Monday, 14 May 2007


In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines,
lived twelve young girls in two straight lines;
They left the house at half-past nine...
The smallest one was Madeline.

I remain increasingly perturbed by the press coverage of the plight of young Madeleine McCann. For those of you who have spend the last ten days living either under a hole or in Shoebury, she's a young girl abducted last week from her holiday apartments in Portugal whilst her parents were at dinner. I pray you will forgive for being controversial, but I have a few concerns...

Where were her parents?

I admit that I know little of parenting. But what has been said to me by many adults is that they would never have left her alone in an apartment on holiday. I questioned Mother as to whether it was reasonable to force parents to plan their holidays on the assumption that there was an abduction threat all the time. her answer shocked me: "yes". I wouldn't have left them alone for fear of illness of accident. But the media hasn't questioned their actions. It;s just all sympathy.

What's the fuss?

My other major concern is the media attention on this one case. Tragic abductions happen. So do tragic murders. So do tragic rapes. Do all of them achieve the same media attention: headlines every day for over a week?

A few examples:
  • Today, two men have been arrested over the murder of a 15 year-old in London in February.
  • Today, a powerful bomb blast in Pakistan has killed at least 24 people.
  • Today, ten have been killed in Gaza in factional fighting, whilst the sides arm themselves rapidly.
  • Today, ethnically-motivated violence has claimed at least two lives in Assam, in Northern India.
  • Today, it has emerged that the Angolan Government has unlawfully evicted thousands of its poorest citizens, leaving them utterly destitute.

I do not wish to say that we should not be concerned for Madeleine, and for her family. The story is tragic. Yet it is only one life. I have mentioned 37 dead and thousands ruined - today. And I suppose I should add the 45 killed in Makhmur, in Iraq. And the 10 in Iraq.

So why is it that Madeleine has a reward of some 2.5 million, donated by celebrities? I do not wish to criticise either the celebrities or the reward system. But the answer is that it's caught the public imagination. Just like the Soham Murders. Just two deaths.

What we should do is recognise the others' suffering. As Nick wrote, it is not that Madeleine and her family do not deserve news, attention, care, concern, and support. But so many others do as well. We must have more perspective.

I'd like to leave you with a summary given earlier this year. No prizes for guessing it's provenance, except a pat on the back if you do. I've italicised the places and situations for your notice:

"How many wounds, how much suffering there is in the world! Natural calamities and human tragedies that cause innumerable victims and enormous material destruction are not lacking. My thoughts go to recent events in Madagascar, in the Solomon Islands, in Latin America and in other regions of the world. I am thinking of the scourge of hunger, of incurable diseases, of terrorism and kidnapping of people, of the thousand faces of violence which some people attempt to justify in the name of religion, of contempt for life, of the violation of human rights and the exploitation of persons. I look with apprehension at the conditions prevailing in several regions of Africa. In Darfur and in the neighbouring countries there is a catastrophic, and sadly to say underestimated, humanitarian situation. In Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo the violence and looting of the past weeks raises fears for the future of the Congolese democratic process and the reconstruction of the country. In Somalia the renewed fighting has driven away the prospect of peace and worsened a regional crisis, especially with regard to the displacement of populations and the traffic of arms. Zimbabwe is in the grip of a grievous crisis...

Likewise the population of East Timor stands in need of reconciliation and peace as it prepares to hold important elections. Elsewhere too, peace is sorely needed: in Sri Lanka only a negotiated solution can put an end to the conflict that causes so much bloodshed; Afghanistan is marked by growing unrest and instability; In the Middle East, besides some signs of hope in the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian authority, nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees. In Lebanon the paralysis of the country’s political institutions threatens the role that the country is called to play in the Middle East and puts its future seriously in jeopardy."



Francis said...

Hmm I can understand your argument and in a certain way I agree, but I wouldn't possibly challenge a couple of the things that you say.

I believe that it would be completely wrong to question the actions of the parents. At the moment it would be highly insensitive, and it's fairly irrelevant anyway; it won't help to bring her back. They're human, and maybe they had a momentary lapse. Everybody does, but these people just happened to have received a particularly harsh punishment.

As for the hightened TV coverage, I think this is partly due to the fact that it has happened abroad, so it becomes a diplomatic issue as well as an emotional one. Other factors may also have increased the media attention such as the Christian faith of the parents, and the determination of many that the girl is still alive.

Lidia said...

Her story has caught attention because it's every parent's worst nightmare. Isn't it?

A huge amount of people go missing every year, and it's unsurprising because generally - if you read the missing section in the back of the Big Issue - they are either 'on medication which they didn't take with them' (i.e. depressed) or are 'newly arrived to the UK and can't speak much English'. Similarly, there are reports ever day about bombs and misfortunes in developing countries where the way of life is much more dangerous. BUT the abduction of a pretty blonde child with doctors for parents and coming from Rothley (a very nice area of Leics btw; I know someone who lives there)is in comparison very rare... and utterly terrifying because it's unexpected.

That's not to say the media attention is annoying me any the less, though.

Anonymous said...

You would think being doctors, they would think twice about their children's safety in another country.

I'm sure they would not have popped to the corner shop and left there kids at home here so why do it somewhere else?!

But it is a sad story and hopefully it'll have a happy ending!

P.S. Phil what do you think about the Portuguese law and how its affecting this case? I mean having a suspect but not arresting them...providing them with the right to silence? This 'arguido' status seems a bit funny.

Anonymous said...

Warning: This may be contraversial:
Personally, I really don't care about the whole incident. I don't know the girl, and never will. Unless I find her and can claim the reward money, then I really am not too bothered, and the chances of her being in Southend are pretty slim.
If previous such cases have shown anything, after two weeks now, the chances of finding her alive are pretty slim, but people still cling onto hope. But as a pessimist, I don't believe in hope, as the majority of the time it is false.
Of course, I would prefer it if she was found safe and well, but it is less likely by the day, and I'm not going to have sleepness nights worrying about it, I have much greater concerns on my mind at the moment, and as the point made here is, there are many other issues in the world, the majority of which, quite frankly my dear I couldn't give a damn.
But if other people wish to care and to hope, then I'm not going to stop them.

Francis said...


Phil' said...

I must confess to being intruiged as to the identities of the two anonymous commentators. Especially the latter.


Gavin said...

Hope and optimism are very different. And whoever anonymous number 2 is is not very nice, by the sounds of it. Thank God for purgatory, for their sake.