Communicating Justice in Portugal: the Madeleine case

Of the many possible angles to approach the terrible case of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance, a tremendous shock to everyone in Portugal, the UK and arround the world, I decided to bring to this forum a communication point of view on this case.

In Portugal, one of the most residual PR/ Communication related debates is about how Portuguese justice deals with communication. The need to train Judges in Public Communication, the “Secret of Justice” law which prohibits the disclosure of some facts related with processes under investigation and its successive violations by the media, and the fear that some high impact trials might be biased by the pressure of public opinion – which explains a long lasting attempt by judges to clarify the difference between law and the “court of public opinion” – it all has been questioned here. But the Madeleine McCann case offers a wealth of possibilities to approach the issue of Communication & Justice. Two of my portuguese blogger friends (Renato Póvoas and Bruno Amaral) have blogged about the issue and inspired me write this.

The first thing to note was how foreign media took too much to understand the procedures and culture of Portuguese police, constrained by a legal context that was only understood very lately. (In fact, you might have noticed that the media chose to use the Portuguese word “arguido” to explain the quality that Portuguese justice applied to the McCanns). Of course, the Portuguese police was also not thoroughly prepared for a scenario of such heavy pressure from global mass media and from diplomatic sources, after all this was about Portugal’s image abroad. So, first question: if everybody was interested in knowing facts, but if the presentation of the police’s action was being biased because foreign media weren’t framing the legal constraints right, how could PR have helped Portuguese police to promote a better understanding of its action?

The second point to note in this case (probably resulting from the previous point) is that the media coverage soon became influenced by a “country” phenomena. Portuguese journalists where being left behind by the privileged relation that press agents working for the McCann’s had from the first moment with British media (especially with Sky News). This portuguese blogger tells how the British journalists where given special information and private press briefings by the McCanns press agent. But this was amplified after the turn in the investigations, following an (allegedly) finding of Madeleine’s DNA on the trunk of a car the McCanns hired 25 days after Maddie had disappeared and just before the McCanns left the Algarve and hired Michael Caplan, one of Britain’s top lawyers (specialized in extraditions) who apparently is being paid by Sir Richard Branson ((BBC reported on this)). So its not strange that while some media (mainly British) are focusing on the credibility of the couple and dismiss as absurd the idea that they might have some involvement with the disappearance, othermedia reports (mainly Portuguese) are emphasizing that Kate McCann warned the Sky News before she even warned Portuguese Police and the suspicious immediate reactions after she noticed Maddie’s disappearance. But it gets even worse now, after Clarence Mitchell (who had been appointed by British Foreign Affairs to assess the McCann’s right after Maddie’s disappearance, quits his job as press officer for Gordon Brown and joined the McCann’s team of now (allegedly) four press officers) as some British media have started to raise all sorts of doubts about the quality of the Portuguese Police action and the Daily Mail has even put up a poll to know if the Portuguese Police treated the McCann’s fairly ( ). Do you seen any connection here???
So second question: If the Portuguese Police understands that it is being the target of a “character assassination” campaign and that stereotypes against it are being thoroughly and widely explored, how should it react? There is a lot of pressure to come up with more findings and make the apparently strong evidences that led the McCanns to be declared “arguidos” conclusive. But taking into account the relevance and the experience of the McCann’s defence (both in the Court of Law as in the Court of Public Opinion), will there be any more space left for a peaceful and competent investigation?

You can find a tremendous amount of information and several amazing levels of analysis to the media coverage of this case in the Europe Media Monitor News Explorer website, which also allows to compare coverage in different languages. But again, from a PR point of view, we shall ask if the differentiated treatment given to Portuguese media wasn’t a good reason to explain the divisions in media coverage. Sorry if this sounds all too conspiracy-like, but I have been listening to the amazing Ira Basen’s Spin Cycles and can’t avoid an increasingly critical eye over this.

But we shouldn’t also forget the personal dimension involved here, and I urge you to visit Ellee Seymour’s blog who I met through a post at David Brain’s sixtysecondview. She does a tremendous service to the cause of finding missing children.

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22 Replies to “Communicating Justice in Portugal: the Madeleine case

  1. There is alot of noise in the case, but for me the most suprising evidence Portuguese Police had against Madeleine Parents where the DNA found on the car, nothing else and still the was quite some fuss around it.

    The car hire company had some dreadfull remarks on they’r page last time I checked Algarve Car Hire, and those were some pretty idiotic comments from a PR point of view.

    State of PR on Portugal is quite a shame.

  2. This ‘forum’ seems to be a very sad case of exploitation to me. Every link appears to go to a Google adsense page and the tags suggest to me that it is a spam blog. What a sad indictment of the blogosphere that someone, somewhere seeks to make fast bucks out of a child’s disappearance. I would respectfully suggest that readers of PR Conversations pass this ‘forum’ by.

  3. Dear Chloe,

    Soon I’ll be posting here about a conference that has just took place in Lisbon on the topic “Communicating Justice”. I think we can continue this discussion and relate questions soon. Thanks.

  4. Chloe,

    It sounds like an interesting topic, but remember that the McCanns sought to use media relations (primarily, although some other stakeholders were engaged, eg politicians) to help them find their daughter rather than being an example of a “potential suspect” employing PR services.

    In terms of PR and its role in supporting those who may be suspected of a crime, it is not suprising that professional PR services would be be considered almost as important as legal counsel given the nature of the UK media in portraying such people as guilty before any trial has occurred.

    Also, with instances such as the recent Harry Rednap incident where the police advised the media that he was being arrested (not charged) – those already in the public eye, need media relations professionals to avoid the attitude of “no smoke without fire” damaging their reputations.

    That gives you a useful reflection on PR as a “right” in the same way that having legal representation is a necessity. Can you imagine being able to call your PR and your lawyer in the police station?

    What you will probably find though, is that most examples reflect a press agentry approach of trying to win over or deflect the attentions of the media by calling on the likes of Max Clifford.

    So another interesting question then is the impact of this style of defensive (or offensive) media relations on public understanding of PR.

  5. Hi everyone,

    I am not sure if people are still discussing this case on here, but i would love to re-open the discussion.

    I am writing a thesis on the Madeleine McCann case as a new example of PR being used by potential suspects in a case.
    I have never heard of this happening before and it struck me as a powerful example of PR slipping into every sphere of communication – now even crime.

    Does anyone have any opinions on this?
    I would be fascinated to hear them.
    Thank you


  6. Heather,
    The only problem with the behaviour of the McCanns is that, for example in Portugal, there are specific laws regarding to minor’s care. Some people argue that Portuguese authorities should have pursued legal action against the McCanns on the basis of those laws because they left their babies “home alone” and unattended. On the topic of culpability, we must recognize that although intentionality and negligence are two different elements, they are both constitutive of the notion of guilt.

    Welcome to PRC. Your comment makes me stress a point that in our media it is common to see “reports about other media’s reports”. This acceptability of “second-hand” reports is not so common in British media, but does that mean less quality of information? How often does this rule generate buying sources so that they say it “exclusively” when it has already been said? This would take is to the notion of information. According to the Shannon and Weaver’s Mathematical Theory of Information, the greater the number of possibilities excluded by a piece, the more informative the piece will be (usually this is explained in a oversimplified way as the reduction of uncertainty, but actually more complex that that). How distant we seem to be from this concept by believing what actually matters is not the quality of the information itself, but how it is branded…

    Your ideas make me think that we really ought to have more courses on media literacy. Many people in our world are not aware of how the media operate and what happens behind the scenes. Part of our duty as PR practitioners is to understand this environment, but we should also give a contribution to increase the media literacy of our clients, stakeholders and publics.

    To a certain extent I agree with you that the media coverage could have been totally different in the case you mention. But I would rather question if the result could not have been exactly the same provided that both cases had equal presence of media relations experts (remember that it was the British Government who sent help in a first moment and only after did the family appeared with their own media people).

    As for the perception of the Portuguese police being more worried about blaming someone than about finding the missing child, I guess that has to do with the different stages of the case. In the first five or six days the focus of the police and of the media was almost totally about the efforts made to find the missing child (at that moment, the convergence between all parties interests seemed perfect: the police, the parents, the media). Only after Robert Murat was taken as “arguido” and the investigation started to follow different paths did the focus start to differ significantly. Then, another stage started when the media coverage started to focus mainly on the McCann’s trips and meetings all over the world, and more recently it shifted again when they were also declared “arguidos”. In the past few weeks the issu was that of how they were going to use the money and how they were going to pay for all their expenses.

  7. Catherine,

    Your thoughts on the website are interesting, as I also felt uncomfortable at the focus on both fund-raising and the father’s blog rather than engaging visitors with Madeleine herself and what is/has been done regarding the search. There was not even a description of Medeleine when I looked.

    As I understand it, the fund is not being used to fund media relations support, although advertising has been bought (about £80k I understood which doesn’t seem much). The latest spokesperson is apparently funded by an anonymous wealthy supporter.

    I believe part of the problem has been advice from “media experts” (Kate McCann’s friend and patron of the fund is an ex-TV host). They all think in terms of generating headlines rather than any form of reputation or relationship management. And, by that I don’t mean building relationships with the like of Sky.

    What I would have advised is to build relationships and use funds to connect with all those experts around Europe (and beyond) who are involved in searching for missing children. Those people have the connections, and language skills, to get to the grassroots in individual countries.

    Your point about class in this case is fascinating as I agree the media treatment has been muted as a result of the “professional class” of the family and their high profile connections. At the same time, the story has generated unprecedented headlines – as Ellee points out regularly, there are far too many missing who don’t get this extensive coverage.

  8. One of the saddest things about this whole situation is that the urgent necessity to find the child appears to have been drowned out by the media maelstrom over the police allegations regarding the parents and the parents’ subsequent ‘strike backs’.

    My very dear friend is a social worker in the UK and she and I have e-debated this case long and hard since Madeleine disappeared. Each time, we come back to the same question. How would the British media have treated the story if Madeleine was the daughter of a single mother who had slipped out for a beer and a bite to eat, leaving three under fives alone in an apartment while she was on holiday in Benidorm? That scenario would have led to very different coverage and the clash between the Portuguese police and media would probably not have happened. Cast your eyes over UK media coverage of previous ‘home alone’ cases and you will encounter a very different tone and approach – they become, as Heather indicates, the judge, jury and reputation executioner.

    I looked out current ‘home alone’ stories from around the world and the links are so many that to reproduce them here would take up a huge amount of space. Do the same and spot the difference in the media handling.

    I also find it tricky to reconcile the search for Madeleine and the online ‘Madeleine shop’ which seems to launch a constant stream of new products on the ‘Find Madeleine’ website. I can understand to a certain extent why this is being done, but as an action it is not going to be particularly helpful when it comes to silencing the rumour mill. The site says that £1,036,104.17 has been raised for the Find Madeleine fund. I hope that if some of that money is being paid to ‘media advisors’ then they get their act together and redirect the story from ‘are the parents guilty or not guilty’ to ‘where is this little girl?’ If mainstream media has now bypassed the ‘Find Madeleine’ angle to move to ‘Did they do it’ speculation, then use social media – get a tiny url redirection and twitter Find Madeline; use some of the cash raised for side bars, banners and site posters; crack open Facebook and start something there. All of these mechanisms could help keep the search – rather than the gossip and speculation – in front of publics across the globe. A YouTube presence is already in place and bebo has mentions, but the virtual world is a big place and its connections might just do the trick, whether she is still in Portugal or has indeed been taken somewhere else in the world.

    Mainstream media conscience (and I do believe there is such a thing although you won’t find it in the British tabloids anytime soon) needs to be reminded that circulation boosts can wait – the clock is still ticking loudly for a tiny missing child.

    And as for the Portuguese police, I can also understand that they are doing their job within the confines of Portuguese law, but the created perception is that the police priority is to blame someone for Madeleine’s disappearance rather than actually find the child. If the system under which they operate prevents clear external communication, then the action of doing their job effectively would ultimately speak on their behalf. So find her, make her safe – if it is not too late – then look for the guilty.

  9. Dear João,

    I totally agree with you about how the Portuguese justice deals with communication. In this case, is more about how they couldn’t do it properly, in time, due to a badly preparation: lack of train (don’t know how to explain things to calm down the public opinion in order to avoid panic and rumours…). But the portuguese legal context do not helps too: secret of justice and prohibition for disclosure facts under investigation.

    On the other hand the media press, both national but mainly the international were brutal because of a lack of knowledge of the portuguese culture /justice.

    About the portuguese police of course they could – and shoud – do a better job to promote understanding to public opinion and close the issue.

    We are speaking here about media and crisis training gapps, lack of understanding of how media works, lack of preparation of spokepersons, key messages not prepared, lack of communication between the institutional parts involved and the familiy,lack of strategy, a very bad strategic approach to the problem. And this is the reason for so many speculation, every day, around the subject until now and still without solutions, output and outcome … only rumours (the principle of a bad communication and the starting point of a crisis as everybody knows)!

    We are dealing with a media circus to sell newspapers and get huge audiences on TV Stations.

    A truly exemple of a case study about the power of media and about the consequences of a world wide coverage.
    But Madeleine McCann’s familiy understood that since the begining, despites all their tragedy. However they have made many mistakes during this time but they are not alone in this particular. The press, the justice and the police also have made many mistakes and keep doing ! And we are speaking about a child………………………


  10. Answering to the question “Could the Portuguese Police have done a better job to promote understanding of their action?” My answer is also Yes. I also agree with João when he says the Portuguese police should have prepared backgrounders and the spokesperson on how to speak with the media. In my opinion the police should have explained to the foreign journalists how they work. They should have also explained to them the so called “secret of justice” and how talking to the media about all their suspicions could intervene with the investigations. Everybody including the abductors, ear and read the news, so they can not reveal all the steps they will follow, otherwise it can disturb their investigations.

    The Portuguese police was not prepared at all to deal with the media. On the other hand, the McCann have always understood the importance of PR, and used it to keep the public opinion reminded of Maddie. They hired a PR professional, chose who to speak with, and in the interviews they always speak about their next step in Maddie’s campaign, even if the journalists don’t ask. I understand that they have to feed the press so Maddie won’t be forgotten.

    About the press, Portuguese journalists know how the Portuguese police act’s, how the secret of justice works and so they were left behind on the investigation news while other media were getting information from the McCann or where speculating about the investigations. Then they felt the pressure of 24/7 as João said, and are not used to work through a “sensationalist” point of view. At least not as the British are used to. They are learning how to make news with nothing new (at least nothing that adds important information). Using a portuguese expression, they are learning how to “fazer render o peixe”, which means keeping the theme in the order of the day without having new information to give to the public opinion. They have to do it, otherwise they will keep being left behind. That is also why the McCann prefer talking to the British media. They know that if they do that the journalists will not let Maddie be forgotten by people

  11. João,

    First I agree with you about the importance for the police in Portugal to recognise the value of having expert, qualified spokespeople. As I said earlier, that is something that has been learned in UK as a result of the aggressive nature of the media in such high profile cases, notably the Soham murders.

    I wanted to make a couple of other points that have a communications dimension. The first is about the role of the media and miscarriages of justice. One issue with the UK media’s stance on reporting criminal cases, is the tendency to need to find someone to blame and this can lead to situations where the media gets in the way of justice.

    The counter side of that is that in the UK, there have been many cases of miscarriages of justice that have only been exposed because of investigative journalists’ commitment to seeking the truth.

    If we don’t have the oxygen of publicity (which is really what the McCanns were seeking – however, we might criticise the approach of their media advisors), then matters get forgotten very easily. But too much media attention seems to lead to an irrationality where competition for headlines gets in the way of considered reporting.

    My second point picks up on the notion of blame and culpability. You questioned above whether there was spin involved in distancing the McCanns from the fact that they left their young children alone. There is certainly an argument to be made that the UK media would have treated this situation differently if the parents had been of a different class, less articulate and not so well connected.

    However – the McCanns were negligent and foolish in leaving their children alone. This does not mean they
    are to blame if someone stole their child. It does not help the situation for the media to berate the parents for their stupidity, although of course, in reporting the case, other parents should be dissuaded from similarly leaving their children.

    We used to view women as at fault for being raped simply because they were attractive. Of course, we all need to be aware of dangers and take necessary action to avoid becoming a victim. That does not mean we are guilty of any crime that results from our risk taking.

    Media reporting in this case has been very questionable in many respects. So has the way that rumour and counter rumour has spread around blogs and chatrooms.

    Even for the professional communicator, it is very difficult to understand the pressures facing the police and the McCanns when the baying media wolves are demanding stories and answers. Both sides have undoubtedly made mistakes – in the case of the police in not having professional communicators and in the case of the McCanns’ advisors, in believing media relations would best serve their search for missing Madeleine.

  12. João, you’re right, the main goal in the NK case was to protect the victim. But that required high-quality pr work, lots of experience (especially in media relations) and – regarding the massive quantity of money involved (how often have you been offered a suitcase with a million bucks?) – rigid ethical principles.

  13. Markus, you’re right about the poor communicational performance of the Portuguese Police. They were not used to such pressure to disclose information by such a competitive media environment (after all, the British have The most competitive media environment in Europe), and to such a high level of diplomatic pressure on their action. However, Portuguese media did present some exclusives from “police sources”. I’d say it was not a question of finding the sources but of affording to convince them to talk. With regard to Natascha Kampusch’s case, I’m inclined to believe that the fact that there was really a living victim (luckily she survived) explains most of the differences – namely the protective nature of communication in that case.

    Miguel, welcome to PR Conversations and I’m glad that more in Portugal are becoming active participants in these conversations. I agree with your view on how the media pressure didn’t help the investigation. I particularly remember how the overwhelming amount of false leads and unconfirmed statements of spotting Madeleine (specially during the early days of the investigation, when media attention was at its peak and the McCann’s where doing a lot of efforts to keep it that way) did nothing but divert the Police’s attention.

    However the question remains: could the Portuguese Police have done a better job to promote understanding of their action? Yes, and this is where I think their big fault lies. They should have prepared backgrounders on Portuguese law and made available credible sources to speak to the media about Portuguese law. They should also have had a better prepared spokesperson (why did they have to name an inspector as spokesperson? I can understand the increased credibility of having a “technician” speaking but at least he should have had special training – and a better domain of English would also have helped).

  14. First and foremost, I´d like to congratulate the authors for what I have come to see as a focal point for PR discussions on the WWWeb.

    That said, and taking the issue of debate into consideration, I think it wise and necessary to stress out what has been said here before, albeit in different words:

    The difference between media coverage in Portugal and the UK is nothing short of abysmal. This choice of words is by no means unconscious. It is my true belief that a system like that of the British media does nothing to help the solving of a case such as this, but, on the contrary, serves to hinder the progress and the resolve of those involved.

    It could be argued that the pressure put upon the portuguese police by the sheer amount of international media coverage on the case should act as a facilitator and a constant reminder that this should be a quick and efficient investigation.
    It could, however, also be said that this is not, and hasn´t been since the beginning, an “open-and-shut” case. The number of new facts (some of them arguably incriminatory of the McCans) brought into light, as well as the problems and charges of negligence and poor pratice brought upon the portuguese investigators by the british media, has by no means facilitated the solving of the case, and has caused tensions felt by the highest levels of command.

    That said, and focusing now on my view on how the portuguese justice has dealt with this particular case:

    I am not a particularly firm advocate of the current portuguese legal system. Let me rephrase my sentence: I am a firm believer of the system, but not of it´s practices and eficiency. To be so would imply that I am advocating a slow, cumbersome and burocratic style of dealing with justice.
    I am, nonetheless, a firm believer in the tenets of court justice, and those tenets hold that one is innocent until proven guilty. They also hold that justice belongs in the court room, and not in the public eye. The conduct of the portuguese police, – taking into account the aforementioned strain and pressure brought by the world wide coverage of the case -, has been, in this case and so far as I´m concerned, near to exemplary. The ammount of attention given to the subject, the effort to satisfy the (sensationalistic-driven) needs of the press (both national and international) and to make a clear distinction between fiction and facts, “guilty” and “not proven”, has taken it´s toll on the effiency of the process. Thus, I come full circle. The attention that this case spanned has, in my opinion, done nothing to help it´s conclusion, but has indeed, and ironicaly, endangered it in it´s entirety and objectivity.

  15. I didn’t really follow the Madeleine McCann case (though there was quite some coverage in Austrian newspapers) so I’m not very familiar with the details. But, from a more distant point of view, the police seem to have done a rather bad communication job, and partly this may apply to portuguese media as well. When getting no “exclusives” from the MCanns, they should have been able to access police officials more easily than the UK media (at least they should have known better whom to ask or bribe or whatever).
    What’s especially interesting for me is the difference in the way media contacts are handled in this case compared to last years Natascha Kampusch case (for those who are not familiar with that story: NK was abducted at age 10 and held captive for 8 years but managed to escape her tormentor who subsequently committed suicide). Both the media’s and the public’s lust for news was limitless, and it was a pretty tough job for the pr agency to contain the numerous attemps of journalists to gain access to Miss Kampusch. Finally the agency succeeded in “controlling the message”. But this did only work because the police, the psychiatrists and other personnel cooperated very closely. (Even her parents were not allowed to see Miss Kampusch for a while).
    The pr consultant certainly didn’t make a lot of friends within the media at that time.

  16. Ellee, thanks for your comment. I can only say that they were very well treated by all the Community in Praia da Luz where they had a constant support. If the media started to react differently to the revealed facts, McCanns spokespersons are to be blamed for the way their own media strategy was conducted. I didn’t wrote it but there where very harsh situations in which UK journalists almost entered into street fights with both Portuguese and French Journalists. One of those cases was when the McCanns left to the UK and all journalists spent the whole night waiting for them to leave home to the airport. At the precise time when they where about to leave, Sky News reporters arrived freshly from a good night’s sleep (of course, they where the only ones informed about the exact hour of the McCann’s departure).

    Heather, in a certain sense to avoid speculation is what the Portuguese law (which was also heavily criticized by foreign media) intends to do. Speculation is also largely promoted by the shortage of the news cycle and by the pressure of 24/7 news outlets and also by the fact that journalists are increasingly judged by not by the rationality of their judgment but by their capability to deliver exclusives – these are Ira Basen’s arguments presented in the Spin Cycles. Portugal had never seen such pressure to get news as it happened with UK reporters in the early days of this case in the Algarve. They would pay huge amounts of money for statements (independently of the quality of the source, not to mention that fact checking was almost totally absent) and try to negotiate whatever deal they could to guarantee an “exclusive” information. This modus operandi was in fact the first clash among the media here. UK media where often reporting exclusives and Portuguese media often reporting on reports by the UK media.

    Judy, you are totally right. The article you link is very important and shows what kind of coverage could have been made – please read it. People commenting that particular report insisted on how the parents are to blame at least for having left their kinds unattended at home. This is also a particular side of the story which has been largely moved away from the media reports. Spin at its best?

    Brian, I am so sorry for the technical problems. I would love to hear more about your perception about the work of Portuguese police. I’m sure it may help highlight the difference between reality and perception.

  17. I just spent the better part of an hour on a message that appears to have disappeared.

    Call me when the technology gets figured out.

    The Portuguese cops make Inspector Clousseau look like a genius.


  18. To start, regarding >(In fact, you might have noticed that the media chose to use the Portuguese word “arguido” to explain the quality that Portuguese justice applied to the McCanns).

  19. João, I’ve actually thought of you when I’ve watched or read news items about this case, particularly in relation to how Portugal and its police force are being portrayed on the world stage.

    I think the Canadian media overall have been reasonably good at non-sensationalist reporting of some heartbreaking topics (a missing child, a possibly murdered child and/or a parent being a suspect), although lately the high-profile individuals donating money to the McCanns’ legal fund seem to be getting the most attention. Last evening’s late news for example, focused on (Sale Sharks Rugby Club) Brian Kennedy’s donation of £200,000 pounds to the McCanns.

    To demonstrate that there is some balance, here is a transcript of a September 7, 2007, CTV news report, which not only quotes a Portuguese police spokesperson by name (Olegario Sousa), but also gives a bit of background on Portuguese laws:

    I think more news outlets would serve the public interest if they spent a bit more time presenting a balanced portrayal on this subject. I imagine it is not at all pleasant or easy for the Portuguese police force to be questioning a missing child’s parent, let alone to be portrayed as mean-spirited ogres in the media. The police are *obligated* to follow-up on all evidence and leads, particularly if it will resolve the case and find Madeleine (hopefully alive, but possibly dead). Because if they don’t, the media and public will be all over them with accusations of negligence when poor Madeleine is finally found. Small Madeleine really does seem to be fading into the background in recent weeks, with her image appearing less and less in the coverage.

  20. João – there are many PR dimensions to the McCann case, including as you highlight, some cultural issues in relation to media relations and PR within the police and judiciary.

    The case highlight from the pespectives of Portugal and UK, how differences can be misunderstood and strain relationships.

    We do have issues in the UK over the tendency of our mass media to act as police, judge and jury. However, following similar high profile cases here in the past, most police authorities now have expert PR functions. Beyond the communications with media, dedicated liasion officers help those involved in such high profile cases to manage the media attention.

    The tragic case of Rhys Jones who was shot whilst playing football in Liverpool in August showed how the police were able to help his parents cope with the intense media interest with dignity.

    In the case of Madeleine, the real tragedy is that a missing child has been largely forgotten as media in both countries engaged in speculation, which arguably was more about selling newspapers than helping solve the disappearance.

    P.S. Ellee’s commitment to focusing on the missing is the result of comments made about the media being uninterested in cases where those who disappear are less likely to generate headlines. She is an excellent blogger (who I know personally) and uses her blog for excellent campaigning purposes.

  21. Hi, thank you for flagging up my post. I believe totally in the innocence of the McCanns and think they have been treated in the cruellest way. The reason is probably because they are so successful in keeping this story in the media.

    My posts of missing young people have highlighted the most heartbreaking cases from around the world. I simply cannot imagine how parents and families continue to exist when they do not know whether their missing child is still alive, whether the child begins to forget them and has been brainwashed about their circumstances.

    Last weekend I wrote about a missing 15-year-old who probably vanished with someone she met on the internet six months ago. It was her 16th birthday on Saturday and her mother wished her a happy birthday on my site. How very sad is that:

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