Thursday, 13 September 2007

Beyond the distorted news values of the Madeleine drama

The massive coverage of the Madeleine McCann drama (with countless column inches and broadcast hours being devoted to the twists and turns of the tragedy) reflects a distorted system of news values which promotes “human interest” and sensation above more significant political, cultural, economic and psychological issues. Even commenting critically on these news values is in danger of further feeding the media frenzy.

So why not let’s shift the focus? Driving to work on Tuesday (September 11, 2007) I listened to “The Choice” on BBC Radio 4. I was transfixed. This was broadcast journalism at its very best. Michael Buerk interviewed a convicted paedophile and his wife who had stuck by him, encouraging him to seek treatment.

Is there any more controversial issue? How quickly the tabloids damn paedophiles as “monsters”, “perverts” “evil”. Yet here was a journalist handling with sensitivity the extraordinarily delicate issues involved. And in response, “Clare” and “Ian” (who had sexually abused his daughter) spoke with remarkable honesty and courage about what they described as their “family disaster”. With the media circus following the story and the eventual imprisonment of “Ian”, we learned how mother and daughter were mocked and ostracised by their local community – and forced to relocate.

But behind every such tragedy lie human frailty, guilt, hopelessness, confusion. And in this case there emerged, as Buerk kept on probing gently (whilst never denying the seriousness of the abuse), the profoundly moving desire of “Clare” and “Ian” to survive and re-affirm family life.
The interview, then, showed how journalism can move beyond the sensational and throw light on to the dark side of the human psyche: it did not condemn but acknowledged the essential humanity of a man widely demonised as a “monster” – and the wife who stuck by him.

1 comment:

Percy Eve said...

I too, listened to the piece on BBC Radio 4 to which you refer, and was equally refreshed by it, and your blog in general. Many thanks.