Grâce à la liberté dans les communications, des groupes d’hommes de même nature pourront se réunir et fonder des communautés. Les nations seront dépassées.
Friedrich Nietzsche (Fragments posthumes XIII-883)

07- MAI à NOV Spiked/Times



 
Portugal: let’s all make it worse
Mick Hume Notebook - The Times - 11.05.2007
When did child abduction become a spectator sport? Who benefits from seeing daily pictures of Madeleine McCann’s distraught mother clutching her missing child’s toy? And why are many experts and authorities preying on our fears to promote their own agenda? We have witnessed two different operations around the abduction of the three-year-old girl from an Algarve holiday apartment. There has been the secretive Portuguese investigation, apparently marred by infighting between police organisations. And then there has been the public “who’s to blame?” inquiry, where campaigners and pundits vie to use the case as a vehicle for point-scoring and finger-pointing. Some crusaders blame the Portuguese for not sharing Britain’s heightened state of paedophile-phobia. Others question why the British parents dared to leave their children asleep in a locked apartment while having dinner. There are demands for a crackdown on British sex offenders travelling abroad, and global action against international paedophile rings. It seems as if everybody wants a piece of the action in Portugal. The UK government-backed Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre packed a psychologist and a behavioural analyst off to the Algarve.

The Sun newspaper asks us all to “sign our petition to protect UK’s kids from paedos”, which turns out to be a call for more funding for the flying abuse experts of the CEOP. Meanwhile, a Swiss campaigner suggests that this would not have happened if the Portuguese authorities had only agreed to help to set up her “Innocence in Danger” campaign in Lisbon: “The fact that the girl was kidnapped from her bed shows how bad things are.” The message from all sides is that this unique crime somehow shows innocence is in danger everywhere, and only the army of child protection experts can save it. The effect is to spread anxiety in a way that seems detached from the actual case. What difference, for example, could a British-style sex offenders register make to the unprecedented abduction of a child from a Portuguese holiday camp? Some of those criticising Portugual’s laws, which preclude giving the UK media details of the investigation, seem more concerned to turn the McCann family’s tragedy into a British public spectacle, an emotional national experience. Everybody from Premiership footballers to a Downing Street spokesman has got involved this week. Such displays might make some feel better over here, but can make little difference to the case over there. The self-promoting child protection industry’s eagerness to seize upon the McCann abduction can only reinforce fears that our children are not safe anywhere from the internet to the Algarve. We are told that this is “every parent’s nightmare”. But who is helping to give parents those nightmares, warning us “it could be you”? All agree that nothing is more terrible than child abduction. So why make its impact even worse?





Missing ‘our Maddie’
Mick Hume - Spiked - 16.05.2007
The abduction of four-year old Madeleine McCann in Portugal has been turned into a public spectacle in Britain. What do you really feel about the disappearance of four-year old Madeleine McCann from an Algarve holiday apartment? Do you reckon it is a bad thing, a good thing, or are you a ‘don’t know’? Of course, it is a crass and stupid question. Everybody is appalled by child abduction. So why then do so many people and organisations in Britain now seem to feel the need to protest that they are against the abduction of a small child from an upmarket holiday camp in Portugal? The ongoing grim story of Madeleine’s disappearance will have touched the private feelings and fears of millions. But that does not explain why so many now make such a song and dance of demonstrating their feelings of sorrow for a family they have never met and of bitterness towards an invisible abductor. After all, we are not stupid enough to think that crime is like a reality TV show, where if we make enough noise we can just vote out the one we hate and make sure the best people win through.

In my part of London there are posters up in windows asking us all to ‘Help Find Madeleine’ and advertising the phone numbers to ring if we ‘have any information about Madeleine’s whereabouts’. Apparently many thousands have been distributed by newspapers and other organisations and displayed across the UK. In the fortnight since Madeleine disappeared, we have seen football crowds waving banners for her and people all over the place wearing yellow ribbons around their wrists. Internet sites are clogged with messages from those keen to express sympathy and say how upset they are. While British celebrities and footballers make appeals and offer rewards for Madeleine’s return, the message from most of the media was summed up by the front page of the Sun newspaper last Saturday - Madeleine’s fourth birthday - which told her tortured parents: ‘We share your pain.’ The television news has largely been given over to the story, with presenters sent to the Algarve to front broadcasts and ‘special correspondents’ reporting on the latest minute developments as if it were a military campaign. Even MPs and government ministers have now felt the need to get involved in the campaign for Madeleine’s safe return.

I feel for Madeleine’s family as anybody must. But at the risk of being accused of callousness, what is this public outpouring really about? It has nothing to do with the progress of the case in Portugal. We know from the rare occasions when a child has been abducted in Britain that such high-profile outpourings of public emotionalism have little bearing on the actual investigation. But at least in those cases one might claim that appeals for information and publicity are relevant to the local police work. This time, however, the posters appealing for our help in finding her are a very long way from the crime scene in Portugal. That gap helps to make clear that such displays are really about something over here rather than over there. The McCann case has been turned into the latest public focus through which people in a fragmented Britain feel able to come together in a collective display of emotion, to show that we share one another’s pain and are on the side of good. Those pictures of the little girl are on show in windows where a church or community group poster might have been in the past - or more pertinently, perhaps, where an England football flag might be displayed these days. It is about a public display of belonging, of feeling part of an emotional collective at a time when there seems little in society or its values to hold people together. It was inevitable that lonely politicians would get involved in this media-shaped attempt to make a connection and bring people together.

To some extent this is not even about Madeleine McCann, the real missing little girl. It is more about the media creation, ‘our Maddie’ or ‘Maddy’ - a name not recognised by her family but invented by headline writers, just as they once turned the murdered two-year old James Bulger into ‘our Jamie’. Some might suggest that this outpouring of common feeling shows ‘Britain at its best’. But as after similar tragedies over the past decade, it is worth asking what it says about our society that it should now take something as terrible as the disappearance of a little girl to bring people together. It is hardly a healthy sign of the public state of mind that many should want to turn a family’s private tragedy into a public spectacle (with audience participation), or even a sort of national emotional rally. Many of the complaints about Portugal’s privacy laws, which prevent the police giving the UK media the full details of their investigation, seem motivated largely by this wish to turn the case into a full-blown media event as has been done with recent child tragedies and murders in Britain. As I noted earlier, one result is that there appear to have been two operations going on around the McCann abduction at the same time. There has been the secretive investigation by the Portuguese authorities. And there has been the noisy ‘who’s-to-blame?’ inquiry conducted by many others via the UK media.

It has seemed as if everybody wants a piece of the action in Portugal for their own purposes, with child protection experts and policemen and lawyers flying out from the UK to stake their claim. Many have sought to seize on the abduction inquiry - and prey upon wider fears about children - in order to promote their own agendas. This has prompted a lot of ugly point-scoring and finger-pointing. So within hours of her disappearance, even though nobody knew for certain that Madeleine had been abducted or why, campaigners were out in force demanding a crackdown on a supposed army of British sex offenders holidaying abroad, or a new global offensive against an alleged international paedophile ring. While some sought to blame the ‘incompetent’ Portuguese, others pinned the blame on the ‘irresponsible’ parents for leaving their sleeping children locked up while they had dinner.
Ils n'étaient pas enfermés, justement...
The effect has been to spread more feelings of fear and guilt and bitterness.
Just below the surface of the universal sympathy, it has been striking how more than a few contributions to online discussions have turned against the McCanns. The assumption that everybody must want Madeleine returned to her family turns out to be not strictly true; some contributors to readers’ discussions have argued that, whether she is found safe or not, she and her siblings should be removed from her parents and placed in official care. It just shows how thin is the veneer of unity in reaction to a tragedy like this. When people’s public reactions are based on unthinking ersatz emotion, divorced from any real involvement with the family or the case, they can just as easily turn against the parents as in their favour - especially at a time when parent-bashing has become so much in vogue.


Much of the British media has effectively sought to take over the case and turn the tragedy of ‘our Maddie’ into a story of their own. It came as little surprise to hear that, once a British man had been identified by the authorities as a formal suspect, a tabloid journalist stepped forward to claim that she had fingered him. She said she had been disturbed by the fact that he refused to be interviewed by the media - a deeply suspicious attitude in our tell-all age. Madeleine’s parents are reported to have said that the high-profile coverage and messages of support have given them strength to cope with their ordeal. Perhaps so; it remains to be seen what the longer term impact on them might be of having their trauma nationalised, of being turned into media beings who walk on the beach for the cameras, live from public vigil to press conference and are pictured on front pages clutching their daughter’s toy every day.  In any case, the rest of us should surely try to take a step back and see things differently than the devastated family. The compassion that we feel towards them is no excuse for indulging in self-serving morbid displays. Many of those writing messages about Madeleine on the internet concede that there is no way anybody can really feel what the McCanns are going through, and there are no words to describe their horror at what has happened. In which case, might it not be better for us to shut up about it, let the investigation run its course, and focus our energies on things that we can do something about? Things like, for example, challenging those who would turn this unique and terrible case into a metaphor for the alleged vulnerability of all our children, and exploit it to intensify further the irrational mood of paedophile-phobia that grips our culture. It almost seems as if there is no family tragedy so terrible that its impact cannot be made worse by the intervention of the child protection zealots.


Mick Hume (Spiked)
The three-week emotional outpouring around the missing Madeleine McCann has laid bare much about British culture today.
MH, à propos de l'enlèvement d'une enfant qui est devenu un spectacle public, argumente que la création d'une solidarité sociale réelle ne peut se fonder sur l'expérience de la souffrance.

Last week I wrote here about why everybody seemed to be ‘Missing “Our Maddie”’, and questioned whether that outpouring of public emotionalism was a healthy response to somebody else’s tragedy. Normally I would only write a spiked column touching on the same issue two weeks running when there is a war on, or at least an election campaign. But these are not normal times.
Over the past three weeks, the campaign and media coverage around the missing four-year-old Madeleine McCann has continued to seize the public imagination in a way that politics in Britain never does these days. And it has also apparently done what wars cannot any more, by uniting the nation behind a cause.

Few want to question the response to Madeleine’s disappearance, since we are talking about an innocent little girl. Yet, despite my suggestion that we should shut up about ‘Our Maddie’, there is a need to keep questioning the reasons behind this phenomenon, and what it reveals about the British state of mind. The campaign for ‘Our Maddie’ may indeed be well-intentioned; but it has come to look like an increasingly morbid symptom of a society that is missing something other than a little girl.
Inevitably, raising these issues means you get accused of downplaying the horror of child abduction. We have all been touched by the McCann’s tragedy, sympathised with the devastated family and, if we are parents, even allowed ourselves to think for a moment what it would be like if our child went missing. I hope that she is found safe (whilst recognising that history suggests this is increasingly unlikely as time passes) and that those responsible are brought to account.

But over the past three weeks, the reactions to this case have gone far beyond such personal feelings of basic human solidarity. Indeed, it has become clear that there are not one but two little girls involved here. There is Madeleine McCann, at the centre of a secretive investigation in Portugal. And then there is ‘Our Maddie’, a photographic image of a blonde girl with a name made up by the media, at the centre of a publicity circus over here.
As time goes on it increasingly seems that the UK media coverage of Maddie has had little connection with the progress of the case itself. Indeed it has often appeared that while the police investigation has been stalling, the media campaign over here has been revving up, as if the less that has been happening, the more coverage it has attracted.

During the first two weeks after Madeleine disappeared, there was little of substance to report from the Algarve on most days. Yet as the Sky News correspondent in the Algarve wrote in his blog, the story topped news bulletins every day bar one - only pushed slightly down the schedule once, by prime minister Tony Blair announcing his resignation date.
Last Sunday night on ITV News was a study in making headlines out of the fact that nothing was happening. The only development was that Madeleine’s father was flying home for an overnight visit. To record these events, ITV News had two ‘live’ reporters - one standing in Portugal to tell us that the plane would be taking off ‘any minute’, the other sent to near the McCann’s home in Leicestershire to report that this was where he would be travelling to.

Then, Monday’s Daily Mirror covered its front page with a splash reporting ‘a minute’s silence to remember Madeleine and pray for her safe return’. The source of this important news? An anonymous e-mail, calling for a minute ‘to raise consciousness about the disappearance’, as if raising consciousness any higher were possible.
Now we even have articles speculating on what will happen when the case drops out of the news, and a sort of grim contest to find new angles to keep it in the headlines and keep the emotional temper high - from stories about Madeleine’s baby siblings kissing her image on TV, to front-page ‘exclusives’ about the BBC soap opera, EastEnders, pulling a summer storyline (ie, not to be broadcast for some time) involving a baby being snatched. None of it is news, but it all offers excuses for more ‘Maddie’ front pages, so back into the emotional maelstrom we all must go.

Some have put this remarkable blanket coverage down to the media savvy of ‘Team McCann’, the family members and advisers supporting Madeleine’s parents. No doubt they are well-organised and persistent professional people who have done everything they can to keep the case in the news, and nobody can blame parents for that. The question is, however, why has the media been so willing to give in to their efforts and tried so hard to put itself in their shoes? After all, the British media is not known for its soft-heartedness. Nor can it have much to do with helping the investigation - the constant calls for more/any information from people in Britain seems more likely to lead to wild goose chases and confusion.
But it is always too easy just to scapegoat ‘the meejah’. Media bosses will say that they have only been giving their readers and viewers what they want - as reflected in high viewing figures for anything Maddie-related and positive feedback. Nor did the mainstream media somehow order millions of people to visit the Madeleine website set up by the family campaign. The media has willingly provided the ring for the public circus. But it has been reflecting - and reinforcing - wider, powerful trends that exist across contemporary UK society.

Here are a few of the features of our culture that have been laid bare these past three weeks:
Britain AD - After Diana. It is over a decade now since I coined the phrase ‘mourning sickness’ to describe the rising fashion for ostentatious public displays of grief and ersatz emotion in response to celebrity deaths. It was a trend that became obvious to all in the huge response to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997.
Many have since tried to claim that mass emotional outburst was a national ‘moment of madness’. But the current mawkish response to the disappearance of a little girl shows that, if anything, the same attitudes are now more deeply embedded in the public psyche and more readily brought to the surface. It has been an outbreak of a sort of pre-mourning sickness, before we even know whether or not she is still alive.

Sharing suffering has become one of the few ways that people feel able to come together in an atomised society. The emotionalism around ‘Our Maddie’ has displayed many of the new rituals people perform to make a public show that they care and are sharing the pain - the flowers, the wristbands, the ribbons, the online messages. When the news reported that the McCanns were visiting a ‘holy site’ this week, I thought for a moment that they were coming home to see the pile of these memorials near their home; it turned out to be a Catholic shrine in Portugal.
I have been reminded again of something Oliver James, the popular psychologist, said about the reactions to Diana’s death in one of his wiser moments: that the sincerity of the public’s emotions was not in doubt, but their authenticity was. In other words, these are not fake tears, people are not putting it on. But nor can public shows of concern for strangers or celebrities be compared to genuine grief. There is something else going on.

In the same way, something else has driven so many people to make a public display of their private fears and feelings over the little girl they have never met. This is close to emotional exhibitionism. It is clearly more about searching for ourselves over here than helping to find her over there. Sadly, this is how many people feel that they can express themselves, and find themselves part of something bigger, in Britain AD - After Diana.
The football factor. The high profile of football and footballers in the campaign around ‘Our Maddie’ should come as no surprise. There were the early fan-made ‘Our Maddie’ banners at Everton (after we all saw the pictures of her in an Everton shirt), the messages from Premiership players and David Beckham asking for her return, the unprecedented two minute film about her shown at Wembley before the FA Cup final, and then the Liverpool team posing with a ‘Bring Maddie Home’ banner on the way to Athens for the Champions League final.

Football has become the nearest thing to a modern-day church for many in our secular society. Les gens vont de moins en moins à l'église, ils communient à l'occasion d'un match de football, le substitut le plus proche de la messe dans nos sociétés séculaires. Where do people come together in large numbers to show their respects or bow their heads these days? At football grounds, where a minute’s silence (or even a minute’s applause) before kick-off has become a regular feature of match-day. To have some campaign linked with football has become a sign that we take it seriously.
This is one sign of the way that the status of football has been inflated in recent, years to fill the gap where our society’s deflated, flat public and political life ought to be. So when the campaign for Maddie became a focus for people to make a public display of common feeling, it was straying onto football’s new home ground. Indeed, those posters for Madeleine often occupy the same windows and make the same statement as England football flags might - an expression of the wish to belong, to be part of an emotional collective.

Some might think it better for people to come together and share feelings around something serious like a lost child rather than something as frivolous as football. But there is surely nothing positive about turning child abduction into a national spectator sport and an emotional football to be used for other purposes.
Misery media. The furore surrounding the McCann case has confirmed the central role of the media in society today. It has become the only platform for public debate and discussion. The way that this one case has suddenly been elevated into a media-managed national obsession shows that we have reached the point where, if an event is not reported, it effectively did not happen; but if it captures the media’s attention, it can be the only story in town.

Yet the coverage following Madeleine’s disappearance also reveals the weakness of the news media today. Lacking a clear sense of its own mission, and feeling as isolated as every other institution, the media seizes upon a case like this as a chance to connect with the audience. As that same Sky correspondent’s blog put it, journalists generally are ‘not very popular in certain quarters, and en masse we can even seem like vultures’. But over the McCann case, things are different: ‘members of the public keep telling us what a great job we are doing’. He concludes with satisfaction that ‘we as journalists had moved beyond reporting to performing a public service’.
But what are the consequences of this shift for news reporting? It means that reporters become concerned not just with reporting the news but with making it - pointing the finger at suspects, and generally doing whatever they can to keep the national emotional rally going. It means journalists putting themselves and their feelings at the moral centre of the story, which inevitably leads to telling us how we should be feeling. At worst, we can end up with a sort of news version of the misery memoirs that top the best-sellers lists, wallowing in the trauma of it all. It is pretty base voyeurism, yet it is seen as a ‘good thing’ because it keeps Maddie in the news.

The lonely planet of politics. Last week, when members of the McCann family visited Parliament, a lot of MPs wore those yellow ribbons for Madeleine; some senior politicians were reportedly spotted ducking out of the debating chamber to get one when they saw how popular they had become. They were criticised in a few places for this cheap stunt, even accused of pandering to the sentiment of ‘the mob’.
But they weren’t really pretending, either. Politicians are at least as lost as anybody else in our society today, bereft of any clear sense of mission or purpose. In an age without real political parties or social movements, politicians do these things out of a genuine sense of desperation to be connecting with some sort of widespread public sentiment. That is why they will hitch their horse to any passing wagon unquestioningly.

Even Gordon Brown, prime minister (non-)elect declared that he would do anything he could to help the campaign. Family members reported that he was tearful when they met him. As a father, that is entirely understandable. But as a PM, we could do with a more clear-eyed vision of where the country is heading.
In sum, the outpouring of emotionalism around Our Maddie reveals that many of us seem to have lost something other than a little girl: a sense of where to draw the line between the private and the public, between feelings and facts, between genuine grief and pseudo-suffering; a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves, so that many will seize upon any opportunity to indulge in collective emoting; a sense of how to report the news, or how to lead the country.
It is important to stand back and take stock before emotional exhibitionism and voyeurism towards victims become defining features of ‘Britishness’ today.


Were you at the Vatican, too?
Mick Hume Notebook - The Times - 01.06.2007 
Who exactly was meant to benefit from the mass outbreak of voyeurism at the Vatican this week, as the world watched Madeleine McCann’s parents praying with the Pope? (Or as a BBC headline put it, in a Lloyd-George-knew-my-father moment, “Pope meets Madeleine’s parents”.) I am sure the McCanns, devout Catholics, will have drawn spiritual succour from their blessing. But what did the rest of us get out of effectively peering over their shoulders as the story topped the news bulletins? As the sober report in The Times described, “their audience lasted all of 30 seconds”. Then it was “the inevitable press conference”, which lasted rather longer. Gerry McCann said that the meeting in a packed St Peter’s Square had been “more personal than I could ever imagine”. Just them and the millions in the media audience. Mention of a butterfly landing on Kate McCann moved Clarence Mitchell, described as “a family spokesman”, to tell the press that this had almost made him weep: “It was as if Madeleine was with us, and was a good omen.” Such superstition is now the stuff of news. The emotional Mr Mitchell is in fact a British Foreign Office liaison officer.

Before the Vatican trip the McCanns had already visited the modern confessional box of the media interview. The front pages of Saturday’s papers read: Guilt will Never Leave Us (Sun); The Guilt Will Never Leave Us (Mirror); The Guilt Will Never Leave Us (Mail); Our Guilt Will Never Leave Us (Express); We Will Always Feel Guilty (Star). The quality papers, too, made headlines from the quote, a show of unanimity unseen since President Bush declared “war” on terror after 9/11. The public focus on the story has little to do with any progress in the case in Portugal. It almost seems as if the less that is happening over there, the more it is in the news over here, a stream of Madeleine stories that keep people in the emotional maelstrom. The McCanns insist that they have drawn strength from all the coverage
Ils ne diront pas cela longtemps...
It remains to be seen what the longer-term effects may be of having their trauma nationalised. Of course, as they say, the guilt will always be with them. Let us hope that the McCanns are not always with us, turning up to be made an exhibition of years later, like the haunted parents of some past abducted children. Nobody should blame the parents for trying to keep the story in the news. But that cannot explain why many others have felt the need to indulge in displays of emotional exhibitionism for “our Maddy” that go beyond normal sympathy. Nor is it any excuse for an outbreak of national voyeurism. No doubt if this is what audiences want, they must have it. But perhaps we should first take a look at ourselves, and see what it says about our society that a family tragedy can be turned into a public spectacle, which, unless something dramatic happens, looks set to run for longer than Big Brother this summer. 
Si une histoire est tous les jours pendant des mois à la une de tous les journaux, comment éviter le voyeurisme ?



 
Castrate this sick debate 
Mick Hume - Spiked - 14.06.2007
Even Madeleine McCann’s desperate parents have, it seems, had enough for now of the month-long media circus surrounding the disappearance of their four-year-old daughter, and have said they will adopt a lower profile while they try to come to terms with their loss.
Il y a une raison à cela : la conférence de presse à Berlin et une certaine question embarrassante.
 No such loss of appetite is evident elsewhere in Britain, however, with stories of how alleged international paedophile rings might have spirited her away still making the news almost daily. And if one child abduction story fades, we can be sure that another horror tale about paedophiles will be along soon, bringing with it the ghosts of previous cases. So it is that, as ‘our Maddie’ moves to the inside pages, she is replaced on the front pages of the UK press with headlines declaring ‘Paedos to be chemically castrated’ or the blunter ‘Fiends to get chop’. If summer is coming, it seems it must be time for another unhealthy paedophile panic. Last June, home secretary John Reid announced New Labour’s latest ‘crackdown’ on child sex offenders, berating judges for their allegedly lenient treatment of those convicted of such offences and promising to introduce a British version of ‘Megan’s Law’, the American legislation which gives the public access to information about convicted sex offenders in their area. British campaigners for such a law call it ‘Sarah’s Law’ after the murdered eight-year-old Sarah Payne. Now it is June again, and the government has announced its Child Sex Offenders Review. Having apparently given in to demands for Sarah’s Law a year ago out of political opportunism, Reid is now backing away from a fully-fledged version (for reasons which are no more admirable). But that is buried beneath new proposals for another ‘crackdown’ on child sex abuse, ranging from voluntary drug treatments supposed to curb the sex drive of offenders (hence the overblown ‘chemical castration’ and ‘get chop’ headlines), to laws allowing mothers to check if their new boyfriend has convictions for child abuse and families to do the same with new members. New Labour has also pledged a new ‘paedophile awareness campaign’, as if it were possible to raise public ‘awareness’ of this issue any higher. The campaign will, in the words of one report, ‘hammer home the grim message that 90 per cent of child abuse is carried out by people the victims know’. In other words, the government wants us to be more ‘aware’ (or perhaps just beware) that ‘stranger danger’ is the least of our worries, and that any parent or loved one could be a pervert and a paedophile, too. Inevitably, the loudest criticism of the New Labour proposals has been that they do not go far enough. There is indeed a ‘grim message’ behind all of this. But it is not about the minimal and largely unchanging threat that paedophiles pose to children in our society. (The fact that Sarah Payne, still the best known such case, was killed back in 2000 should remind us how rare these tragedies are.) It is more about the danger that the unhealthy and ever-more exaggerated obsession with child sexual abuse poses to a civilised society. The solution to that problem will not be provided by even more laws, campaigns, propaganda or treatment aimed at a relative handful of predatory paedophiles. We would be better off trying to address the deeper causes of our obsession with them, and why paedophile-hunting has become a popular national sport.

Plenty of practical arguments have been put forward, on spiked and elsewhere, against the demands and proposals for a new ‘crackdown’ (see Sarah’s Law can’t protect us from fear, by Mick Hume). For a start, there is no evidence that Sarah’s Law would make children any safer – indeed, the legal right to know if convicted sex offenders live locally would have done nothing to protect Sarah Payne herself, abducted and murdered by a paedophile many miles from her home. If we are to have a public register of sex offenders, why not of convicted murderers, wife-beaters, racists, drunk drivers, drug offenders or burglars? What about the principles of criminal justice that say offenders should be punished for what they have done, not what they might do or fantasise about doing in the future, and that those who serve their sentence have paid their debt to society? And leaving aside the contentious issue of whether ‘chemical castration’ works (and whether giving volunteer offenders a few mood-altering drugs deserves that dramatic description), when did free societies become comfortable with the notion of using medical treatments to ‘cure’ crime? As we argued on spiked since the Sarah’s Law controversy began seven years ago, these measures are all worse than useless when it comes to protecting us from the biggest danger to our children’s freedom: fear. Seen in this context, it is arguable that the government’s compromise on a sort-of-Sarah’s-Law will give us the worst of both worlds. It will reinforce the notion that we are besieged by a spectral army of predatory paedophiles and that Something Must Be Done. Yet at the same time, its insistence that most information must be kept secret, and the threat to prosecute single mothers who make public information they are given about a boyfriend’s record, can only further feed public fears and paranoia about invisible paedophiles. The Sex Offenders Register itself is perhaps the worst culprit here, a blunt instrument that is widely perceived as a secret list of 30,000-odd dangerous perverts, yet includes not just rapists and violent paedophiles but everybody from flashers and downloaders of illegal internet porn to teenagers who have under-age sex and women teachers who seduce young men.

As the paedophile panic has continued regardless of all these holes in the case for further crackdowns, however, it has become clear that there are wider issues that need to be addressed. It is not a matter of opposing this or that aspect of the campaign. There is a pressing need to question the very basis of this unhealthy obsession, and try to castrate the ‘paedo’ debate altogether. What does it really say about the perverse mindset of our society that so many should now want to turn child sexual abuse into such an all-consuming political issue? It looks like a morbid symptom of a culture afflicted by an epidemic of paedophile-phobia – a condition that has been spread from the top echelons of the state downwards. Of course, as Frank Furedi points out in his latest Really Bad Ideas column, these things are not genuine ‘phobias’ or mental illnesses (see Really Bad Ideas: Phobias, by Frank Furedi). What we might call paedophile-phobia is more a sign of a cultural and political sickness in a society that has lost its sense of purpose and direction and turned in on itself, always focusing on the darker side of human experience and fantasising about the basest behaviour being the norm. A culture that tends to interpret everything in terms of vulnerability and victimhood inevitably sees children as in need of ever-more protection.

The public obsession with paedophiles is also an expression of how deeply many of us now mistrust each other, and indeed ourselves, in a fragmented society of insecure individuals. The paedophile becomes not just the shadowy stranger out there, but the beast within the community, within the family, maybe even within you. This is the fear the government’s latest ‘awareness’ campaign about abuse at home can only feed. It is already having a destructive impact on not just adult-child but also adult-adult relationships, as men feel wary of volunteering to work with kids and children are ‘protected’ from unsupervised contact with grown-ups. Stranger danger? There seems little danger of many children even meeting a stranger today (see Who would be a boys’ football coach?, by Josie Appleton). When it comes to spreading these fashionably poisonous prejudices about the human condition, leading voices on the ‘other’ side of the paedophile debate - such as those in the child protection industry opposed to a fully-fledged Sarah’s Law - are at least as bad as its proponents. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), for example, is a semi-state institution dedicated to publicising the alleged threat posed to children by their parents in its multimillion-pound ‘Child abuse must stop. Full stop.’ PR campaign. The NSPCC has welcomed the new emphasis on raising ‘awareness’ of familial abuse, and the proposal to limit access to information about paedophiles – because it fears that otherwise dangerous gangs of ‘vigilantes’ could drive the perpetrators ‘underground’. Here the prevailing view of what people are like is lowered further still, to the point where the paedophiles too become the victims of human passions. These professionals fear ‘the mob’ (aka the public) even more than they do violent perverts. This is the flipside of misanthropy in the abuse debate: either we are all viewed as potential paedophiles, or as a mob-in-waiting of ignorant bigots eager for an excuse to daub ‘Paedo’ on a paediatrician’s door. No doubt some would like to be able to inject people in order to suppress those feelings, too. In any case, the consensus in high places is that one way or another we are not to be trusted and all need to be supervised by the experts, with the help of the police and the thought-police.

The permanent paedophile panic has come to symbolise much that is wrong with the mindset of our society: the degraded state of public and political debate, the self-loathing and mistrust that now shapes influential views of our humanity, and the contempt with which the authorities look down on the public – especially those suspicious parents. Britain is in danger of becoming known as a nation of paedophile-phobics. Of course paedophile panics are not really a peculiar British characteristic - America has experienced many similar episodes, and the Italians are now caught up in a wild ‘Satanic abuse’ scare similar to those that took off over here a few years back. But perhaps Britain does lead the field in turning paedophilia into a sordid national and political obsession. It is as if, amid all the troubled discussion of what ‘Britishness’ might mean today, some have decided to show the world that we can still get more hysterical about the abuse of children than heartless Johnny Foreigner. Don’t it make you proud?


Why the Amber Alert makes me see red
Mick Hume Thunderer - The Times - 14.08.2007
Nobody should blame Madeleine McCann’s parents for doing whatever they can to keep publicising their missing daughter's case. But sympathy should not mean we have to support their latest demands for more child protection laws, based on the suspect US "Amber Alert" system. In a video interview with the campaign's new "Don't you forget about me" slot on YouTube, Kate McCann calls for a faster co-ordinated Euro-response to reports of a missing child, and says Amber Alert puts America's laws "well ahead of the game". After Sarah's Law, will the next crusade be for Maddie's Law?
MMC n'entre pas dans le cas de figure "alerte enlèvement", personne ne pouvant témoigner dans ce sens.
Let’s hope not. An Amber Alert system would likely do more harm than good, reinforcing society's overblown anxieties about child safety. It originated in the US after the abduction and murder of the nine-year-old Amber Hagerman in 1996. It starts from the recognition that a swift police response is essential (of 40 children abducted and killed in America in a year, 74 per cent were dead within three hours). But Amber Alert turns that into a media-driven PR exercise, with warnings flashed everywhere from the news to text messages and highway signs.
L'alerte ne dure pas plus de deux ou trois heures, car elle devient vite contreproductive.
It seems strangely appropriate that Amber Alert is based on a system developed to disperse information after a nuclear attack, since child abduction appears to have replaced the Bomb as the object of a paranoid national obsession.

US officials claim loudly that 800,000 kids go missing a year. In fact almost all are runaways or result from custody disputes. Yet the official Amber Alert mentality has impressed mistrust of strangers upon the public psyche, as parents queue to have police photograph and fingerprint their children in readiness for when they, too, are abducted. There have been moves to introduce similar systems here, such as the Child Rescue Alert in Sussex. Its first big test came after the reported abduction of a girl in 2003. She turned out to be safely asleep, and the planned text messages and motorway warnings failed. Yet the pointless PR stunt was hailed a "brilliant success" anyway, because it helped to raise public awareness – aka anxiety – about child abduction.

It is understandable that the McCanns should want to do something "rather than sit back and not do anything". However, when it comes to new laws the rest of us should try to separate their private pain from the public interest. Mrs McCann says that she asks herself why she thought it was safe to leave her children in bed and go for a meal. "But it felt safe. You don't expect a predator to break in and take your daughter." No, and we are right not to expect it, even 100 days after Madeleine's disappearance. Let's remain alert for warning signs that society's sense of perspective has gone missing.



The increasingly strange case of Madeleine McCann
Mick Hume - Spiked -
15.08.2007 -
The global crusade around missing Maddie seems more and more detached from the local police investigation in Portugal. Back at the start of June, a month after Madeleine McCann disappeared, I suggested that, rather than gawping at her parents meeting the Pope, we might be better off looking at ourselves and asking 'what it says about our society that a family tragedy can be turned into a public spectacle, which, unless something dramatic happens, looks set to run for longer than Big Brother this summer'. A hundred days after her disappearance, as Madeleine returns to the headlines in the UK and the campaign around her spreads further afield, I am afraid that now looks like a severe underestimation; in terms of both scale and timescale, the public spectacle surrounding her has far outweighed the fading star of reality TV. (1)

Almost from the moment Madeleine was reported missing, there has been a stark divide between two things. On one hand, there is the actual police search for a missing four-year-old in Portugal, shrouded in secrecy by that country's laws. On the other, and having little or nothing to do with the case itself, there is the 'Maddie' phenomenon – a very public outpouring of mass emotionalism, led by the media but involving everybody from British prime minister Gordon Brown to thousands who have put posters in windows and posted messages on the internet. This has gone far beyond normal expressions of sympathy into the realm of emotional exhibitionism. That divide appears starker than ever in the latest round of publicity. The investigation itself is now clearly focusing more than ever on events in the McCanns' holiday apartment on the night that their daughter disappeared. Tiny blood specks reportedly found there in a recent search have been sent to the UK for analysis. But before the results are known, the Portuguese police have this week stated publicly for the first time what anybody familiar with similar cases has surely thought – that it is most likely Madeleine is dead, and that she died on the night she disappeared.

Yet at the same time as the investigation has become more clearly local and focused, the Maddie phenomenon has been spreading further and further. The McCanns have launched a new 'channel' on the YouTube website, called Don't You Forget About Me. They say this is about reaching a younger generation with the Find Madeleine message and 'crossing borders', because 'the internet reaches the whole world'. The attempt to globalise the campaign, and raise awareness about missing children, has even reached into the White House, winning a message of support from First Lady Laura Bush who asked us all to 'Please tune into this new YouTube channel and join the...important effort to protect children in our global society.' In practice, of course, there is nothing that 'the whole world' or 'our global society' can do to help find a four-year-old missing, now presumed dead, in a Portuguese resort. The only impact this PR campaign can have on the investigation is to prompt more false sightings and start more wild goose chases around the world – most recently in normally-sensible Belgium. The Maddie phenomenon has become an emotional totem, a moral statement that 'the whole world' can sign up to in order to show that they are on the side of Good. The yellow wristbands are badges that show the world you care. It does not matter that the message on the wristband – 'Look for Madeleine' – is of no practical use. For many wearers, the real message is more like 'Look at me'.

The McCanns have certainly encouraged the spread of the moral crusade around 'our Maddie', through their highly professional PR operation. But the striking thing is the willingness of much of the media – not normally noted for its sentimentality – to follow their lead and jump on the bandwagon. What is more, the latest wave of coverage shows it has gone way beyond the sort of tabloid human interest story that some love to sneer at, and been taken to the heart of the liberal media establishment. (2) Like anybody else with something to promote these days, the McCanns have been giving a series of cross-media interviews to showcase their new YouTube initiative. Among other things they have appeared on the BBC's Heaven and Earth TV show, been interviewed by the magazine Woman's Own, and done a long interview for the Guardian, bible of the British liberal intelligentsia, which clearly recognises the Leicestershire doctors as two of its own. Noting that the interview was to publicise Don't You Forget About Me – set up 'in partnership with Google, YouTube and the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children' – the paper declared that this website 'could become the focus of hope for thousands of families'. Where Madeleine is concerned, it seems, hype is not confined to the popular press. Gerry McCann is also due to appear as a guest speaker at the Guardian-sponsored Edinburgh TV festival.

The media determination to claim a stake in the Maddie phenomenon even started an extraordinary top-level turf war this week, as the heads of news at BBC and ITN exchanged angry messages about each other's coverage of the supposed Belgian 'sighting' of the missing girl, with each side vying to take the moral high ground over the Maddie affair. Nor is it by any means just the media. All manner of public figures, from pop stars and footballers to Mrs Bush and even the Pope, have made a show of signing on to the Maddie crusade to demonstrate that they are on the side of the angels and to make an emotional connection with an audience. In the UK, Gordon Brown and his people were pushing it from the top of government even before he formally took over as prime minister. There have been reports letting it be known that Brown was in tears when he met the McCanns, and that he has frequently raised the issue with the Portuguese authorities. The Foreign Office has been helping to manage and promote the PR campaign. They arranged the McCanns' high-profile trip to the Vatican, where one 'family friend' quoted as making emotional statements to the media was in fact an FO official.

As for the public response to the McCanns, the mixed attitudes now becoming evident confirm that their case has assumed symbolic importance removed from the actual facts of the investigation. There has been from the start an air of the untouchable surrounding Madeleine's tragic parents, with much of the media apparently outraged by any questioning of them or suggestion that theirs was a lost cause. At the same time, however, the couple are being criticised increasingly openly, not only by the Portuguese media's wild allegations that they were somehow involved in Madeleine's disappearance, but more broadly for acting irresponsibly by leaving their children in bed while they went to dinner round the corner. This schizophrenic attitude towards the McCanns reflects the dual symbolic status they have assumed in our media-shaped culture today. First, they are seen as symbols of victimhood, and there is no higher source of moral authority nowadays than to have suffered pain and loss. This automatically places them on a pedestal of virtuousness – witness the slightly disturbing standing ovation they received from other holidaymakers outside a Portuguese church last weekend. Almost inevitably, like other high-profile victims before them, they are now being drawn into using their moral authority to front political campaigns. Thus they have used their new website to call for the introduction of more child protection laws based on the US 'Amber Alert system'. As I have argued elsewhere this week, such a system would likely do more harm than good, intensifying the unhealthy public obsession with the spectre of child abduction. But the McCanns' victim status means we are not supposed to question calls for some sort of 'Maddie's Law'.

At the same time, however, they are also seen by some as symbols of suspect parenthood – and few offences are deemed to be graver than that today. The pressure to conform to a tightly-policed version of 'good parenting' explains why the McCanns can now be criticised for making the perfectly reasonable assumption, shared by millions of other parents, that it was safe to leave their children asleep in a hotel room for a short while. The ease with which the spotlight of suspicion now falls on parents also explains why some are ready to give credence to stories of their involvement despite the lack of any evidence. As we noted on spiked from the start of this sad case, outbursts of ersatz public emotionalism can be unstable and untrustworthy things. Because it is not rooted in any real relationship with the family, it can easily swing from pity to outrage and back. Those who are really making an emotional statement about themselves rather than the McCanns can do so just as easily through spitting bile as crying tears.

It is surely time that we all stopped trying to put ourselves in the McCanns' shoes, and instead tried to put the Maddie phenomenon into some sort of perspective. It is perfectly understandable that her haunted parents should want to carry on with the campaign, that they should refuse to leave Portugal and go back home without their daughter, that they should say they want to do something 'rather than sit back and not do anything'. The rest of us, however, should take a step back and finally try to separate the terrible case in Portugal from the moralistic global crusade being waged around it. Gerry McCann says they wanted to set up the website 'to channel all this good feeling into something that will benefit other people'. That is a noble sentiment. But some of us do not get such a 'good feeling' about a wider society where many seem to think simply being opposed to child abduction is a cause for public displays of self-congratulatory self-righteousness. Neither do we all accept that a global campaign to raise 'awareness' – ie, anxiety – about child abduction will benefit others, least of all put-upon parents. And nor do we think it is a crime to say that, more than three months after a four-year-old went missing, normal life must be allowed to go on.



(1) Mais c'est du jamais vu ! Les parents d'une enfant disparue arrivent au Vatican dans le jet privé d'un milliardaire qu'ils ne connaissent pas, ils sont reçus par l'ambassadeur britannique et au cours d'une audientce font bénir une photo de l'enfant par le pape.. Si encore l'enfant disparue était la seule dans ce cas sur la planète ! Tout cela est extraordinaire et c'est pourquoi le public est intrigué.
(2) C'est la contagion des idées qui se répandent pour peu que l'on ait confiance, et en qui aura-t-on plus confiance qu'en un couple de médecins qui sous bien des aspects se présente comme modèle ? Il suffit qu'un milliardaire offre une récompense pour qu'un second, un troisième etc. fassent de même.

Exactly how guilty are the Portuguese police ?
Mick Hume Thunderer - The Times - 11.09.2007
Whatever the truth about the latest allegations, there does seem to have been a rush to judgment in the Madeleine McCann case – a rush to judge the Portuguese authorities over here. A glance at British headlines and online discussions might give the impression that the Portuguese police are the truly guilty parties, traduced for daring to interrogate the McCanns as formal suspects. Yet cast our minds back a few weeks, and the same critics were cheering reports that British detectives were “finally” to be involved. When they found traces of blood, these were sent back to Britain for DNA analysis. Now we are meant to be outraged because, based on the first results of these British tests, which apparently suggested traces of Madeleine’s blood in a car that her parents hired after she disappeared, the Portuguese authorities have acted.

What were they supposed to do with this blood DNA evidence? Ignore it, on the basis that two doctors from a Leicestershire village seemed like thoroughly decent people? The formal suspect status means more misery for the McCanns. But the Portuguese are following their normal procedures, allowing them to put more serious questions – and giving the McCanns the right to refuse to answer. However, all of this foreignness appears unacceptable to many British observers. In some eyes, Portugal is Europe’s banana republic and not to be trusted, the police seen as divers and cheats like that Cristiano Ronaldo. Why, one officer was even caught having a two-hour lunch break in the midday heat! And their secrecy laws go against the British tradition of turning private tragedies into public spectacles. Perhaps we should boycott holidays on the Algarve in protest, as one Sun reader demands online: “Time to show are [ sic] support for the McCanns and are [ sic] country!”

I carry no flags for the police in Portugal or elsewhere. It seems that they were slow off the mark. They certainly appeared slower to treat the McCanns as possible suspects than the parent-baiting British authorities might have been. If reports of the police pressurising the McCanns under interrogation and offering a deal for a confession are true, it would be reprehensible – but hardly unheard of. What do you imagine the British police might do in a suspected child abduction/death investigation? The one certain fact is that we still have no idea what happened to Madeleine, and little idea what evidence the secretive investigation may have found. Against that background, pantomime exhibitions of ignorant emotionalism – with people here and in Portugal alternately cheering and booing the police or the McCanns – can benefit nobody. We are not going to find the truth about that lost little girl by losing our sense of perspective.



‘Boys in blue’: someone to watch over us
Neil Davenport - Spiked - 25.09.2007
The on-going interest and speculation regarding the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in Portugal says more about the state-of-the-nation than the state-of-the-investigation. In recent weeks, the failure to find the missing four-year-old, or to establish who is responsible for her disappearance, has resulted in a torrent of criticism in the British media for the Portugese police, while their British counterparts are lionised. There’s a palpable sense that if Madeleine McCann had disappeared in the UK, then perhaps ‘our police’ would have wrapped up the case a lot sooner. On ITV’s Tonight programme last week, for instance, a child protection expert said that the problem with Portugal is that it doesn’t have a Sex Offenders Register as we do in the UK and that adults aren’t ‘vetted’ before they can work with children. The suggestion is that at least in the UK ‘our’ authorities take security and protection very seriously indeed. According to the British press, if the Portugese aren’t reckless with the safety of their children, then they are either incompetent in organising an investigation or just downright corrupt. Meanwhile, the British police are painted as highly trained professionals who have never stitched up a prisoner, organised an investigation in an incompetent manner or mishandled forensics. All this despite plenty of evidence in the past decade or two - from the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four through the Stephen Lawrence investigation to the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes - that suggests the very opposite. What is remarkable is that it’s not just the representatives of PC Plod who wax lyrical about the British police. Currently, the police enjoy a remarkable degree of support from all sections of society. While the authorities often appear to be wracked internally with anxiety about their role in society, the police probably enjoy more public support today than at any time in history.

When the police first emerged in the early nineteenth century, public attitudes towards them were very different. Back in 1839, the founders of the Birmingham Chartists regarded the very existence of the police as an infringement of basic liberties. (...)

What’s striking about the Madeleine McCann case is how it has brought some of these fearful sentiments to the surface. While it’s true that the British people are ‘united’ in empathy with the McCanns, what drives it is a widespread fear and insecurity that parents need around-the-clock protection from predatory child abductors. As a consequence, this demand for security and order means that the British police are now looked upon entirely favourably. In further education colleges, for instance, there’s a relatively new course devoted to studying the Uniformed Public Services Sector. (...) If the reaction to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in Portugal has revealed anything, it’s that ‘our police’ are seen as a reassuring presence in a nervy, insecure world. Nevertheless, far from demanding the police or the ‘plastic plods’ keep a watchful eye over us, surely the Birmingham Chartists’ spirit of democracy and freedom is a better place to start?



The McCanns: After the Headlines
2.11.2007 - Thomas K. Grose - The Times

Tentative de retour en arrière
Six months after Gerry and Kate McCann's four-year-old daughter Madeleine disappeared from their Portuguese vacation apartment, the British couple have made a first tentative step toward returning to their pre-headline life. But it's uncertain if that option remains open to them. Gerry McCann, 39, a cardiologist at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester, England, returned to work on Nov. 1, albeit at a much reduced level. For now, he'll work only three half-days a week, and won't be seeing patients. Neither he nor his wife Kate, who's a general practitioner, have worked since their daughter went missing. That tragic event vaulted them, and the so far fruitless search for Madeleine, into a global media spotlight, especially after Portuguese police officially named them as suspects in September. Although Kate, also 39, continues to remain at home with their two other children, Gerry told reporters he wanted to "get back a degree of normality with a working routine." He said he felt that he and his wife had done all they could to help find Madeleine, and that an "infrastructure" to continue the search was in place.

Revenir à la vie professionnelle d'avant ?
But can they return to their old life and careers? "It would be very difficult," says Charlie Beckett, a media expert at the London School of Economics, especially if Madeleine's fate is never solved. Indeed, British press reports quoted some patients at Glenfield Hospital as saying they would feel uncomfortable being treated by Gerry McCann. If true, that may be an indication as to how perceptions about the McCanns have changed since Madeleine vanished last May. Back then, parents worldwide could identify with them. But three months into the unsuccessful investigation, as the McCanns kept up their high-profile media blitz, what started as a distraught couple's simple pleas to find their child morphed into a macabre media circus. Public perception was further changed when they became suspects.
"Now they are household names, and everyone's got their view of them," says Max Clifford, one of Britain's best-known public relations gurus. But, as City University journalism professor Adrian Monck adds, "they're not celebrities in the conventional sense," since Portuguese authorities — rightly or wrongly — still suspect they might know more about their daughter's disappearance than they have let on.

Quid de l'image ?
That leaves a public uncertain
 of what to make of them. Even some people who believe the couple had nothing to do with Madeleine's disappearance feel uncomfortable with the media campaign they've unleashed. That campaign has largely being underwritten by benefactors, including Richard Branson, the billionaire entrepreneur. Branson donated around $200,000 to seed a legal defense fund. Meanwhile, the Find Madeleine fund has raised nearly $2.3 million from the public. Though the McCanns aren't using that fund for its defense needs, they did dip into it to make two mortgage payments before September — a disclosure that didn't help their image. Meanwhile, the investigation in Portugal seems to have stagnated, which means the McCanns could remain in suspect limbo for many months to come. That uncertainty is another factor that, for now, will make it difficult for them to pick up the threads of their old life and go back to their jobs. Eventually, if there is a break in the case and they are exonerated, there might be a payday for them. Though the couple has never indicated that they are willing to sell their story, they then could be flooded with offers of huge sums for an exclusive interview. A book contract would almost certainly be in the seven figures, and it's hard to believe Hollywood or television won't come calling, too. But taking that kind of money, if they chose to, could prove difficult. "It could backfire on them," Clifford says. "They can't be seen as cashing in on Madeleine." One option would be to divert the money into some sort of nonprofit organization dedicated to finding missing children. Kate McCann has reportedly given the idea of running a missing children's charity some thought. If they are seen as using the money earned in media deals to help children, says Clifford, no one will begrudge the McCanns' earning salaries. It may be the best career option they have left. (1)

(1) ce n'est pas l'option qu'ils prirent, Kate MC se contentant d'accepter d'être ambassadrice de Missing People en 2012..