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On the McCann story

Matt Morris | 16:46 UK time, Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Some reports have given a slightly false impression of the approach adopted by the Victoria Derbyshire programme to the McCann story yesterday morning.

Radio Five Live logoAs Peter Horrocks points out in an earlier contribution to this blog, there has been enormous interest in the McCann story. The presenter of a different phone-in programme, Vanessa Feltz, acknowledged as much in her column in the Daily Express this morning - a caller to her show was indignant that she wasn't discussing the McCann case because it was "all anyone wants to talk about".

We certainly wanted to talk about the case yesterday morning, but we knew there were huge sensitivities. Just like Vanessa, we don't deal in the exchange of conjecture, idle tittle-tattle or slander.

So we started with two ideas. Did our listeners support the McCanns? I think that's a fair question. Newspaper columnists throughout the prints are expressing sympathy for the McCanns. It seems odd to me that Victoria Derbyshire's listeners should not have the opportunity to express their sympathy - or otherwise.

But secondly we wanted to be sure that the case was "all everyone wants to talk about" - and that's where the inaccuracies have crept in. From the beginning, we planned to offer Victoria's listeners the opportunity to pass judgement on yesterday's phone in topic. As the debate intensified, with some listeners berating us for the way we had framed the discussion, we put it to their vote - should we continue with the discussion or should we stop it? By a margin of about two thirds to one third, they said we should stop it - so we did.

Since we had always planned this vote, as a way of trying to get some sense of public reaction to media coverage of the McCann story, it's slightly over the top to suggest we had to "abandon" the phone in. We were prepared both to continue the discussion, and to move on to something else.


  • 1.
  • At 06:15 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Bradgate wrote:

Hi Matt,

Come off it! Do you seriously expect us to believe that yesterday's fiasco was a carefully laid plan?

If that is the case, why was Victoria so obviously rattled when the subject of the phone-in was criticised live on air by Peter Horrocks?

  • 2.
  • At 07:02 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Joseph wrote:

The BBC complaining about a 'slightly false impression in the media' of claims that the BBC abandoned the debate on the McCanns, shock horror, poor BBC so it is okay for you to distort the truth whenever you want, yet if other media outlets do the same then it's just not cricket.

The BBC is the most hypocritical organisation in the world, and for the record, I listened to the phone in and to my mind you did abandon the debate.

"Did our listeners support the McCanns? I think that's a fair question."

A fair question? Come on. It's one step removed from saying "do you think the McCanns are guilty? Either you knew that when you planned the show, in which case it was cynical in the extreme. If we'd been talking about an English legal case it would have bordered on contempt of court. Or you didn't think about the consequences of asking that question, in which case you're incredibly naive! Either way, it doesn't look good, does it?

  • 4.
  • At 08:38 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Bedd Gelert wrote:

More sanctimonious tosh from the BBC Editors..

It may be all 'Daily Express' readers want to talk about, but on the premise that they have been talking about the Princess of Wales for a decade, and show no signs of letting up, is this the level to which BBC 'journalism' has now descended ?

Get a grip !

  • 5.
  • At 09:04 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • John Whyte wrote:

Shouldn't you update the logo on your blog posts?

  • 6.
  • At 09:21 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Steve Chasle wrote:

It is a very interesting speculation that the McCanns could have been the only people to have ever used the hire car that is at the centre of this controversy and their obvious plight.
Has anyone (especially the Portuguese police) considered the possibility that whoever abducted little Madelaine may have also hired that same car around the time of her abduction, and obviously, before the McCanns hired it.

  • 7.
  • At 04:56 AM on 12 Sep 2007,
  • kola wrote:

who is mccann?

  • 8.
  • At 06:25 AM on 12 Sep 2007,
  • Janet Fincham wrote:

Recent "evidence" re hair being found in a rental car is rather silly. I can look through my things and find my Mother's old winter coat. That still has her hair on it - she passed away ten years ago of old age.

  • 9.
  • At 08:34 AM on 12 Sep 2007,
  • Clifford wrote:

It is not a fair question. 'Expressing sympathy' towards the McCanns (which can be done without any knowledge of the facts) is not the same as 'supporting' them which does require a belief in their innocence. I do not see how anyone not part of the police investigation has sufficient factual evidence to express support or otherwise.

If you have nothing new to say then you should shut up. Not enough phone-in listeners realise this.

  • 10.
  • At 09:18 AM on 12 Sep 2007,
  • miika wrote:

I'm reminded of a letter the RIAA sent to The Register several years ago, which included the odd question "Perhaps the truth is less interesting than the facts?"

Kudos to the BBC for trying to set the record straight, as it sees it. It's much better to see than the inane bending over backwards to appease everyone and their dog that comes up with niggling nitpicking criticisms that we've seen recently (see post about Newsnight and noddy's).

  • 11.
  • At 10:41 AM on 12 Sep 2007,
  • Rob wrote:

I disagree that the debate on whether the McCann's still engage the public's support was a fair question. Surely the question - as evinced by the reaction to your programme - was whether we should have blanket coverage of this case despite the fact that almost everything said since Madeleine McCann went missing has been speculation and 'leaked'. It's natural that the public want to know everything that's being said, but that doesn't mean you should give it to them when it is a live investigation like this. The justification for the helicopter coverage, mentioned in the earlier blog, was equally spineless and self-serving.

  • 12.
  • At 11:08 AM on 12 Sep 2007,
  • Peter Essex wrote:

We should keep in mind that the new evidence that points to the parents was uncovered by British Police. As the files have been passed to a judge it appears the police now believe they have found the guilty people in this crime.

I am more than satisfied with the investigation. I accept that delays in gathering evidence may have happened until British Police officers got involved and investigated that the parents may have been involved.

I just hope their is enough solid evidence to convict them of this crime and they go down for a very long time.

  • 13.
  • At 12:13 PM on 12 Sep 2007,
  • stating the obvious wrote:

BBC is never wrong

Resistance is futile

  • 14.
  • At 12:36 PM on 12 Sep 2007,
  • Mike wrote:

"we don't deal in the exchange of conjecture...."

Really? Honestly?

I can give one very good example only a few days ago on a far more serious matter. Matt Frei was asked about his feelings regarding the Petraeus 'Surge' report and its impact on the Bush administration. The news item was a nice chat with the presenter broadcast for the nation to see two men have little more than a informed discussion.

The facts were the actual report was fairly upbeat about progress (thanks to Mr. Simpson on the second day of evidence) not that you would guess that from Mr. Frei the day before. There was plenty of 'I think', 'potentially something new', 'I feel'.

That's hardly factual.

In so far as the McCann's it is not lost on many observers that this is a legal system that prohibits the release of any evidential facts into the public domain until charges are brought.

So it is not unreasonable to accept that and wait. Well, you would think as a news organisation, that would be the emminently sensible thing to do too; there are other stories out there to report.

So anything that is released has to have its veracity questioned and it must be prone to doubt through supposition and rumour. The BBC has happily sought opinions from 'experts' taking this evidence as fact.

That is not news, that is opinion, it is not fact. When it comes to the 'facts' which only the Portugese Judiciary have, the BBC has happily reported again and again based on continuing discussion amongst 'experts' based on supposition, leaks and rumours.

That is not fact.

One example, there is a alledged DNA evidence, the BBC has happily reported what kind, the veracity of its accuracy and where it is thought to have come from. It has been reported by the BBC that the Police played down the 'reports' of such information so you leave us to draw our own conclusion. Even to the point of the potential for 'cross-contamination' from another 'expert'.

It is all conjecture.

Then when you frame a discussion with a limited remit because suddenly you don't deal with conjecture, rumour, half-truth you wonder why people get so upset?

  • 15.
  • At 01:56 PM on 12 Sep 2007,
  • John Cox wrote:

I listened to part of the Victoria Derbyshire programme (which I normally enjoy) on the McCanns. Contrary to your blog I don't think the question was the right one. How can we 'support' or otherwise two people who are suspects in a legal case, and became suspects on the basis of evidence which we do not have access to? I couldn't answer the question. Maybe I could say - I think they did/didn't played a part in Madeleine's disappearance/ or that I hope they are innocent and can prove it ... or I could make comments about how the media have handled the case, or even about the different legal systems in the EU and the confusion they may cause. There are many issues I could have commented on.

I would welcome any of these debates but I think the question asked reflects the BBC's overall approach to this case, that is that there has been no investigative journalism, sparse helpful contextual fact (e.g. on the Portuguese legal system (although this improved later) and a general pack following mentality which I though the BBC was above. Rather the reporting has been emotive and human interest based which has led to people confusing their sympathy for Madeleine herself (which is total) with their feelings about the parents which are necessarily mixed.

  • 16.
  • At 02:17 PM on 12 Sep 2007,
  • dadu bala wrote:

I have been watching your reporter reporting live from Portugal on the McCann story over the last few days. She seems to be completely biased towards the McCanns and seems to always say how awful it is for them to go through all this. At times it has been difficult to know that this is a news item and not her personal feelings. Nobody seems to say that these parents left three very young children on their own at night, in a foreign land. The reporter keeps insinuating that the Portugese police are somehow not up to the job. BBC I am so disappointed with your completely one sided take on this story. I have recently stopped watching BBC News because of your programme mainly dealing with British interests only. Take a look at how CNN reports on this world we live in!

  • 17.
  • At 02:42 PM on 12 Sep 2007,
  • Paul Najman wrote:

Hi Matt,

I heard the start of the 'debate' on Five. As usual, the crucial thing was that it was controversial and divisive (for the worst example of this type of 'debate' on Five, listen to Stephen Nolan).

Turned it off after 10 minutes.

Framing the debate as 'Do you support them?' is pure, pure tabloid. What did it mean? Who knows what happened? Why should anyone 'support' or not 'support' them?

As far as I can see, this had become a controversial subject again. FiveLive made a decision to jump on this tabloid bandwagon. To then allow listeners to vote to close it down is just a get-out-clause, so that you can say 'our listeners decided'.

This is the same sort of thing you hear from the Express 'Our readers say ...', when what they really mean is 'The Express says ...'. Anybody who bought a paper is deemed to agree.


  • 18.
  • At 03:49 PM on 12 Sep 2007,
  • marcmc wrote:

While I do applaud the BBC for actaully pulling the crass speculation of a phone in, on what must be a very sensitive issue for thwe family involved), I do agree with Pauls comment that it was 'tabloid' to have to ask in the 1st place.
My question is why did you have to ask?
Can you not use some personal judgment and show some empathy?
Anyone could have told you that the way the coverage has been handled has been over the top. I would have expexted the 'bastion of good and honest journalism' that the beeb is meant to be,to have handled the story in a more appropriate way than the gutter press approuch used by other news 'outlets'.

  • 19.
  • At 09:17 PM on 12 Sep 2007,
  • Mike Gannon wrote:

To say I am confused by the whole issue is true. Body language of both parents in this case indicate the stress that both of them feel at this time. My problem surrounds the suggested reports that the british police have disclosed to their counterparts in Portugal their findings regarding DNA evidence yet have made no public comment which could possibly clear the parents of any involvement.

  • 20.
  • At 10:09 AM on 13 Sep 2007,
  • Mark E wrote:

"Recent "evidence" re hair being found in a rental car is rather silly. I can look through my things and find my Mother's old winter coat. That still has her hair on it - she passed away ten years ago of old age. "

It is very true that you might find your mothers hair in her old coat. However, if you were to buy a coat from a charity shop the chance of finding your mother's hair on that coat would be very low.

The McCanns did not have the hire car at the time of the dissappearance, they rented it several weeks after. Which means that for her hairs to be in the car it would either have to be secondary transfer (they fell off an object that she had touched), or she had been in the car at sometime.

  • 21.
  • At 11:08 PM on 14 Sep 2007,
  • barry shaw wrote:

If the McCanns have nothing to hide why don't they consider hypnosis, to alleviate the speculation that is building up against them. Hypnosis is a good tool in these situations.

  • 22.
  • At 11:32 PM on 14 Sep 2007,
  • barry shaw wrote:

If the McCanns have nothing to hide why don't they consider hypnosis, to alleviate the speculation that is building up against them. Hypnosis is a good tool in these situations.

  • 23.
  • At 11:34 PM on 14 Sep 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Like some of the others posting on this blog, I am somewhat bemused by much of the reporting in the McCann case.
Firstly let us not lose sight of the fact this entire situation arose because a fairly affluent couple staying in a family-friendly holiday resort chose to save around £10 (which is I assume roughly the cost of a babysitter provided by the resort)and instead leave 3 pre-school age children unattended in an apartment.

Secondly, why do people keep comparing the Portuguese authorities with the "British" ones. There is no such thing as a British police force or a "British legal system" The comparison is with English police processes and the English criminal legal system. The Scottish system is far more like the Portuguese system than it is like the English one in many respects!

Thirdly, why have the McCann's not been interviewed by an English police force in respect of potential criminal prosecution in England. In the past year or so, several single mothers have been hounded by the media and society and subsequently prosecuted for leaving teenage schoolchildren at home alone while they have gone off on holiday. So are we as a nation guilty of double standards? Would Kate McCann have got worldwide sympathy if she had been an unemployed single mother living in a working class estate in a major city? I suspect she would be on bail awaiting trial for child neglect.

Fourthly the media coverage has been totally absurd and OTT. There is one victim in this tragedy and that is little Maddy, whether she is still alive or sadly dead. Whilst like all others, I have some sympathy for the torment the McCanns are going through, they have been authors of their own misfortune. Surely the almost daily murder of our 19 year old soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan is frankly far more newsworthy?

The speculation on both BBC News 24 and SKY News has been highly unprofessional. Jane Hill and Richard Bilton are both gifted, professional journalists so why do we need them to be in Portugal standing in front of an empty police station or apartment block to report mere speculation? What a waste of licence payers fees but then again almost every week on Ray
Snoddy's Newswatch there is a list of complaints about reporting from outside empty buildings which regardless of what BBC Editors say, brings nothing to the story except a waste of thousands of pounds of budget.

After 3 months and worldwide appeals including Papal intervention, Maddy has not been found, if still alive, so please avoid this becoming the "Princess Diana" story mark 2 and return to balanced reporting of FACTS in what is a thoroughly sad story but frankly not one of importance to justify wall-to-wall coverage.

What about the over children in the UK that have gone missing since she did? Where's there TV coverage?

  • 25.
  • At 07:42 PM on 15 Sep 2007,
  • michael craig wrote:

It is hardly up to the public to decide the guilt or innocence of the McCann parents on the fate of their oldest daughter, we do not have all the evidence, and have we forgotten that we are innocent until a burden of proof is provided of our guilt.
I find it incredible that two doctors would deliberately harm their offspring!
On the other hand, if this was an ordinary working class family would there have been so much media attention? I also suspect that if the the McCanns were ordinary 5/8ths, social services would have taken their other children as soon as they arrived back in England.

  • 26.
  • At 09:41 PM on 16 Sep 2007,
  • Dirk wrote:

One wonders if Sir Richard Branson would have been so quick to jump in with £100,000 of funds for the McCanns if the case wasn't getting maximum media publicity throughout the UK and Europe.

Still - the very rich will always look to help the rich ... if the McCanns had been poor working-class folk, they would have been abandoned to the lower echelons of the British Legal System - where the majority of us would have been left to cope with ' Justice on a Budget '.

  • 27.
  • At 10:34 PM on 16 Sep 2007,
  • RJS wrote:

Many years ago a young boy went missing in Greece - although it was obviously reported and covered by the media it soon became 'old news' and was quickly forgotten all about. Do you think the McCanns would have got so much media coverage had they been a couple of London Eastender parents that had left their daughter alone and not professional people? Statistics prove that in many cases where a child goes missing those responsible were/are known to the child. As the family were in Portugal and the only family members present at the time were the parents one has to wonder why the parents were not prime suspects from day one. Unless the child is found alive these parents will always be suspects are after such a long time I doubt very much if the child will be found alive but of course without more evidence the parents cannot be charged.

  • 28.
  • At 11:20 PM on 16 Sep 2007,
  • Sylvia wrote:

The comments remind me of animals turning on the weak and frail! The McCanns would not have 'disposed' of Madelaine's body unserimoniasly wrapped in a blanket and bundled into the back of a car!! It's monstrous to even suggest they killed her, even accidentely. If there had been an accident, they would have told someone. If Madelaines abductor is reading this PLEASE IN THE NAME OF HUMANITY TELL THE FAMILY IF SHE IS ALIVE OR DEAD. Please, everyone, have some compassion, The McCanns are innocent until proved guilty.

  • 29.
  • At 09:46 AM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • suzi wrote:

i think they shuld give poor lil maddie bk xxxx

  • 30.
  • At 09:31 AM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • Ann Louise Prichard wrote:

Why should Madeleine's parents have a better lawyer than her? Isnt she the victim here and needs the best help she can get?

I said on the 9th September that the media should leave the family alone.
It is a vandetta and we all remember the Birmingham story when the media witchunted for a culprit to stand trial.
We should all wait till the facts are properly known.
Keep quiet till then.

  • 32.
  • At 09:58 PM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • Dirk wrote:

Sylvia wrote on 16/09/07; " It's monstrous to even suggest that they killed her, even accidentally. If there had been an accident, they would have told someone. "

I have to disagree with the last sentence of your words above Sylvia. The McCanns both hold very highly respected positions within the Medical Profession. If ( and I say IF ) they had been administering sedatives to Maddy, and she died as a result, confessing to such a crime, however tragic and unintended the outcome - both their careers would be completely finished. These are people on extremely high wages, who still have a family to bring up. Do you think they would willingly go to jail, thus bringing their careers to a premature end, and compromising the security /well-being /upbringing of their remaining children, when such an admission could not bring their daughter back nor relieve them of the stigma and consequences of their actions?

No. I respectfully suggest that self preservation, and the need to protect the futures of their remaining family members would likely dictate that they would have told no-one if ( again, I emphasise the word IF ) such a tragic set of circumstances had taken place.

  • 33.
  • At 06:27 AM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • drsuemccann wrote:

The McCann loss is reminescent of the Jon Benet Ramsey case in the US where the parents were accused relentlessly despite no evidence incriminating them; since the Colorado police involved couldn't find a perpetrator, they blamed the nearest to the child and the crime was never solved.

  • 34.
  • At 05:47 AM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • bobh wrote:

I've never visited this blog before and won't again. Not though because of the BBC editors, who try however vainly to explain actions and decisions taken, but because of the shear number of hateful, one eyed commenters who seem to think the BBC is at the centre of the worlds ills.

Personally I'm sick of hearing about it.

The sort of over-reporting on the McCann case just makes parents more over-anxious about their kids' welfare.

Dragging it out like this is simply taking up news-space that could be used for more wide-ranging and serious issues, such as the potential trouble in the Middle East, the growing gap between rich and poor, the housing crisis (largely ignored), Labour's erosions of Civil Liberties (DNA databases, vehicle tracking, National Identity Register, CCTV everywhere) and so on.

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