Gerry McCann talks to Jeremy Paxman : A Flimsy and Snipped Interview
Gerry McCann pre-recorded interview with Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman.
Voice Over introduction. What about the case of a person who actively courts the papers, although for most understandable of motives, only to end up at the centre of defamatory stories. A person like Gerry McCann, father of Madeline.
Quote from McCann cut in. “Madeline, I believe, was made, was a commodity, and profits were to be made. As far as I could see having front page news stories or indeed any stories in newspapers on a daily basis, was not helpful to the search. Undoubtedly we could have sue all the newspaper groups, I feel fairly confident about that. That wasn’t what we were interested in; we were interested in putting a stop to it, first and foremost, and looking for some redress, primarily with an apology.”
Voice over continues. Few media outlets emerge with credit from coverage of Madeline’s disappearance, including the portrayal of the McCann’s friends and neighbours in Portugal, according to one seasoned watcher. We shouldn’t restrict this to newspapers, television and radio also. They were jumping on Mr Murat the neighbour, haranguing him, and also hare hanging the families it was a very difficult situation. It became such a huge international story that the interest that the McCann galvanised ran out of control. That is wholly wrong. The development of a privacy right is going to begin to curtail those types of stories, and it is only when that right comes into force, and is being enforced, that we will begin to see the potential impact that such a privacy law could have on what you might all stories in the public interest. The old editors’ motto, publish and be dammed, looks rather more threatened in Fleet Street tonight.
Start of face to face interview.
Jeremy Paxman : Well earlier I spoke to Gerry McCann. I asked him if he'd been shocked by how the media had behaved.
Gerry McCann : It's more than shocked ... ur ... we were heart ... ur ...we felt that there has been a complete disservice done to our daughter, who is still missing. And that is the thing which is hardest to actually forgive. .... er .... There was no regard for that. There was no regard for the feelings of both Kate or myself, ... er ... our other children, in fact, our wider extended family.
Jeremy Paxman : Do you think you were naive?
Gerry McCann : I th ... it ... Of course we were naive in that ... in the sense that we have never been exposed to the media previously and I ... I think, though, that we were better protected than menemy ... than many, Jeremy.
Jeremy Paxman : But then you had this entire media circus ....
Gerry McCann : It really was a circus.
Jeremy Paxman : .... camped out, around you, but you collaborated with them when it was convenient to you, didn't you? And you would announce photocalls and whether or not you'd be speaking that day - or maybe tomorrow or the day after. D'you .... d'you think to some degree you .... you reaped a whirlwind?
Gerry McCann : (smiling) We reaped a whirlwind? - No, (cough). I presume you're taking a very much a "devil's advocate's" position here on what you're doing. We have very clear objectives of what we wanted, and any parents would take the opportunity of trying to get information into the investigation that might help find their daughter. And that's what our clear objectives were. .... Um .... I think the one thing we'd probably do slightly differently is the .... the dividing line between 'when does media covering a story ... er ... on a daily basis' which happened and did discuss today about the aspect of when .... um .... we finished our trips ... er .... particularly to Germany, Holland, Morocco, where we felt there might be information relevant, we stayed on in Portugal because emotionally we were not ready to leave, and we felt closest to Madeleine there, and we fully expected, at that point, the media attention to die down, and .... and it didn't. And I think, with hindsight, we probably should have drawn a much clearer line in the sand, and even about being photographed.
Jeremy Paxman : We, the consumer, of course, see this scrum of photographers and cameramen and reporters surrounding a couple to whom a terrible thing has happened, and we only see it from one side, but what's it like when you're on the other side?
Gerry McCann : It's very intimidating, particularly when you've never experienced anything like that before and I have to say when I came back from the Police station, .... er .... on Friday the 4th of May and saw the mass of media ... er ... internationally gathered, I ..... it fills ..... the prospect of having them .... um .... door-stepping, invading your privacy, raking up anything from, y'know, your school days to potentially university, to things that have absolutely no relevance in the ongoing search, filled me with dread.
Jeremy Paxman : Do you draw a lesson about what aught to be done? I mean, it's a very broad question, but do you draw a lesson?
Gerry McCann : I mean ....Simplistically - and it is simplistically because the regulation and the law surrounding it and self-regulation is clearly is quite complex, and what we would call for is some move - and if it is a backward step ... We want more responsible reporting and we want accountability for what's written, particularly when it has the potential to seriously damage .... er .... peoples' lives, and I don't know how a family who were less supported than we were could have coped, because we had a point very, very close to completely breaking.
Jeremy Paxman : Can you tell us finally, what's happening with the search for Madeleine now?
Gerry McCann : I think that one thing, today, we would like to re-emphasise is the search for Madeleine is very much ongoing. ... Um ... We have .... er .... a lot of activity going on behind the scenes .... er .... We will become public with the activity when feel we need more information in a specific area . But ... er .... Madeleine's fund is ... er ... funding an ongoing search. We're very, very keen to work with the authorities both here and in Portugal, to try at the very, very least to find Madeleine and find who took her.
Jeremy Paxman: Gerry McCann, thank you.
Gerry McCann : Thank you.
... AND SOMETHING TO REMEMBER....
The British media does not do responsibility. It does stories
by Simon Jenkins
The frenzied reporting of the missing McCann child serves neither the interests of the family nor the cause of justice
The media coverage of the missing McCann child has largely escaped censure. This is because it concerns an ongoing tragedy and because the grief of those directly involved is so real. Neither justifies freedom from comment. The coverage has been absurdly over the top and cannot have served the interests of the family, or the eventual cause of justice.
I was astonished to see the BBC news department sending its star presenter, Huw Edwards, to southern Portugal to handle what was essentially a single thread story with at least two other onscreen reporters in place. The corporation must be stiff with under-employed staff. Presumably as a result of this decision, the McCanns regularly led the 6 o'clock news, ahead of Gordon Brown's leadership bid - even when there was nothing new to report from the Algarve.
In this voracious feeding frenzy the media presence in Portimao was reduced to extremes of invention to justify the prominence the story was getting back home. We learned of false sightings, car chases, child traffickers, barren women, beach paedophiles and dark dungeons. A "suspect" was enveloped in private detective work way beyond any consideration for natural justice. The sympathy a reader or viewer was bound to feel for the McCanns was overwhelmed in an exploitative swarm. Star footballers were signed up, as were Hell's Angels, MPs wearing yellow ribbons and ministers meeting deputations. It was as if a missing child were this year's Make Poverty History campaign.
Madeleine has become Maddy, an angel face in the clutches of a monster. The reasonable attempts of the McCanns to avoid publicity and be seen to cooperate with the much-battered Portuguese police were as broken sticks in a tornado of coverage. No aspect of the case was left intact by invading armies of counsellors, paediatricians, psychologists, criminologists and trauma consultants. "Every parent's nightmare" became the nation's nightmare. Families closed their doors to the world, hugged their children close and cursed Portugal.
To suggest that this might not be a good way of finding a missing child is clearly spitting in the wind. It is possible that publicity in the McCann case might have induced witnesses to come forward in the immediate aftermath of the girl's disappearance. It is equally possible that media hysteria could drive a cornered criminal to desperate measures to cover his or her tracks. Is it worth the risk?
There were 798 child abductions in Britain in the last period for which figures are available (2003-4), of which most were intra-family but 68 were "by strangers". Of these, a majority were quickly and quietly resolved, by information being available and acted on before the captor realised. Twenty-five of them took longer, in addition to dozens from preceding years. Since the disappearance of Madeleine on May 3, another 450 young people have gone missing in Britain. While many are teenagers, none has received anything like the attention given to the McCanns.
So what made this case so special as to merit the trans-shipment of Fleet Street's finest and the BBC's chief news-reader? The answer is that a "big news story" is not a systematic concept. It does not emerge onto the page according to some calculus of merit, as satirically suggested by Michael Frayn in his novel, Towards the End of Morning. It does not claim its place on the front page via a table stipulating five dead Englishmen (or one Londoner), 50 dead Europeans and 1,000 dead Chinese.
To acquire front page status a story must compete with dozens of similar human interest stories on a particular day, boosted by happenings over the light news period such as a bank holiday. Hence the phenomenon that alsatians only attack children at Easter and there is a "road carnage horror" every Christmas, though statistics on both are constant through the year. The story should relate the ordinary lives of readers, as did the Soham murders, but not the deaths of the Morecambe Bay Chinese cockle pickers. It must contain tears, suspense and mystery.
Such features are not cynical or strange. A newspaper story strives to attain the quality of a novel, if only because it knows that readers like novels, as television viewers like soap operas. The human imagination is attuned to narratives that have beginnings, middles and ends, preferably ends that carry some moral message. Under this pressure what is extraordinary is not that newspapers sometimes make things up (and get them wrong) but that they make so little up.
The McCann story ticked all these boxes. It was not another runaway teenager or the death abroad of another "promising gap-year student". It was a heartbreaking and open-ended mystery. Any parent could relate to it. Any reader could, by expressing sympathy and showing vigilance, participate in relieving pain and possibly solving the case. This might involve intrusion into private grief and blatant xenophobia, but that is hardly a media novelty. Britons travelling abroad seem to feel entitled to the same consideration by the authorities as they would get at home, and journalists feed that unreasonable expectation.
I have found the coverage of the McCann story prurient and tedious beyond belief. That the BBC should regard it as more important than Brown's ascension to national leadership crumbles my faith in that great organisation. Tabloid values have come to British public service broadcasting with a vengeance and without even the commercial pressure of the private sector. It is like the daily attention given to the kidnapping of the BBC's brave Gaza correspondent, Alan Johnston, when dozens of other kidnappings, including of journalists, go unreported.
In this spirit I must constantly remind myself that the British media does not do responsibility. It does stories. And stories tell better when they are about individuals, not collectives. The media is unconcerned with what people like me find decorous or important. It kicks down doors and exposes the hidden corners of the human condition. It fights competition, plays dirty and disobeys the rules. There is nothing it finds too vulgar or too prurient for its wandering, penetrating lens.
Journalists may have cooked the McCann story to a burnt crisp. But they cook many other stories that way and I say, thank goodness. There are plenty in power who feel too much was written and said on the Royal Navy hostages, on cash-for-honours, on BAE sleaze and on David Kelly. Tough luck on them.
Damilola Taylor was just one among many youngsters whose lives are ruined or lost on Britain's sink housing estates, conditions highlighted by the extraordinary publicity attached to his case. Many brave people are killed for trying to impose order on Britain's streets, but it was the teacher, Philip Lawrence, who captured the public's imagination. Sometimes there is no better way to alert the nation to street violence, racism or even the dangers faced by families abroad than through the tragedy visited on an individual victim.
The British press plays hard cop to the soft cop of the British constitution. It goes where politics dares not tread, certainly the present pusillanimous parliament that still cannot find a way of holding the government to account for Iraq, as congress is finally doing in America. The press does not operate with any sense of proportion, judgment or self-restraint because it is selling stories, not running the country. The unshackled and irresponsible press sometimes gets it wrong. But I still prefer it, warts and all, to a shackled and responsible one.
Source: The Guardian, Friday 18 May 2007
Interview Transcript - thanks to Reggie Dunlop (3 Arguidos) & Wizard