there will be a pod cast.
The madeleines law people handed out leaflets to people.
Steve hewlitt came up and thanked me for my question which was nice.
My impressions: that clarence actually believes what he is saying. That the other guys david mills and roger mcgraf know nothing and are not impartial.
Justine Mcguinness was well humiliated and shown up for career building greedy guts. She is now the spokesperson for the libdems (oops).


Mechanics of the McCann campaign by Steve Hewlett

This is more than a case of ‘media Maddieness’ by Tim Black

McCanns and the Media: the debate by Charlie Beckett

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