Sunday, September 09, 2007

Maddy McCann: Britain v. Portugal?

I'd vowed more or less to not dedicate one syllable to the story of the disappearance of Maddy McCann because the extraordinary amount of time and resources the press have already spent on this case. Such cases further underline the adage that 'one is a tragedy, a million is a statistic'. And as happens so often, media-meddling hasn't served enlightenment at all but rather has led to ferocious competition to get a (commercial) slice of Maddy-mania. Some of the clamour for 'information' needed to fill 24/7 newsfeeds resulted in inadvertent comedy, eerily reminiscent of the BBC spoof news show "Broken News". The Sky News reporter waiting endlessly for Mrs McCann's emergence from a Portuguese police station after her latest interview a couple of days ago, could easily have been replaced by the Broken News reporter waiting for what seemed like hours for news on the outbreak of the Tomato Flue...

But what I've been seeing over the course of this drama is what is often seen when a horrendous crime is committed against the citizen of one country on the sovereign soil of another: the protagonists and onlookers tend to divide according to their nationalities.

Almost from the off the McCanns appeared sceptical of the Portuguese police's efforts, although they quickly moderated their stance. Presumably they realised that antagonising the investigating team wasn't in their best interests.

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Conservative parts of the British press corps, as well as members of the great British public, however, have often been less nuanced in their assessment of the investigators and their methods. 'British is best', often against all sounder judgement, remains an attitude that is deeply engrained in parts of the collective British psyche. And so came public calls for the Portuguese to abandon some of their practices and adopt, as it were, a more British approach to the inquiry. In particular, the Portuguese common sense and entirely justifiable approach of secrecy was called into question by many a British Sherlock Holmes wannabe. In this day and age of feeble political public participation, many do delude themselves into thinking that throwing the case wide open and involving the public and the chip wrapper press can somehow influence the outcome of the search positively. But all the publicity, public support and public 'participation' hasn't really furthered the case one iota: at best some shaky leads were generated, none of which lead to finding Maddy, dare I say it, dead or alive.

It was, in short, difficult to avoid the impression that these demands for 'openness' were made only to justify the British press' voracious appetite for commercially valuable 'information' regarding this high profile, emotive and even potentially salacious story.

British outrage very recently reached boiling point when the McCann's were officially declared suspects under Portuguese law. The family's reaction was of course entirely predictable and understandable but hardly rational. And most of the British public's response stems almost completely from miscomprehension of the Portuguese process which in parts appears slightly different from the British system.

Some of the British public's indignation was even more risible: the DNA results, although still largely hidden from that same public, were in certain quarters quickly denounced as 'potentially unreliable', until equally quickly but rather embarrassingly it transpired that the tests had been carried out in... Albion, Birmingham more specifically!

Now the McCanns fear that charges may follow and Mrs McCann, as well as some members of the family, has expressed the feeling that she is being set up, framed even. We may intuitively feel that alleging the McCanns had anything to do with their daughter's disappearance is preposterous (yet stranger things have been known to happen) but the idea that the Portuguese are trying to set the parents up is equally risible and smacks either of gross prejudice or of an ill-advised and hasty attempt at pre-emptive defence.

And it's important to note that a British spokesman for a Portuguese newspaper indicated that getting a conviction without a body would be extremely difficult under Portuguese criminal law. It seems therefore much more likely but perhaps also paradoxical that the McCann's raised status to 'arguido' serves as much to eliminate them from the inquiry as to implicate them further, depending largely on the so far undisclosed evidence and the McCann's own answers to more probing questions. There is after all another 'arguido' who hasn't been charged with anything either.

The McCann's have also indicated anguish about the possibility that all this may mark the beginning of the end of the search for Madeleine McCann. But let's face it: the McCanns must now be among the very few in this world that still believe their daughter is still alive: the probability of Maddy being found alive really is directly inversely proportional to the amount of time lapsed between raising the alarm and the present time. The Portuguese cannot against better judgement be expected to continue a high profile search forever when the chances of a fruitful outcome are diminishing so rapidly.

And although we only have hearsay evidence for this, Mrs McCann seems to have alluded that the Portuguese authorities had hinted at some kind of 'deal' during her last interview. The same spokesman (from The Portuguese Times, if I recall well) clearly stated that a deal was theoretically impossible because such offences under Portuguese law carry a fixed sentence: there is nothing to negotiate with or about. Did Mrs McCann miss something in translation? Did the person who brought up this part of the saga miss something?

Of course the Portuguese press and general public aren't entirely innocent in all this either: the McCanns are apparently suing a Portuguese paper for alleging they are guilty. Mrs McCann has been booed in public by Portuguese spectators: what inspires those people?

Lastly, a sample of British overheated thinking regarding this sad case, by
The Torygraph:

What do you think? Are the McCanns right to be wary of a foreign jurisdiction? Has the saga put you off visiting Portugal? If not, why not?

Well, words failed me but thankfully not this cool-headed British gentleman who wrote in response:

My wife and I go to the Algarve occasionally for a break. We were thinking about going at the beginning of September, and decided we didn't want to be there while the Sky News circus was all over the place. I'm even gladder we didn't now - but we'll probably go in October. So the Maddy thing didn't put us off - but the press did. I'm still horrified by the pictures taken by Sky of the McCanns driving down the motorway; from moving vehicles dogging their every moment; and even in the cabin of the plane. The people who took such photos shouldn't be allowed out of the UK - they're an embarrassment to us all.

Hear, hear...


At 4:09 PM, Blogger eeore said...

A very thoughtful and informative post :)

At 6:48 PM, Blogger ana said...

Thank you for your post.

The Portuguese people always treated the McCanns with the biggest affection.
The whistles in Portimao had also come of English tourists

The Jornaulist Jane Hill wrote in a BBC article
"I remember reading in the Portuguese press some very blunt headlines, that said, frankly, 'why are you still here'? 'Why don't you go home'?"
This is NOT true.


At 7:07 AM, Blogger Frank Partisan said...

That could be a movie.


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