BBC: 16 MAY 2007
BBC News, Praia da Luz
Wednesday, 16 May 2007
of British toddler Madeleine McCann and the huge media interest it
has generated has turned a sleepy Algarve resort upside down and
presented the Portuguese authorities - above all the police - with
The search for four-year-old Madeleine and the faith and fortitude
of her parents, Gerry and Kate McCann, have been the subject of
untold column inches and radio and television broadcasting hours not
only in the UK and Portugal
but also in neighbouring Spain
and across Europe - even around the
The McCanns themselves have thanked the media for keeping their
daughter in the public eye, no doubt hoping that the more newspaper
pictures that are out there and the more posters people feel moved
to put up, the more likely she is to be found.
Local media interest
Their relatives back home have been adept at creating media events
there, leveraging moral support into financial pledges for a fund to
be used to help find the little girl.
All this has further piqued the interest of the Portuguese media -
which covered the story extensively from the start, not least
because this is a country whose people adore children.
If anything, local media gave Madeleine and the investigation into
her disappearance even more prominence than did the British in the
week of Tony Blair's announcement that he was stepping down.
But the presence of large numbers of British journalists on the
ground - literally, in the case of the street outside the McCann's
holiday apartment - was clearly instrumental in prodding locals into
"We didn't have anyone here at first," said Augusto Freitas, a
reporter for national broadcaster Radio Clube Portugues.
"But then it started to take on an international dimension - it's
"Even media outlets that weren't here felt obliged to come. They
realised that it was almost impossible not to."
'Very British case'
After all the complaints from British journalists about poor
communications on the part of police, local journalists are, Freitas
adds, now faced with a Foreign Office-appointed spokeswoman for the
McCann family who does not speak the local language.
"This is a very British case," admits Mr Freitas.
"The parents are British, resort staff are British and now so is the
suspect. But it is a strange situation - her not speaking
The new developments in the case early this week - with the formal
declaration of a 33-year-old British man as a suspect after the
interrogation of him and two other people and searches of five
houses - have prompted a rethink by British news editors who had
scaled down their presence in Luz.
"We were here for a week then went back on Sunday," said Justin
Sutcliffe, a photographer sent out by the Sunday Telegraph.
"But then on Tuesday they decided to send us out again. I just about
had time to do my laundry."
The story seems finally to have taken on more solid form, he points
"Towards the end of last week there were a lot of rumours that
people were running around and discounting. This is the first
concrete thing that has definitely happened, and the first that
police have commented on."
The villa - less than 100 yards from the McCann's holiday apartment
- from which the man later declared a suspect was taken, is
inhabited by a retired British nurse, Jenny Murat, and her son
The next day, with his life and character ruthlessly dissected by
the British tabloids, he reportedly said he was being made a
scapegoat and that only if Madeleine's abductor is found will he
Meanwhile, other foreign media have been piling in.
Spanish journalists were among the first to arrive, but television
teams from as far afield as Scandinavia - as well as international
agencies such as Associated Press of the US - have put in
Sabine Michel, a reporter for
Germany's N24 and Sat1 television
channels, says the story of parents having a child snatched after
leaving her momentarily unattended strikes a horrific chord with
"This case has an emotional impact in Germany, too - it's the kind of
story that crosses borders."
It is, she makes clear, not just British journalists who have been
frustrated by the dearth of reliable information.
"Of course it was difficult to get details," she says. "We're not
used to this - in
police are more under pressure to make information public.
"I hope the fact that they're not saying much means they have a plan
they don't want to reveal, rather than that they're in the dark.
"But when no-one knows anything there's no check on speculation."
Still, in just the week or so she has been in town, she has noted a
development in the way police handle the media, from the chaotic
free-for-all of the briefings early last week to yesterday's more
controlled and technically well-supported press conference.
She was impressed with how "sensitively" the British media have
treated the McCanns - remaining a respectful distance from them when
they went down to the beach, for example, and not snapping close-ups
of their twins.