OPINION: The Madeleine media circus rumbles on

The image of Madeleine still dominates. Her fate has become a national obsession as the public scans broadcast, online and print media in search of the latest pictures, speculation, leaks and guesswork.

Monk: ‘Was an instant global campaign sustainable as a credible response to what may have been a local crime?’
Monk: ‘Was an instant global campaign sustainable as a credible response to what may have been a local crime?’

Although there remains a minority group whose emotional sensitivities render it impossible for them to dwell on the unfolding agonies of Kate and Gerry McCann, most of us remain hooked on the real-life drama that occasionally seems to borrow its expression from Big Brother’s Diary Room.

The original Madeleine drama was, of course, spawned by the events of 3 May, when she tragic­ally disappeared. But the subsequent narrative has been largely scripted by the PROs brought in by the McCanns. Their work has fed the media’s insatiable appetite for allegation and innuendo, photos and videos, to fill the void left by the absence of facts.

Taking their lead from the McCanns’ instant dec­ision to launch a global appeal, these communicators have choreographed enough press conferences, interviews, photocalls and briefings to sustain the average presidential election.

Now, as the family faces the agonies of a homecoming without Madeleine, is it just possible that they are having regrets about the media strategy they have so far pursued? Has the jingoistic nature of some of the briefings really been helpful? Was an instant global campaign, drawing in world leaders, sustainable as a credible response to what may have been a local crime?

Media circuses are usually, by their nature, short-lived. The dogs bark and the show moves on. And yet the ceaseless media output has turned the McCann saga into a Mousetrap of a media production. The Portugese police have countered fire with fire and have begun leaking their suspicions and piecemeal snippets of “evidence” against their suspects (a tactic, incidentally, long and adroitly practised by UK detectives). Then McCann family members spring up before the cameras to rail against the duplicity of the detectives.

Although, as PRWeek went to press, no-one has been charged, the “trial” was increasingly being conducted through volleys of media cross-examination of innuendo. There was a growing risk of a major diplomatic incident between two EU partners.

Can such a welter of publicity be compatible with justice for Madeleine or the protection of Kate and Gerry’s reputation? Certainly the relentless parleying with the media makes their plea for privacy ring a little hollow. No comment may well be the best option now, although putting the media genie back in the bottle will be some trick.

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and was formerly a senior executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun

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