A discussion of contemporary issues in media ethics, with olives and a twist. Made with only the freshest ingredients, shaken, stirred and poured over ice. I should also mention that I do like the odd, occasional martini. Bombay Sapphire gin and Lillet, dry and plenty of salty olives. Welcome to this cocktail of journalism and alcohol. A fine combination!

Thursday, 20 March 2008

McCanns' win lesson to the tabloids?

The couple at the centre of a European missing persons case have won a substantial libel suit against two leading British newspapers.

Kate and Gerry McCann, both doctors, are the parents of Madelaine McCann, the three-year-old girl who disappeared from the couple's holiday flat in the Portugese resort town of Praia da Luz in May 2007.

The case has confounded investigators. Initial reports suggested Madelaine had been taken from the apartment during the evening while her parents ate supper at a tapas bar down the road.

Then in September 2007 the Portugese police announced that Gerry and Kate were suspects in the disappearance. At that point the British tabloid press went into a frenzy. All sorts of weird stories began to emerge, including rumours that the McCann's had killed the child and disposed of her body.

The story was weird too because the McCann's had gone to the media and launched a high profile campaign to have their missing daughter returned.

The English tabloids reported all the rumours in front page splash stories and the McCann's sued.

A court has ordered the Express and the Daily Star newspapers to publish an apology and pay an undisclosed sum (rumoured to be more than half a million dollars) to the couple.

It's one thing to win a libel suit, it's another to have suspicion of murder lifted.

There are parallels here with the famous "Dingo took my baby" story from Australia in 1980. In that case the child's mother, Lindy Chamberlain, was chief suspect, she was tried and convicted, but then exonerated on appeal many years later.

In both cases the media portrayed the parents as weird potential killers who behaved in a bizarre fashion at the height of their grief.

We don't do these stories very well. The cultural meme of "folk devils" is still strong and women who don't fit the "nurture" mold are often vilified without justification.

There's another interesting parallel the reported existence of DNA evidence in the form of blood in a car used by the couple. in the Chamberlain case the forensic investigation was flawed. In the McCann case the DNA match is not conclusive.


Brian Tristam Williams said...

Lindy Chamberlain was not exonerated "on appeal." By the time she was released from prison, the appeals process had long since been exhausted, and there was no identifiable hope of her being released from Berrimah Gaol.

The discovery of the baby's matinée jacket in February 1986 resulted in extraordinary measures being made by the Nothern Territory's chief minister, securing her release, and subsequent exoneration on September 15th, 1988.

Marty said...

Thanks Brian, I was using the term loosely, but you're absolutely correct.
Lindy spent several years in gaol for a crime that she didn't commit.
It was a miscarriage of justice based on popular fear and media hysteria. Would you agree with that?

martini recipes said...

It is crazy how worked up the media gets. Unfortunately I suppose it is what generates the most ad dollars.

I think I'll wander off and make another martini and curse the press under my breath!