L'affaire MC a été le plus commenté des faits-divers de 2007. Pourquoi cette affaire est-elle devenue une obsession médiatique, c'est l'information ou le divertissement qui a triomphé, et quel impact a eu la couverture sur l'enquête en cours ?
C'est le premier débat sur ce thème, deux perspectives sur cette troublante affaire sont en concurrence, celle du spin doctor des MC, Clarence Mitchell, et celle de l'ex-rédacteur du Sun, Kelvin MacKenzie.
McCanns and the Media: the debate, 30 January 2008
Charlie Beckett - 30.01.2008
The first ever debate about the media and the McCanns at Polis* brought out some heated and painful issues. McCann family spokesperson Clarence Mitchell and former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie represented competing perspectives on a story that has gripped and disturbed the world for nine months. Here are some of the points made that I felt represent how seminal this story has been (in no particular order) :
>The British public now don't trust you if you have a public relations advisor
>The British public don't trust the media so they go to Internet forums to express their views on the case
>24 hour news has eradicated all the traditional caution over sourcing stories
>Turning subjects into celebrities now allows the public to suspend the usual sympathy for an invididual
Now here are some of the factors discussed that make this case so exceptional :
>The fact that they were middle-class encouraged hostility
>The fact the Portugese police did no press work mean a vacuum was created
>This is a narrative without an end so it allows endless speculation
>There is now a vicious cycle with Portugese and British media recycling stories without references, sources or facts
Kelvin MacKenzie : This is beyond Lord Lucan, beyond Diana, beyond Shergar...if this was a single black mother then it would not have been the same story...the public is obsessed so newspapers make a commercial judgement, they know that putting Madeleine on the front page increases circulation by about 3%, it did so from day one and it still does. People who criticise the papers ought to think about that and ask themselves if they get their money out when they see a billboard with the McCanns name on it...It's a class war issue. Ordinary people don't associate public relations with the truth, though I think hiring Clarence was a great idea and I believe what he says. What is so unusual and incredible about this story is that they are the main suspects and so when we write about it we are saying 'they may be the killers' (1)Clarence Mitchell made a stout defence of the McCanns' innocence and was clear about the money spent on promoting their cause. He thanked the media for the support they had given in publicising the campaign to find Madeleine but criticised the 'sloppiness and laziness' of much journalism driven by 'a commercial imperative' which recycled stories 'entirely founded on misinformation, mostly wrong".
David Mills who produced a Panorama on the McCanns which he subsequently disowned felt that the British media had failed to address the real sotry which was the failure in police procedure and forensics in Portugal and the UK.
Former McCann public relations advisor Justine McGuinness felt that the way that Madeleine had been turned in to a celebrity by the media (although surely the PR had a role?) meant that the public felt she could be treated with the same callousness afforded to a Big Brother contestent – hence of the appalling vitriol and unsubstantiated rumour on some internet forums: "A missing child has been turned in ot a celebrity which gives the public the excuse to disconnect from human feelings because she has become a household name".
Former Mirror editor, now media commentator Roy Greenslade cited his own mother as an example of how the public still want to 'blame' the McCanns but he reserved his ire for the media. He sketched out how the media coverage went through four phases: sympathy (Overdone), scepticism (a sensible attitude), suspicion (based on nothing) and finally commercial cynicism. So the Express can print a headline, he said, that says "McCanns Split Over Maddie" which turned out to be simply a story that Gerry was going back to work while Kate was not. Greenslade said that the media has encouraged people to believe the worst about them and so it has now got to a point where people don't care about defamation – all reporting is at the level of gossip.
Roger Graef, who produced a film for Channel 4 about the McCanns said he found himself in demand by the international media. And yet the only thing he had to say was that there was nothing to say. There was one fact: that Madeleine was gone. And yet he found himself endlessly interviewed about how there was nothing to say. The fact that so many people now inhabit imaginary worlds of conspiracy around this story, he said, was partly because 'we cannot bear a narrative that has no end."
That is, of course, most true for the parents themselves. They dared to try to use the media (on advice from experts said Justine McGuinness) and that decision and the media came back to haunt them and to hunt them down. The media initially swamped them with support and then finally drowned them in bile. The media suspended its critical faculties when it first joined a campaign to find a beautiful white middle class girl and it never recovered its judgement in the rush to judgement and in the daily stampede for front page fodder. The Internet provided an outlet for huge waves of sympathy for the McCanns – it also provided a forum for legitimate debate and commentary – but it was also the dark place that some very sad souls chose to huddle together, sharing their sick fantasies and reaffirming each other's sad obsessions. A few of those odd people turned up at our debate demanding action against the McCanns and an end to 'spin'. But as Kelvin pointed out they represent a big part of the public who don't seem to trust anyone anymore. I am not sure if that's the media's fault, but it sure ain't doing a lot to correct it.
Our debate chairman Steve Hewlett has written a very good article on this for the Guardian which stresses the doubtful benefits of PR in cases like this. And Tim Black from Spiked has also written a report on the debate here. Much more on this debate when my interns report back in – the podcast will be up when the LSE techies have done their thing. In due course, Polis will be publishing a paper on this issue. It's not a nice subject but I am convinced that it speaks volumes about the state of our media and the society that consumes it. Thanks to the Media Society for their partnership on this event.
* Polis est un think tank sur les médias et la société fondé par Charlie Beckett et mis sur pied en collaboration par la London School of Economics and Political Science et le London College of Communication.
The MCs' debate: from banality to an outpouring of bile
Roy Greenslade - The Guardian - 31.01.2008
RG se plaint que l'audience ait été ouverte aux vociférations d'opposants des MC.
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.
Mais ce fait-là, le recyclage continuel de pseudo-nouvelles, que ne l'a-t-il dénoncé, que n'a-t-il essayé de l'enrayer !
La politique, en fait de désinformation, a clairement été celle du chèvre-chou.
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.
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.
Steve Hewlett - The Guardian - 31.01.2008
This is more than a case of ‘media Maddieness’
On sait maintenant que Madeleine's Fund avait payé pour cela.
Last night, during a curiously fraught debate organised by think-tank Polis, The McCanns and the Media: Information or Entertainment, the panellists were less judgmental. Kelvin MacKenzie, former editor and current columnist for the Sun, called it the ‘greatest story of my life’; Steve Hewlett, a Guardian columnist, noted it was the story of last year, ‘if not the biggest, [then] certainly the most reported’; and David Mills, producer of a recent BBC Panorama documentary on the McCanns, which he later disowned, called it ‘one of the best [stories] I’ve ever encountered in my career… it has everything.’ Their professional enthusiasm is understandable; it’s a story that has continued to hold the public’s attention, or as MacKenzie would put it, ‘sell papers’. If it didn’t exist you suspect the media would have to invent it. Which, in a sense, they have. For as a number of the panellists made clear, very little is actually known about the case. Whereas the British police tend to hold off-the-record press briefings to stymy endless press hypothesis, their Portuguese counterparts are conducting their investigation largely without media contact. What there is instead, to paraphrase criminologist Roger Graeff, producer of Dispatches: Searching for Madeleine, is an ‘unbearable nothingness’, a story that refuses to yield anything like a plot, let alone a resolution.
As Mick Hume has pointed out (see The increasingly strange case of Madeleine McCann), in the absence of any other collective experiences, national or otherwise, an event such as the disappearance of Madeleine McCann provides an occasion for an experience of solidarity, as specious as that might be. What’s interesting is that as the McCann story increasingly concentrated on the parents’ lives, so simple ‘I feel your pain’ emoting became something more febrile and sanctimonious. Greenslade, noting the ‘incredible emotionalism’ provoked by the McCann case, asserted, almost incredulously, that ‘everyone is so heavily involved.’ ‘Self-identification’, he concluded, ‘is the key here’. But this doesn’t just mean identification as in empathy, but identification as the process of forming one’s own identity. To have a view on the McCanns has become a way of saying ‘who I am’. Where mourning Princess Diana or wearing a ‘Make Poverty History’ wristlet became public expressions of one’s inner self, the McCann case has allowed for a yet greater degree of self-articulation. One cannot only be against child abduction, but you can have a view on the McCanns as people too. Middle class, stand-offish, and suspect parents, or just a desparate family in search of their daughter? Either way, to have a view is to sign up to particular set of values, to share in a minimal, lowest common denominator morality.
And this explains, I think, why the event last night was so fraught. The increasingly angry interjections from the audience, especially towards Clarence Mitchell, the McCann’s current spokesperson, were born of frustration with the management, indeed the authorship of the McCann story. There are a lot of stakeholders, to borrow a New Labour term, in this public debate who feel they’re not being included. Their anger wasn’t just an aversion to ‘spin’. It was a frustrated desire to comment on the story, to narrate it, to take part, if you like, in what seems like a vital public conversation. As one audience member put it, ‘I’m angry with the media because I can’t get my point of view across’. ‘If you look at the [online] forums’, she continued, ‘there’s a collective gut feeling that something is amiss’. Having a view on the story, an investment in its telling, has become a form of belonging, of expressing oneself in public, either through sympathy or, increasingly, antipathy. But this is public debate as a book club, albeit a particularly irate one. There’s endless discussion of the story, argumentative speculation on characters’ motivations, and frustration with the author. To the extent that everyone has an opinion on the McCanns, everyone has a virtue to vent - ‘I’d never leave my kids alone’ shouted one particularly angry audience member. The black hole that is the McCann case has not merely illustrated the bankruptcy of parts of the media; it hints at the degradation of the public sphere as a whole.
(1) Media like feral beast, BBC News 12 June 2007
(3) I hang my head in shame at what my trade has made of the McCann story, Guardian 10 September 2008
(4) Campbell attacks ‘culture of negativity’, Guardian, 28 January 2008
John Mair - 01.2008 -
Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics. Vol 5, No 1/2 2008
Let’s begin with the facts. Three-year-old Madeleine McCann disappeared from her parents’ holiday apartment in Praia de Luz on the Portuguese Algarve on the evening of 3 May 2007.They were away having a meal with friends elsewhere in the Mark Warner Holiday complex. Since then there has been a worldwide appeal and campaign to find her and three ‘arguidos’ or official suspects have been named by the Portuguese police: Madeleine’s parents Kate and Gerry and a local expat in Portugal, Robert Murat. Those three facts have kept scores of journalists in employ in Portugal, the UK and wider afield for the nine months since ‘Maddy’ disappeared. Some of the British press pack are still based in the Algarve; some are back with the McCanns in Rothley, Leicestershire. The Portuguese press are still active on the tale too.
The McCanns have been very media savvy from day one or two. Once her ‘disappearance’ was discovered, relatives in the UK started working the media. Broadcaster Kirsty Wark got a knock on her Glasgow door within 48 hours of the disappearance. A neighbour was a McCann cousin. The campaign by ‘Team McCann’ to find ‘Maddy’ was quickly launched. Central to this campaign have been the McCanns’ personal ‘spin doctors’ – Clarence Mitchell and Justine McGuinness. Mitchell, a former royal correspondent for the BBC, was initially sent by his employers, the British government, to manage the media in the Algarve for the McCanns. He was replaced for three months by Justine McGuinness whose background was in political PR. Later, Mitchell resigned as a government ‘spin doctor’ to join the McCanns full time in October as their ‘spokesman’. He is paid by a salary of £70,000 a year by a sympathizer, Brian Kennedy, the double glazing magnate. Mitchell works as, in the word of television commentator Mark Lawson, ‘the personal Alastair Campbell’ for the McCanns. His work raises many ethical issues.
‘Missing Madeleine’ has been one of the first major news stories of the internet age. That has been double edged. ‘Rubbish is reported in one country and then the media in each country feeds on it and it becomes another angle on a story,’ Mitchell says. ‘The media feeds on itself. They wait to be spoon-fed in a wash spin-cycle, where they recycle the positions. If there were green awards for recycling it should go to the British and Portuguese press.’
À commencer peut-être par l'histoire de l'effraction du volet et de la fenêtre, une rumeur que Mr Mitchell a mis 6 mois à réfuter... et encore parce que le documentaire "des experts" avait établi devant des millions de téléspectateurs qu'il n'y avait pas eu d'effraction.
Même pas contents d'empocher 550 mille livres ?