"A Man's a Man for all that!" - Rabbie Burns
May 17, 2007
Almost two weeks after the dissapearance of Madeleine McCann and there is still no sign of the missing toddler. What lessons can be drawn from the whole affair at this stage?
Most parents these days are alert to the dangers to their children and if anything it has been suggested that modern parents are perhaps too over-protective. But take those same over-protective parents and put them in a sunny seaside resort and common sense flies out of the window. Parents who would not dream of leaving their children alone in the house in Britain seem capable of concluding that when abroad it is alright to leave them alone and "nip out for a tapas" and just check them every half hour. The McCann parents will sadly carry this responsibility with them for a long time but they are not alone. How many other parents have done this while on holiday?
The usual media frenzy has followed this incident and it has been compared by some to the media scrum and public outpouring of emotion that followed the death of Diana. There may be some real parallels here. In both cases the modern 24 hr media makes such events very real and immediate for us all. No less immediate in a sense than they would be if they had happened to our next door neighbour. This seems to be one reason why the modern reaction to such events is so much more immediate and emotional than it was in former generations.
Before 24hr media by the time you heard of an event it was probably long over. The emotional impact of learning about an event after it has concluded is much less than feeling that somehow you are witnessing it live - hence the more recent emotional reactions to events. Sometimes these reactions seem silly and over the top.
In the case of this missing little girl there is the prospect though that the publicity and public reaction will help to find her. Time will tell. If we are wise we will seek to turn this reaction into a force for longer term good and raise the profile of the many other children who go missing and who's parents grieve no less than Madeleine's.
Then there is the media scrum itself and the distinction between the Portuguese approach and our approach to disclosing information from the investigation. In this country one is frequently left with the feeling that the media feel they have the right to full disclosure and to release all information immediately. Often it feels they are walking a very fine line and causing problems for investigations.
In Portugal we see the mirror image of this. A society which still echoes to arrangements which were put in place during dictatorship. A society where the police are required not to disclose information. This seems to create a situation where the investigators can be hampered by an inability to marshall the public interest as part of he investigative process.
Neither system comes out of this comparison with any great credit. Our media can be very irresponsible at times in their disclosure of information and one would hope for more self-control. At the same time who would wish to live under the Portuguese arrangement where nothing is said and all is rumour and innuendo.
There are lessons all round in this tragedy.