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PCC and Press criticised re McCann coverage

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PCC and Press criticised re McCann coverage

Post by justagrannynow 1 on 24.02.10 8:11

http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23809194-pcc-criticised-over-mccann-coverage.do


News
PCC criticised for failing to do more to act over 'false and damaging' coverage relating to Madeleine McCann's disappearance

PCC criticised over McCann coverage

24.02.10



A group of MPs have made a raft of recommendations to curb the "chilling" effect of libel actions on newspapers.

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee's wide-ranging report into press standards, privacy and libel also made recommendations to beef up the powers of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).

It criticised the PCC for failing to do more to act over "false and damaging" newspaper coverage relating to Madeleine McCann's disappearance, an episode during which the report said self-regulation had not worked.

It said the press watchdog should be re-named the Press Complaints and Standards Commission, with powers to fine members and suspend printing in the cases of the worst rule-breakers.

The report described the McCann case as "an important test of the industry's ability to regulate itself, and it failed in that test".

It said the newspaper industry's assertion that the McCann case was a one-off event showed that it is "in denial about the scale and gravity of what went wrong, and about the need to learn from those mistakes".

It continued: "In any other industry suffering such a collective breakdown - as for example in the banking sector now - any regulator worth its salt would have instigated an inquiry."

Committee chairman John Whittingdale said there was also a "serious concern" over the "increasing evidence that in recent years investigative journalism is being deterred by the threat and cost of having to defend libel actions...

"This report's recommendations are therefore designed to reduce the cost of libel actions and to correct the balance which has tipped too far in favour of the plaintiff. At the same time, we want to see the self-regulatory system under which the Press operates strengthened in order to increase its credibility and ensure that standards are maintained."

Stephen Abell, director of the PCC, said: "The PCC accepts that the report contains criticisms of some of its structures and practices, which will need to be given due consideration."
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Re: PCC and Press criticised re McCann coverage

Post by vaguely1 on 24.02.10 10:04

we could have told them that.

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Re: PCC and Press criticised re McCann coverage

Post by hedge on 24.02.10 10:25

Someone has tweeted on twitter, why did this pressure on the reporters from the newsroom stop them reporting both sides of the story.

I wonder what they mean by both sides of the story, the story was and always should have been Madeleine, what is the other side?

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Re: PCC and Press criticised re McCann coverage

Post by justagrannynow 1 on 24.02.10 10:30

I think the way the disappearance of Madeleine was reported did no favours to anybody who found themselves involved. More importantly, it did Madeleine no favours either.

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Re: PCC and Press criticised re McCann coverage

Post by hedge on 24.02.10 10:46

The problem is that the press are such a powerful tool and there is nothing on earth that can spread information or raise money or raise awareness like the media, when it gets things right it is a huge powerful giant of a thing but no-one can control it, all anyone can try and do is remember it is the equivalent of an out of control shark and keep feeding it in the vain hope that you don't get eaten yourself. You'd think that the story of a missing child, what could go wrong, but the media is never altruistic, it's a business and a long term missing person case bizarrely, you might think, is one of it's least money spinning stories because unless the person is found relatively quickly and unless there are 'bad guys' to turn their attention to, inevitably there will be crashing great gaps in the story and those don't make money.

I liked what the Select Committee said, the press were handed a test in this case because in a sense they were going out of the uk and into a different country and culture and style of news and crime cases reporting and they utterly failed to self-regulate, they acted in a way none would have dreamed of if the case had been in the UK. They failed the test, they may well have failed Madeleine, they certainly failed the McCanns, their friends and Robert Murat among others.

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Re: PCC and Press criticised re McCann coverage

Post by jmbd on 24.02.10 11:19


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Re: PCC and Press criticised re McCann coverage

Post by jmbd on 24.02.10 11:24

from the report:

The case of the McCanns

THE EVENTS

333. On 3 May 2007, just before her fourth birthday, Madeleine McCann went missing from her family's holiday apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal. British-born Robert Murat, who lived locally, was named as an 'arguido' (a suspect in Portuguese law) on 15 May 2007, and Kate and Gerry McCann were named as arguidos on 7 September 2007. The arguido status was lifted from all three on 21 July 2008.

334. The case, which remains unsolved, attracted media attention of an intensity rarely seen. The activities of the McCann family, of Mr Murat and of the Portuguese police were subjected to the closest scrutiny. Numerous alleged sightings were reported across Europe and in North Africa. Many appeals were made, and several milestones in time, such as one month and 100 days from the disappearance, were marked in the media. The coverage, notable from the outset by its speculative character, became increasingly so once the McCanns were named arguidos, often implying, with little or no qualification, and certainly no evidence, that the couple bore some responsibility for their daughter's disappearance.

335. On 19 March 2008, about 11 months after Madeleine's disappearance, Express Group Newspapers became the first of several groups and titles to apologise for publishing repeated falsehoods in their coverage of the case, and to pay substantial damages to the victims.

336. The McCanns had sued Express Group for libel in relation to 110 articles which appeared in the Daily Express, the Daily Star, the Sunday Express and the Star on Sunday between September 2007 and February 2008. The McCanns' solicitor, Adam Tudor, told the High Court:

"The general theme of the articles was to suggest that Mr and Mrs McCann were responsible for the death of Madeleine or that there were strong or reasonable grounds for so suspecting and that they had then disposed of her body; and that they had then conspired to cover up their actions, including by creating 'diversions' to divert the police's attention away from evidence which would expose their guilt [. . . ] Many of these articles were published on the front page of the newspapers and on their websites, accompanied by sensationalist headlines."[301]

337. Express Group Newspapers apologised for publishing "extremely serious, yet baseless, allegations concerning Mr and Mrs McCann over a sustained period of what will already have been an enormously distressing time for them, and at a time when they have been trying to focus on finding their daughter",[302] and agreed to pay a reported £550,000 in damages to the Madeleine Fund (set up to publicise and fund the search for Madeleine McCann). Following the apology and statement of regret in open court, the Daily Express, Daily Star, Sunday Express and Sunday Star also published front page apologies to the McCanns.

338. Besides the McCanns, the group of friends with whom they had been on holiday, referred to as the 'Tapas Seven',[303] were also the subjects of libellous reports over a number of months, as were Mr Murat and two associates.[304] Here is a summary of court actions and complaints resulting from the case:

· The McCanns sued the Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star and Star on Sunday over 110 articles published over five months and received apologies and a reported £550,000 damages.

· They complained to Associated Newspapers about 67 articles that appeared in the Daily Mail and Evening Standard (then owned by Associated) over five months, and over 18 articles on the Standard's 'This is London' website. This complaint was settled by private agreement.

· The McCanns also took legal action against the News of the World for asserting that it had permission to publish extracts from Kate McCann's diaries when it did not. They received an apology.

· The Tapas Seven sued the Daily Star and Daily Express over approximately 20 articles and received apologies and a reported £375,000 damages.

· Robert Murat and associates sued the Sun, Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star, Daily Mail, Evening Standard, Metro, Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and News of the World over almost 100 articles described as seriously defamatory. They received apologies and a reported £600,000 damages.

· Mr Murat also received apologies from The Scotsman and Sky News website.

339. The publication of serious falsehoods seems to have been even more widespread than this list suggests. Gerry McCann told us: "Undoubtedly, we could have sued all the newspaper groups."[305] Peter Hill, editor of the Daily Express, agreed: "I was surprised that the McCanns at that time sued only the Daily Express for libel [...] they would have been able to sue and still could sue any newspaper at all."[306]

WHAT WENT WRONG?

340. For a number of reasons, it was always likely that this case would have prominence in the news media: the McCanns were an attractive family; the case was a distressing mystery, with few clues, and took place in a holiday location; and some of the most important phases of the story were in the summer, when the supply of rival news was relatively thin.

341. Kate and Gerry McCann were also determined to keep the case in the public eye across Europe, with a view to increasing the chance that Madeleine would be found. They and their supporters issued appeals, gave press conferences and interviews, released photographs and posters and took part in well-publicised events as part of a strategy to give the case a high media profile. The couple sought and received professional advice on how to handle their relations with the media.

342. The intensity of the coverage was also a reflection of a very unusual level of public demand for information. In consequence, newspapers which printed prominent Madeleine McCann stories, almost whatever their content, could expect to see their sales rise. Clarence Mitchell speculated to us that running a Madeleine McCann story increased newspaper sales by 40,000 or 50,000 copies a day.[307] Gerry McCann told us: "Madeleine, I believe, was made a commodity and profits were to be made."[308]

343. This phenomenon was also commented on by press industry witnesses. Peter Hill told us: "It certainly increased the circulation of the Daily Express by many thousands on those days without a doubt."[309] Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, commented:

"I do not remember a story for some time now that actually increased circulation like the McCann story. I remember the furious rows we used to have in our office at time because other papers, opposition papers possibly, were putting the McCanns on the front page and you could see the next week their circulation had gone up that day and there were great recriminations about whether we should engage in that and carry those kinds of stories.".[310]

344. In this context London newsdesks were extremely eager to secure competitive daily stories on the case. Jeff Edwards told us:

"I know from talking to colleagues, not just colleagues at the Daily Mirror but colleagues across the business who were out there, that there was intolerable pressure brought to bear on some of them to produce results at any cost."[311]

345. He added:

"Essentially reporters, I know, will have been congregating in Portugal over breakfast, and saying, 'What the hell are we going to do today to resolve the situation?' Thus a huge amount of recycling of information, and I have no doubt that some of what went on strayed beyond the boundaries of what was acceptable and some newspapers paid the price for that."[312]

346. When we put this to Peter Hill, he was adamant that he had not initiated that sort of pressure, telling us: "This is not the way that anyone works as far as I know."[313]

347. There seems to be no dispute that British journalists, accustomed to being updated on an inquiry by official sources, were frustrated by the position of the Portuguese police, who were by law prevented from commenting publicly. In the absence of official information, journalists turned to less authoritative sources.

348. Peter Hill told us he thought the Portuguese police were partly to blame for inaccuracies in reporting:

"The Portuguese police were unable, because of the legal restrictions in Portugal, to make any official comment on the case. What happened was that they resorted to leaking things to the Portuguese press. We did our best to check up on these things but of course it was not very easy to do so."[314]

349. Gerry McCann told us:

"The worst stories that were printed in this country were based on articles that had been directly published within Portugal. Often what we found was that they had been embellished and a single line that was very deep in an article within a Portuguese newspaper, usually from an unsourced source, was front page and exaggerated to the extent where we had ridiculous headlines and stories."[315]

350. Clarence Mitchell said he saw this happening in Praia de Luz day after day:

"They would get the Portuguese press each morning translated for them, with mistranslations occasionally occurring in that as well. Then, no matter what rubbish, frankly, was appearing in the Portuguese press from whatever source, they would then come to me and I would either deny it or try and correct it or say, 'We are just not talking about this today.' That was effectively a balancing of the story and there was no further effort to pursue any independent journalism as we might recognise it."[316]

351. Undue pressure on journalists, wherever and whenever it occurs, must tend to increase the risk of distortion, inaccuracy and unfairness in reporting. Of course, it is impossible to say for certain that untrue articles were written in the McCann case as a result of pressure from editors and news desks. It is, however, clear that the press acted as a pack, ceaselessly hunting out fresh angles where new information was scarce. Portugal was also a foreign jurisdiction, where contempt of court laws were unclear, and no consideration was given to how reporting might prejudice any future trial. It is our belief that competitive and commercial factors contributed to abysmal standards in the gathering and publishing of news about the McCann case.

352. That public demand for such news was exceptionally high is no excuse for such a lowering of standards. Nor could the efforts of the McCanns to attract publicity for their campaign to find their daughter conceivably justify or excuse the publication of inaccurate articles about them.

353. While the lack of official information clearly made reporting more difficult, we do not accept that it provided an excuse or justification for inaccurate, defamatory reporting. Further, when newspapers are obliged to rely on anonymous sources and second-hand information, they owe it to their readers to make very clear that they are doing so, just as they owe it to their readers clearly to distinguish speculation from fact.

THE ROLE OF THE PCC

354. Two days after the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, the Press Complaints Commission contacted the British Embassy in Lisbon and asked the consular service to inform the McCanns that the PCC's services were available to them. Gerry McCann told us that he did not recollect receiving such a message and that if he had "it certainly was lost in the furore of the other information I was bombarded with at the time".[317]

355. On 13 July 2007, two months later, Gerry McCann met Sir Christopher Meyer, the then PCC Chairman. The meeting was by chance; Mr McCann had visited Lady Meyer, who runs a charity concerned with missing and abducted children. Sir Christopher took the opportunity to explain how the PCC could help the McCanns and pass on some PCC literature.[318] Sir Christopher held one further brief meeting with the McCanns on 29 February 2008 during which he 'repeated that the PCC stood ready to help, if need be'.[319]

356. The PCC was able to provide some help, and Gerry McCann expressed to us his gratitude for this:

"Aspects with the PCC have been helpful in terms of protecting privacy particularly for our twins, which was a major concern for us. They were continuing to be photographed and we wanted that stopped. Very quickly that was taken up by the press and broadcasters within the UK. We are thankful for that. There was also help in removing photographers from outside our drive after what we felt was a very over long period, when news had really gone quite quiet and we were still being subjected to camera lenses up against our car with the twins in the back, which was inappropriate."[320]

357. The McCanns did not, however, make a formal complaint to the PCC about newspaper reporting, of the sort which would have prompted a formal inquiry. Mr McCann told us that an informal conversation he had held with Sir Christopher suggested that legal action would be the best way to deal with the libels,[321] and that "the advice from both the PCC and our legal advisers was that the PCC was not the route."[322]

358. The McCanns' lawyer, Adam Tudor, explained the advice he had given to the couple:

"We had a conversation about the PCC when Kate and Gerry first came to Carter-Ruck. It was quite a short conversation. The PCC is perceived, to a considerable extent still correctly, as being wholly media-friendly. It lacks teeth. It cannot award damages. It cannot force apologies. As soon as there is any dispute of fact between the newspaper and the victim of the libel, the PCC backs off and says, 'This needs to go to law."[323]

359. Mr McCann also told us that it was a cause of concern to him that the editor of the Daily Express, which he regarded as the worst offender, was on the board of the PCC.[324]

360. Had the McCanns at any time made a formal complaint about press coverage to the PCC, the PCC would have been obliged to investigate it. Paul Dacre told us of his disappointment that they had not done so: "I deeply regret that the McCanns, if they felt they were being portrayed in such an inaccurate way, did not immediately lodge a complaint with the PCC.".[325] This sentiment was not shared by Sir Christopher, who told us:

"It seems to me perfectly normal that if you feel that you are defamed or libelled and you want damages for that, punitive damages for that, you obviously go to court, but there is a whole range of other things that we could have done and could do for the McCanns which are of a quite different nature. The McCanns are an interesting case of people who chose both ways; they went to the courts on the matter of defamation and they came to us for the protection of their children and their family from the media scrums when they returned to the United Kingdom. It seems to me a perfectly normal way of proceeding."[326]

361. The PCC did not publicly criticise the actions of Express Group newspapers until the conclusion of the McCanns' legal case against them. Sir Christopher denied that this was too little, too late:

"You are looking at this with 20:20 hindsight, forgive me for saying it, but what is obvious now was not obvious at the time. On 19 March [2008] when the judgement became public I rose from my sickbed, stuffed myself with paracetamol, staggered out to a radio car and on the PM programme castigated Peter Hill and Richard Desmond for a bad day for British journalism. There was no question of us remaining silent; I said it was a bad day for British journalism, that Peter Hill should consider his position and that Mr Desmond should make a greater effort to ensure higher journalistic standards across all his publications."[327]

362. The PCC, in written evidence to our inquiry, cited a number of reasons for not taking action in the McCann case on its own account:

"The PCC does not generally launch inquiries into matters without the say-so of the principals involved. To have done so in this case would not only have been an impertinence to the McCanns in the light of our previous contact, it would have risked looking like a cynical attempt to exploit the publicity surrounding the case. Without the involvement and instructions of the McCanns, it would also have been very unlikely to have achieved much.[328]

The PCC is not supposed to investigate every example of alleged malpractice by the press. Breaches of the laws of libel, copyright, data protection, contempt of court and so on in relation to published material should be considered by the courts."[329]

363. We asked Gerry McCann whether he would have found it impertinent of the PCC to invoke their own inquiry. He told us: "I would not have found it impertinent. I certainly would have been open to dialogue if it was felt to be within the remit of the PCC."[330]

364. The PCC Code of Conduct states in paragraph 1a that 'the Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures'. In paragraph 1c, it states that 'the Press, while free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.' We believe it was obvious as early as May 2007 that a number of newspapers were ignoring these requirements, yet the PCC remained silent. That silence continued even though the coverage remained a matter of public concern through the summer and autumn of that year. It was only in March 2008, after the Express Group settled in the McCanns' libel case, that the PCC spoke out. By then, as we have seen, hundreds of false and damaging articles about the McCanns and others had been published across a large number of titles. This was an important test of the industry's ability to regulate itself, and it failed that test.

365. While we understand Mr Dacre's regret that the McCanns did not make a formal complaint to the PCC, we do not believe that justifies the PCC's failure to take more forceful action than it did. Under its Articles of Association, the PCC has the power to launch an inquiry in the absence of a complaint; such provisions were in our view made for important cases such as this. Nor does the McCanns' decision to sue for libel justify inaction: they did not sue until early in 2008.

LESSONS LEARNED?

366. We received many submissions from newspapers and press organisations suggesting to us that the McCann case was unique. The case was described as "atypical"[331] by the Newspaper Publishers' Association and PressBof, as "rare if not unique"[332] by News International, as "unique" and "unprecedented"[333] by the Express Group and as "highly unusual"[334] by the Guardian.

367. This rarity was presented, broadly, as grounds for making no changes to newspapers' procedures or to the PCC Code. The Society of Editors suggested to us that it would be "wrong to undermine a system that is clearly working by reference to the tiny number of cases each year that raise special issues."[335]

368. It is far from clear that the McCann coverage was really so freakish. On the evidence we have heard, the press reporting of the suicides in and around Bridgend (discussed in paragraphs 381 to 398 below) bears similarities in the intensity of the coverage and the repeated breaching of the PCC Code. Further, we found strong echoes of the McCann case in a report by the Press Council, Press at the Prison Gates, on the coverage of the Strangeways riot of 1990.[336] Here was another instance of a dramatic story, a great public hunger for news and a limited supply of reliable information, where much of the press went badly astray. As that report observed, in the absence of a ready supply of hard information, "newspapers fell into the serious ethical error of presenting speculation and unconfirmed reports as fact".[337]

369. We also raised another example of a high profile story after the McCanns: the case of Josef Fritzl, the Austrian sex abuser, who imprisoned and fathered children by his daughter Elisabeth. In March 2009, just before Fritzl's trial, the Daily Mail published the name of the new location to which she and her children had moved. Since we raised this, the village's name has been removed from the newspaper's website.[338]

370. We suggested to Peter Hill that reporting on the McCanns held similarities with the repeated publication in the Daily Express of conspiracy stories, also since proved to be false, about the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. He replied:

"The inquest on Princess Diana, for me, was pretty much the end of the matter. I think you will find that after the inquest we published hardly any, if any, reports or stories, about Princess Diana. Up to that time it was a similar situation but not as intense a situation as the McCanns. Our readers were absolutely avid for news about the death of Princess Diana because there certainly was a theory that Princess Diana might have been murdered."[339]

371. We have heard no evidence to suggest that newspapers have taken action on their own account to ensure that the mistakes of the McCann coverage are not repeated in future, much less that editors and journalists responsible for the publication of so many falsehoods have been asked to account for their decisions, or have faced disciplinary action.

372. When we asked Peter Hill whether anyone at the Daily Express was reprimanded or sacked because of the McCann coverage, he replied: "I have reprimanded myself because I was responsible."[340] Asked whether he offered to resign, he said: "Certainly not. If editors had to resign every time there was a libel action against them, there would be no editors."[341]

373. The newspaper industry's assertion that the McCann case is a one-off event shows that it is in denial about the scale and gravity of what went wrong, and about the need to learn from those mistakes.

374. In any other industry suffering such a collective breakdown - as for example in the banking sector now - any regulator worth its salt would have instigated an enquiry. The press, indeed, would have been clamouring for it to do so. It is an indictment on the PCC's record, that it signally failed to do so.

375. The industry's words and actions suggest a desire to bury the affair without confronting its serious implications - a kind of avoidance which newspapers would criticise mercilessly, and rightly, if it occurred in any other part of society. The PCC, by failing to take firm action, let slip an opportunity to prevent or at least mitigate some of the most damaging aspects of this episode, and in doing so lent credence to the view that it lacks teeth and is slow to challenge the newspaper industry.

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Re: PCC and Press criticised re McCann coverage

Post by Dark Hunter on 24.02.10 17:59

The McCanns should not be taken into consideration for the reason that:

The McCanns repeatedly declined assistance offered by the PCC and opted instead to reach over their heads to obtain legal action against the Express.

Effectively it was the McCanns who rendered the PCC a toothless dog in their case.

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Re: PCC and Press criticised re McCann coverage

Post by hedge on 24.02.10 18:53

It wouldn't matter if the Mccanns had forbade the PCC from doing anything which of course they didn't they just reasonably thought that the PCC was not necessarily the best place to deal with what was happening to them in terms of lying newspaper stories across two countries but it was very good when it came to the twins privacy, beyond that the PCC have a duty to enforce the code of practice and they utterly failed in that duty.

Feel free to peruse: http://www.pcc.org.uk/cop/practice.html

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The Madeleine Foundation submission to the DCMS enquiry

Post by Tony Bennett on 25.02.10 0:34

A reminder of The Madeleine Foundation's written submission to the DCMS Select Committee (see p.164 of yesterday's report):

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Madeleine Foundation - Combating child neglect

Registered address: 66 Chippingfield, HARLOW, Essex CM17 0DJ
Tel: 01279 635789
Mobile: 07835 716537
Website: www.madeleinefoundation.org.uk

7 January 2009

Submission to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport: Chairman, Mr J Whittingdale

PRESS STANDARDS, PRIVACY AND LIBEL: NEW INQUIRY

Executive Summary

The Madeleine McCann case has been unique. It would be unwise to change existing media procedures based just on this one case. Different considerations apply to the libel of Robert Murat and to the alleged libel of the McCanns.

‘Abduction’ has frequently been claimed by parents of young children when it later turns out that he child has died and the parents are responsible, whether the child has died as the result of an accident, negligence, neglect or deliberate act. It is important that the media are able to engage in reasonable and fair discussion of the weaknesses of any particular claim of abduction, without fearing the consequences of a possible expensive libel action.

This new submission, dated 6 February 2009, replaces our original submission dated 7 January 2009. It has been amended, on advice from the Committee Clerk, primarily to remove any references in our submission which could be construed by some as being defamatory.


1. The Madeleine Foundation welcomes the opportunity to comment to the Select Committee on issues of privacy, libel and the Press Complaints Commission’s role, whilst at the same time believing that the Madeleine McCann case is unique and deserves special consideration in its own right.

2. We wish to offer observations and comments on the following matters on which you are seeking views:
(a) Why the self-regulatory regime was not used in the McCann case, why the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has not invoked its own inquiry and what changes news organisations themselves have made in the light of the case;
(b) Whether the successful action against the Daily Express and others for libel in the McCann case indicates a serious weakness with the self-regulatory regime;
(c) The interaction between the operation and effect of UK libel laws and press reporting;
(d) The observance and enforcement of contempt of court laws with respect to press reporting of investigations and trials, particularly given the expansion of the Internet;
(e) What effect the European Convention on Human Rights has had on the courts’ views on the right to privacy as against press freedom;
(f) Whether financial penalties for libel or invasion of privacy, applied either by the courts or by a self-regulatory body, might be exemplary rather than compensatory; and
(g) Whether, in the light of recent court rulings, the balance between press freedom and personal privacy is the right one.

3. Given our area of interest, we shall focus on (a), (b) and (c). The Madeleine Foundation was formed at a public meeting in January 2008. Our aims can be viewed on our website: www.madeleinefoundation.org. We campaign on the obvious child neglect issues raised by the Madeleine McCann case - and seek to assist in finding out what really happened to Madeleine McCann. To this end, our Secretary Mr Tony Bennett has written a book on the case: “What Really Happened to Madeleine McCann? - 60 Reasons which suggest she was not abducted”. Reference will be made to passages of that book in this submission. A copy of the book accompanies this submission and we will supply a copy to each member of the Select Committee if required.

The truth about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, and how that truth will shape the conclusions of the Select Committee

4. We cannot begin to discuss the role of the libel laws and the Press Complaints Commission in a case such as that of the ‘disappearance’ of Madeleine McCann unless we first take account of the context. Supremely, that context involves recognising that there are two very opposing views of what really happened to Madeleine McCann in Praia da Luz in May 2007. We shall set out those two views in a moment.

5. We would suggest that a major function of the reporting news media - radio, TV and newspapers - is to give us the facts, the truth - allowing us to draw our own conclusions. It is often said, however, of certain newspapers, that they ‘don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story’. And in the context of newspapers losing sales to the internet, and TV-viewers switching to the internet for news, the pressure to increase sales or viewers, and ‘tell a good story’ at the expense of staying true to the facts, is growing stronger.

6. The Press Complaints Commission’s primary role is to ensure ‘fair’ and ‘accurate’ reporting, as its Code provides. This, we acknowledge, is a particularly difficult task when a factual issue is hotly contested and also becomes one of worldwide media interest, as was - and remains - the case, with the Madeleine McCann mystery. Here, then, is a summary of the two main views on the case, with a brief look at who supports each view.

Viewpoint A: Madeleine McCann was abducted at round about 9.15pm on Thursday 3 May while her parents and their friends were dining at a Tapas bar 120 yards away

7. This has been the claim of the McCanns from their first announcement that Madeleine had been abducted at around 10.00pm on Thursday 3rd May 2007. The ‘fact’ of the abduction was put into the media with lightning speed. The Daily Telegraph had an online article, reporting the ‘fact’ of the abduction, filed at 00.01am on Friday 4th May. TV and press reports giving details of how and when Madeleine was supposed to have been abducted circulated and multiplied rapidly.

8. During the course of 2007 it became clear that the McCanns were claiming the abduction took place at around 9.15pm on 3rd May 2007. In September 2007 Dr Gerry McCann - as several papers reported - [passage deleted] publicly suggested that the abductor might have been in the apartment with him as he was checking the children between 9.05pm and 9.10pm. What we claim is the weakness of the evidence for the abduction is the focus of our booklet: “What Really happened to Madeleine McCann” and the Committee is respectfully referred to the facts and arguments there.

9. Those who hold that Madeleine was abducted view all discussion of an alternative view with hostility. The McCanns’ press spokesman Clarence Mitchell, together with unnamed legal ‘sources’ who advise the McCanns, have characterised such views as ‘libellous’. They have gone further and described the original senior investigator in the case, Snr Goncalo Amaral, as guilty of deliberately attempting to smear them, and to fabricate evidence against them, whilst at the same time failing to conduct a proper search for the alleged abductor.

Viewpoint B: Madeleine McCann died in Apartment 5A some time before the evening of 3rd May (for reasons that no-one can yet be sure about) and that the McCanns and some of their friends have helped to cover this up by removing and hiding the body

10. This, crucially, was the clear view of the Senior Investigating Officer, Snr Goncalo Amaral, who directed the investigation until removed from it on 2 October 2007. It was also the view of his team. We shall say more about the circumstances of Snr Amaral’s removal from the investigation and how he himself has been treated by the British media in a moment.

11a. Leicestershire Police [passage deleted] in conjunction with the Portuguese Police made a joint decision to call in the services of the cadaver dog-handler, Martin Grime. Uniquely in a case such as this, due to Portuguese laws which now allow the publication of selected material from a police investigation when an investigation is suspended, videos of these dogs in action, allegedly scenting the smell of a corpse in nine different locations, can be viewed on many websites and have been seen by hundreds of thousands already.

11b. The blood-hound Keela also alerted to blood in several of the same locations. The Sun newspaper published a link to the ‘cadaver dog videos’ on its internet edition. Other newspapers have since done so. The cadaver dog evidence is discussed on pages 6-9 of our booklet. Given the claim by the dog-handler and his senior officer, Mark Harrison, that the cadaver dog Eddie who detects the smell of human corpses had never once given a false positive in 200 previous outings, it was scarcely surprising that the British media sought to give prominence to the dogs’ findings. They should not be criticised for that.

12. We admit that if viewpoint ‘B’ above is true, it necessarily follows that the McCanns have been trying to deceive us all about what really happened. It is a sad fact, as we explain in the very first section of our booklet, that in many cases over the years, parents of ‘missing’ young children have claimed abduction, only for the truth later to emerge that they themselves were in some way responsible for the child having died, whether by accident, neglect, negligence or deliberate act. We list many such examples.
A summary of media coverage of the Madeleine McCann case

13. Before going on to discuss the implications of the media coverage, and the libel actions, the implications on all of that for free speech and a free press, and before presenting our recommendations, we will review, chronologically, the main elements of the media reporting of the case:

14. Phase 1 - May to July 2007: Massive coverage of the search for Madeleine; huge coverage of the McCanns’ visits to the Pope, the White House, Morocco, Germany etc.; acres of newsprint about new alleged ‘sightings’ of Madeleine in many countries; some interviews with the McCanns; little coverage of the child neglect aspects of the case; much coverage of the activities of abductors with liberal references to ‘gangs of paedophiles’, ‘international networks of paedophiles and child traffickers’ etc.; many references to Robert Murat behaving ‘suspiciously’ and to him being made an ‘arguido’

15. Phase 2: August 2007 to February 2008: First doubts about the McCanns’ abduction claim surfaced at a press conference in Germany in June. Doubts grew as the press in Portugal and Spain in particular reported on leaks from the Portuguese Police about such issues as DNA and the scent of death allegedly found at the McCanns’ apartment and in the hired Renault Scenic. There was huge reporting of the McCanns being made suspects, and lengthy interviews with the McCanns, their content being tightly controlled by the McCanns’ PR team, Clarence Mitchell for example laying down a condition that they would require a minimum of two hours’ notice of all questions. Many more reports of ‘sightings’ followed, including massive coverage on nearly all front pages of a blonde girl being carried on the back of a Moroccan peasant, later proved to have been her own child. Attacks on the ‘sacked’ and ‘disgraced’ Snr Amaral built up as he was accused of having beaten a confession out of Leonor Cipriano in 2004 (In September 2005, Ms Cipriano, along with her brother, were both convicted of the murder of her 8-year-old daughter Joana, having initially claimed that she had been ‘abducted’). A one-hour Panorama documentary on the case on 19 November 2007 discussed the case but the lead interviewer, Richard Bilton, did not probe or test the claim of abduction. It should be noted here that at the time Madeleine ‘disappeared’, the McCanns’ spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, held the post of Head of the Media Monitoring Unit for the Central Office of Information, and was therefore close to the very heart of the government’s ‘spin’ operations.

16. Phase 3: March to July 2008: More reported ‘sightings’. The first of three sets of libel proceedings was concluded, with huge awards being agreed by the defendant newspapers, in turn, to the McCanns, to Robert Murat, and finally to the friends of the McCanns, known popularly as the ‘Tapas 7’. On 19 March, the press announced that the McCanns had agreed £500,000 libel damages; on 17 July Robert Murat settled for £550,000 (and two others, Sergei Malinka and Micahela Walczuch, were said to have settled for £200,000 between them). Finally the ‘Tapas’ 7’ settled for a further £375,000 on 15 October. The first of these awards - to the McCanns - unquestionably put an end to speculative stories about the McCanns’ possible involvement in the death of Madeleine and/or in a cover-up of her death.

17. These massive libel awards contributed towards the process of ending all debate in the mainstream media on how Madeleine McCann went missing. Then in July 2008 came the announcement by the Portuguese judicial authorities that there was ‘insufficient evidence’ to charge anyone with a crime. If she had been abducted, the abductor had not been identified and there were no leads on him. If Madeleine had died in Apartment 5A, for which there had seemed to be at least a good range of circumstantial evidence, then there was not enough forensic evidence to lay charges, whether for causing or allowing the death of a child, preventing an inquest, or perhaps perverting or interfering with the course of justice.

18. Phase 4: August to December 2008: The suspension of the investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance meant that interest in the story plummeted. There is no real sense that the police are likely to, or even want to, turn up new evidence. Yet, arguably, some of the most sensational evidence in the case has now been made publicly available, namely with the systematic release by the Portuguese police of large chunks of the evidence collected by the police in the case - something which of course could not happen in the U.K., as the integrity and confidentiality of an investigation is normally stoutly protected e.g. by exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Evidence that Madeleine was not abducted

19. For those who may not be aware of it, thousands of pages of evidence and exhibits on the case have now been disclosed by the Portuguese police. They include dozens of witness statements, including those by the McCanns and their friends, from we say it is possible for example to identify significant contradictions and changes of story. [passage deleted] All of this evidence has been placed on several of what might be termed ‘McCann-sceptic’ internet forums, the leading one of which, for over a year, has been ‘The 3 Arguidos’. Here, videos can be viewed, original documents in Portuguese are being translated, and the evidence discussed. The 3 Arguidos, incidentally, has as its strap-line: “Because we do not believe in our press!”, and many contributors on that site explain how they have ceased to buy British newspapers because they are offering no discussion whatsoever of the evidence that Madeleine was not abducted.

20. In addition to all of that, we have a very comprehensive book by Snr Goncalo Amaral titled ‘La Verdada de Mentira’ (‘The Truth about a Lie’), in which he gives an investigator’s-eye view of the evidence and presents a convincing case that Madeleine McCann died in Apartment 5A (probably as the result of an accident, he says) and that the McCanns did indeed cover up her death. His first print-run of 200,000 copies has already sold out in Portugal and been translated into German, Danish and Norwegian. It is being translated into several other languages and English translations are available on the Internet. There is widespread discussion of its contents on the continent. But not in the U.K.

The impact of the libel awards on freedom of the press and free speech

21. This is what Mr Justice Eady said when announcing, in the High Court, the decision of Express Newspapers to agree to pay £550,000 damages to the McCanns:

“The general theme of the articles was to suggest that Mr and Mrs McCann were responsible for the death of Madeleine, or that there were strong or reasonable grounds for so suspecting, and that they had then disposed of her body; and that they had then conspired to cover up their actions, including by creating 'diversions' to divert the police's attention away from evidence which would expose their guilt. Many of these articles were published on the front pages of the newspapers and on their websites, accompanied by sensational headlines”.

22. Because of that libel award, and the other two, there is a reluctance to even discuss the mystery of Madeleine’s disappearance. There appear to be - we say contrary to the evidence - a general acceptance by the mainstream media that she was abducted, though we note that many newspapers take care to use phrases such as ‘disappeared’, ‘went missing’ or ‘reported missing’, rather than ‘abducted’. Discussion of the evidence emerging from the Portuguese police files has thus been stifled. On October 26, The People ran a short piece referring to The Madeleine Foundation’s website. It ran:

McCanns fury over 'neglect'
Exclusive by Marc Baker -- 26 October 2008

Missing Maddie McCann's furious parents have vowed to sue a lawyer who suggests they are guilty of child neglect. Anthony Bennett, 61, is urging the Government to bring in a "Madeleine's Law" making it a criminal offence to leave children under 12 on their own. His website attacks doctors Kate and Gerry McCann, both 41, over the disappearance of Maddie, now five, from their holiday flat in Portugal last year. McCann spokesman Clarence Mitchell said: "Our lawyers are watching him. They are constantly monitoring his claims, which we consider are libellous." A legal source close to the McCanns, of Rothley, Leics, said: "They are more than annoyed and deeply offended. They say enough is enough. All they are trying to do is get their daughter back."

23. That newspaper article very nearly caused us to abandon plans to publish: “What Really Happened to Madeleine McCann?” If the country’s top newspapers, and SKY News, had paid out over £1.6 million in libel damages, if the McCanns were ‘vowing to sue’ ,and if their spokesman was announcing to the world that our comments were ‘libellous’, we were clearly at risk if we dared to discuss, as we do in our book, any alternative view of the case. Despite the right to ‘free speech’, we feared the consequences of proceeding. Yet we have done so because we were confident about the facts stated in the book and the arguments that we have used to question the abduction claim.

Clarence Mitchell’s speech to the Society of Editors, November 2008

24. Before drawing conclusions, we will briefly refer to parts of the speech given by Clarence Mitchell to the Society of Editors in November last year, just before the Select Committee set up the current enquiry.

25. Here are extracts from what he said: “Speaking at the Society of Editors conference in Bristol yesterday, Mitchell told delegates that he faced the daily problem of dealing with inaccuracies created by a hungry British press pack. He added that 99% of the stories coming out of the local media in Praia da Luiz were ‘totally inaccurate lies’. Mitchell said: ‘The British press out there in Portugal were lazy. The Portuguese police hid behind the law of judicial secrecy saying they weren't able to comment…but that didn't stop lots of information finding its way from police files into the Portuguese press. However, when the British press made inquiries they came up against a stone wall, so they resorted to sitting in the local bar, which had the lethal combination of free Wi-Fi and alcohol. They then sat every morning just going through whatever had been leaked to the Portuguese papers, 99% of it totally inaccurate lies, 1% distorted or misunderstood. This was then put to me, I would then deny or try to correct it, that would be a quote from me, ‘Mitchell's balanced it’, that was balanced journalism, and off it went’. He aded that British newspapers put reporters under pressure to come up with new angles and exclusive stories…‘I had certain reporters from certain groups almost in tears some mornings saying, ‘If you don't give me a front-page splash by 4pm I'm going to be fired’…Things that were allegations or suggestions in the Portuguese press were hardened up into absolute fact…’”

26. But despite Mitchell’s claims, much of the Portuguese material now being disclosed and translated confirms the accuracy of many of the 2007 press reports, especially regarding the evidence of the cadaver dogs and the contradictions and changes of story from the McCanns and their friends. We concede that some those 2007 reports were factually incorrect. No doubt they contained much speculation. There was sensationalism in the tabloids. But Mitchell’s bold claim that 99% of the leaks were ‘totally inaccurate lies’, and 1% ‘distorted or misunderstood’, was itself a gross misrepresentation, given all the information the Portuguese police have now allowed us to see.

27. We need to deal with one other matter. One person whom we believe was seriously libelled by many sections of the British press was the Senior Investigating Officer in the case, Snr Goncalo Amaral. He was frequently described in sections of the British press as a ‘disgraced cop’. The reason for this was partly over claims that he was removed from the Madeleine McCann enquiry because of unwarranted criticisms of the British government, but more because he was being accused of having ordered his officers to beat a confession out of Leonor Cipriano, the convicted murderess of her own daughter (see paragraph 15 above). At the time of submitting our report to the Select Committee, Snr Amaral is on trial in respect of this allegation in the court at Faro. He is thus innocent until proven guilty. To call Snr Amaral ‘the disgraced cop’ on the basis of this allegation was no better than if the British press had referred to ‘the disgraced McCanns’ after they were made suspects. In fact, the court proceedings in Faro are indicating, as many believed, that there is no substance to these allegations. We cannot really say more, as the proceedings have been mysteriously adjourned several times and are not yet concluded. If, as we expect, Snr Amaral is exonerated, we trust that those sections of the British press who have labelled him ‘the disgraced cop’ will have the decency to apologise and correct their statements. That is a matter that may yet come before the Press Complaints Commission.

Conclusions

28. How members of the Select Committee approach the first two issues in their list will depend, therefore, on whether they believe either that there is only one permitted view on the case - the view now promoted in all Britain’s mainstream media - namely that Madeleine McCann really was abducted, or whether they believe there may be an alternative explanation for her ‘disappearance’. The question therefore may be put like this: is it right and proper that the British media (and others) should be perfectly free to discuss the evidence which points away from abduction without fear of another libel action? It must be borne in mind that the evidence now made available to us from the Portuguese police files is evidence not previously made public. In our view it strongly merits discussion. Yet debate is stifled, suppressed. The British public does not even get a glimpse of an alternative view, because the British media has collectively closed discussion on the case.

29. Responding to the first issue: ‘Why the self-regulatory regime was not used in the McCann case, why the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has not invoked its own inquiry and what changes news organisations themselves have made in the light of the case’, we say that the Madeleine McCann case is unique in many ways. For that reason alone, it would be unsafe to make important changes in procedures and practice because of it.

30. In a case like this, where the abduction claim may turn out to be false, we believe it was - and is - in all our best interests that there is full and frank discussion of the evidence in the case, notwithstanding that the police are not actively pursing any lines of enquiry, so far as we know. Indeed, in some respects the Express Newspapers Group did a good job in the summer and autumn of 2007, to the extent that we now know that they were using accurately-sourced leaks from the Portuguese police - whether authorised or not. If they were embellishing and sensationalising, that is another matter. But if we now look at the Express Group’s articles on the cadaver dog evidence, these have since been proved to have been both fair and accurate. The Press Complaints Commission could have no complaint about those.

31. The Press Complaints Commission has a reputation of being ineffective. The main author of this submission has had previous experience of such ineffectiveness, notably when it took the PCC months to investigate a biased article by The Sun in January 2006 on the evidence in the Stuart Lubbock case. It took nine months before The Sun reluctantly agreed to allow his father, Terry Lubbock, to write a 150-word letter of correction to the article.

32. In a fast-moving story of world-wide significance, the Press Complaints Commission is nowhere near equipped to act promptly or effectively. If they had had to adjudicate back mid-2007 on an article about the findings of the cadaver dogs, for example, what could they have done? If a news article is unfair or inaccurate, the complainant should be able to get a near immediate response from the newspaper. Failing that, he should then get an immediate response from the PCC. Then, if appropriate, an apology, correction, explanation or a statement by the complainant should be published. If there had been such a mechanism in place, any embellishing or sensationalising by the Express Group could have been dealt with effectively.

33. Now the second question: ‘Whether the successful action against the Daily Express and others for libel in the McCann case indicates a serious weakness with the self-regulatory regime’. We say it indicates that the newspapers involved did not take sufficient care in writing their stories or in checking their sources. For example, it is one thing to say, as we do our in book, that there is little or no evidence that Madeleine was abducted. But it is quite another thing to say - which incidentally we do not say in our book: ‘The McCanns killed Madeleine’. If any newspaper put it like that, without a sufficient foundation for doing so, they have only themselves to blame if they are then successfully sued for libel.

34. So far as the Robert Murat libel is concerned, different considerations apply to the alleged libels of the McCanns and the ‘Tapas 7’. In Robert Murat’s case, initial lurid and wholly unjustified suspicions by Lori Campbell in the Daily Mirror were seized on and multiplied by other newspapers, and so far as we can see these stories were wholly without foundation. In that case, the newspapers were justly punished for running riot against Robert Murat with little or no factual basis.

35. With the McCanns and their ‘Tapas 7’ friends, the issue is, we say, very different. There may be forensic and circumstantial evidence that Madeleine McCann died in Apartment 5A. Many of the stories that appeared in the British press about them were sourced from official or unofficial leaks within the Portuguese investigation and run in Portuguese and Spanish newspapers. Again, if certain newspapers embellished or exaggerated the factual information they had got, they have only themselves to blame for having to pay out large libel payments. In the case of Express Newspapers, had they waited until the Portuguese police had released the files from August onwards, before printing their doubts about the McCanns’ abduction claim. they might well have been able to defend the McCanns’ action against them.

36. We do not say therefore that this case necessarily indicates a serious weakness with the self-regulatory system, except the case of Robert Murat, where, so far as we can see, the relevant newspapers deserve to be sued.

37. We now turn to: The interaction between the operation and effect of UK libel laws and press reporting. Here we say that there has been a very negative action on freedom of the press, which has been harmful. One of the man problems with our laws of libel is the fact that the libel courts are only available to the rich and powerful. The McCanns may not be wealthy themselves but they were doctors, one worked full-time as a cardiologist and the other as a part-time G.P. However, they clearly now have access to major sources of funding, for example from Richard Branson and Brian Kennedy, who have both given large sums of money to the McCanns, some of it perhaps to help them initiate legal action against sections of the British media. The McCanns may have also used money from the Helping to Find Madeleine Fund - a fund that, sadly, has not merited investigation or even questioning by journalists despite many and serious questions about its operation. The libel laws are not available to those on mild and low incomes. In this case, the McCanns would appear to have successfully stifled debate about the fate of Madeleine McCann - and that, we assert, is not in the public interest.

38. Now we turn to: ‘The observance and enforcement of contempt of court laws with respect to press reporting of investigations and trials, particularly given the expansion of the Internet’. This is a complex subject, but as we understand the basic rules, it is something like this: if a criminal investigation is under way, you can report matters connected with the case, but with caution in case a future trial may be prejudiced. However, once a person is charged, there is very little you can report on, apart from formally reporting proceedings or other procedural developments or pleadings in the case and perhaps giving context and some background facts to the case. The courts cast a jealous eye over anything that could prejudice a ‘fair trial’.

39. [passages deleted] It is highly unusual for suspects in a case to successfully sue newspapers for libel. It may be that Express Newspapers got carried away and went beyond what has turned out to be quite a lot of reliable information they were given, e.g. about the cadaver dogs. In that case, they deserved to be sued. They should have been more cautious, more circumspect, in what they have written, and the fact that they have had to pay out hundreds of thousands of pounds in damages will certainly teach them a valuable lesson.

40. [passages deleted] Whilst we all must note that the Portuguese investigation into how Madeleine McCann went missing is suspended, or closed, due to insufficient evidence, it is also true that there is no imminent prospect of charges and therefore there should be press freedom to discuss the many and varied aspects of this case. The Portuguese Police, after all, took the view in September 2007 that there was sufficient evidence by then to make the McCanns ‘arguidos’, or ‘provisional suspects’ (which appears to be the best translation of ‘arguido’). There have of course been cases in the past where a serious crime has been committed, but those who have committed it present a plausible alternative scenario to the public. If a suspect has money, or access to money, he can afford to sue for libel. If the papers slip up at all, the suspect, or potential defendant, can afford to run to the libel court and try to suppress reasonable discussion about the case. In the McCanns’ case, we say there is clear evidence that the press and media feel unable to discuss or report on the weaknesses in the claim of abduction by the McCanns. All kinds of fascinating material currently coming out of the Portuguese police files is worthy of reporting, public discussion and analysis. Yet none of this taking place in the mainstream press, substantially we think because of their fear of further libel action by the McCanns, who now appear to be backed by massive financial resources.

41. Two lessons must be learned. First, those who make allegations must take care about how these are framed. Second, the size of libel awards may deter free speech and a free press. We have certainly seen examples of how wealthy people who have done wrong have unfairly been able to silence the press; the cases of Jonathan Aitken and Lord Jeffrey Archer come to mind. In the Madeleine McCann case, serious discussion of the case has migrated to the internet. That is an inevitable consequence if the main media refuse to discuss a subject of real interest to a very significant section of the public.

42. The observance and enforcement of contempt of court laws with respect to press reporting of investigations and trials does not seem to need reforming. So far as ‘the expansion of the Internet’ is concerned, there are indeed risks of allowing wholly free speech on the Internet. Just as, away from the Internet, people must not incite violence or racial hatred, display images of child abuse or other grossly obscene images, or libel people, this should not take place on the Internet either. Sadly all these things occur on the Internet from time to time, subject to the right of complainants to contact hosters and Internet Service Providers to control what is said.

43. We see no need by reason of the McCann case to control any further what is said on the Internet. No-one has been charged in the case. The police are no longer actively pursuing their investigation. Abduction of young children by a stranger from inside a family home almost never happens. Usually we find out later that the child is dead and the parents were in some way responsible. In those circumstances, free discussion of a case should be permitted, so long as people’s comments are moderate and do not stray into making libellous claims. There should be no attempt, for example, to restrain anyone on the Internet (or elsewhere) from saying: “There is little or no evidence that Madeleine was abducted” - and from going on to say why. By contrast, to say, with no reasonable basis, “The McCanns deliberately killed Madeleine”, would be libellous. If said on the Internet, it can be dealt with under existing procedures. If approached, any hoster would promptly remove such a comment. If the McCanns found out that that was being said, or other libellous comments about them, they could easily notify the hosters of those websites and ask for those comments to be removed.

44. Finally, we treat the next three matters together: What effect the European Convention on Human Rights has had on the courts’ views on the right to privacy as against press freedom; Whether financial penalties for libel or invasion of privacy, applied either by the courts or by a self-regulatory body, might be exemplary rather than compensatory; and Whether, in the light of recent court rulings, the balance between press freedom and personal privacy is the right one.

45. This issue seems largely to concern the recent ruling in the High Court based on interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights in the case of Max Mosley, whose practice of sado-masochism was exposed in the News of the World. This is an issue we do not wish to comment on generally, except to say that where well-known people indulge in practices which many would find distasteful, they should not be too surprised and concerned if these activities become public knowledge from time to time. The main relevance we see here to the Madeleine McCann case is that here is a couple who have, ostensibly in trying to find their missing daughter, succeeded in attracting massive publicity to themselves, continually presenting themselves in a positive light. Whilst they and others might regard the term as distasteful, they have made themselves ‘celebrities’.

46. The Press Complaints Commission has frequently - and we say rightly –ruled that those who make themselves celebrities can expect the press to report on aspects of their private lives. Thus we say that it is legitimate for the press and the media to analyse, examine, explore and comment on the McCanns’ claims, as they are so much in the public eye. To give one specific example [long passage deleted], it was no doubt a breach of privacy for a bank employee to have revealed to a newspaper that the Helping to Find Madeleine Fund had on two occasions in 2007 paid the McCanns’ monthly mortgage payments. That breach of privacy may have been personally embarrassing to the McCanns, but there can be little doubt that it was in the public interest that this ‘private’ matter be brought to light. Many expressed great concern that public donations to ‘find Madeleine’ were being used for this purpose, and the McCanns and the trustees of the Helping to Find Madeleine Fund immediately announced that no more mortgage payments would be made from the fund.

47. To sum up, it is still a mystery as to how Madeleine McCann went missing. Some newspapers may have libelled the McCanns in specific ways and, if they did, they deserve to have been sued. But given the available evidence in this case, which is still emerging from the Portuguese police files, against a background where young children allegedly snatched from their own homes usually turn out to be dead and have been hidden, we suggest the British principles of free speech and free discussion must be upheld - so long as people take care in their comments and analysis of cases like the Madeleine McCann case not to make inaccurate statements and to make only fair comments based on the available evidence.

49. We think the Law Commission should again examine carefully whether large libel payouts to people still under active suspicion of committing a serious crime are in the public interest, unless the libel is very grave and the people’s reputation is seriously damaged. Otherwise, the rich and powerful who are accused of a crime under a cloud of suspicion in relation to an incident could use the libel laws to suppress reasonable, free discussion.

50. Madeleine McCann remains, officially, a missing person. But although there appears to be insufficient evidence at present to prosecute any person in either a Portuguese or U.K. court in respect of her disappearance, the McCanns have emphatically not been exonerated. We all - and especially the media - need to fully retain the right to discuss, in a fair and temperate manner, why she ‘went missing’ in the first place.





Tony Bennett
Secretary
The Madeleine Foundation
Submission originally made on 7 January 2009
This revised submission made on 6 February 2009

This submission is also supported by the following persons:

(1) Mrs Brenda Ryan, The Founder and Owner of ‘The3Arguidos’ web forum on Madeleine McCann, which has hundreds of members, together with all of her Moderators and Administrators
(2) Retired Police Superintendent Peter MacLeod
(3) Mr Ian Larman of Maidstone, Kent, (who has made a number of complaints to the Press Complaints Commission about the failure of the press to cover reasonable suspicions about the McCanns’ involvement in the disappearance of their daughter. These complaints have been rejected)
(4) Mrs Jean Ellis, Rotherham

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Re: PCC and Press criticised re McCann coverage

Post by Dark Hunter on 25.02.10 5:02

@hedge wrote:It wouldn't matter if the Mccanns had forbade the PCC from doing anything which of course they didn't they just reasonably thought that the PCC was not necessarily the best place to deal with what was happening to them in terms of lying newspaper stories across two countries but it was very good when it came to the twins privacy, beyond that the PCC have a duty to enforce the code of practice and they utterly failed in that duty.
Had the McCanns granted the assistance presented by the PCC then they would not achieve the monies they sought through defamation. It was their insatiable hunger for money which was the concluding factor between utilizing the PCC or the courts and nothing more.

Where the McCanns are concerned the PCC did not fail in their obligations. Upholding their responsibility was rendered impossible when their duties were barred by the people they sought to assist.

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Re: PCC and Press criticised re McCann coverage

Post by justagrannynow 1 on 25.02.10 6:36

I recall the "sardine munching" article written by Tony Parsons. The PCC declined to take any action about that, despite receiving a number of complaints.

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PCC and the Foundation

Post by Cath on 25.02.10 7:21

Tony in stead of posting that (again) why don't you comment on their report?
Just a few short lines will do, thank you.

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Patience

Post by Tony Bennett on 25.02.10 7:38

Inyx wrote:Tony in stead of posting that (again) why don't you comment on their report?
Just a few short lines will do, thank you.
I intend to, but we are preparing for our Conference right now and I will do it after that.

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Re: PCC and Press criticised re McCann coverage

Post by vaguely1 on 25.02.10 8:05

@justagrannynow 1 wrote:I recall the "sardine munching" article written by Tony Parsons. The PCC declined to take any action about that, despite receiving a number of complaints.

Parsons is vile.

They've recently let Jan Moir off the hook for her repulsive article on Stephen Gately too.

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Re: PCC and Press criticised re McCann coverage

Post by Cath on 25.02.10 8:53

@Tony Bennett wrote:
Inyx wrote:Tony in stead of posting that (again) why don't you comment on their report?
Just a few short lines will do, thank you.
I intend to, but we are preparing for our Conference right now and I will do it after that.

Thank you Tony.

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Re: PCC and Press criticised re McCann coverage

Post by hedge on 25.02.10 10:47

@Dark Hunter wrote:
@hedge wrote:It wouldn't matter if the Mccanns had forbade the PCC from doing anything which of course they didn't they just reasonably thought that the PCC was not necessarily the best place to deal with what was happening to them in terms of lying newspaper stories across two countries but it was very good when it came to the twins privacy, beyond that the PCC have a duty to enforce the code of practice and they utterly failed in that duty.
Had the McCanns granted the assistance presented by the PCC then they would not achieve the monies they sought through defamation. It was their insatiable hunger for money which was the concluding factor between utilizing the PCC or the courts and nothing more.

Where the McCanns are concerned the PCC did not fail in their obligations. Upholding their responsibility was rendered impossible when their duties were barred by the people they sought to assist.

Did you read the link I directed you to?
The PCC has a duty to uphold decent reporting regardless of the wishes of the victims, yes they can follow up specific complaints but the idea is that there should be no need for specific complaints because there should be a certain standard in the press, it's not even that high a standard, just dinnae print stuff you know is probably untrue just because you want to sell papers, it really shouldn't even need to be overtly stated.

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Re: PCC and Press criticised re McCann coverage

Post by jmbd on 25.02.10 10:58

Sir Christopher, who told us:

"It seems to me perfectly normal that if you feel that you are defamed or libelled and you want damages for that, punitive damages for that, you obviously go to court, but there is a whole range of other things that we could have done and could do for the McCanns which are of a quite different nature. The McCanns are an interesting case of people who chose both ways; they went to the courts on the matter of defamation and they came to us for the protection of their children and their family from the media scrums when they returned to the United Kingdom. It seems to me a perfectly normal way of proceeding."[326]

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Re: PCC and Press criticised re McCann coverage

Post by hedge on 25.02.10 11:14

You have to bear in mind the context as well, that the Mccanns were trying to give the newspapers enough to go on in terms of a good story (because it suited them too as no one can raise awareness of a plight of a child more than the media) and make their money by giving them pictures, events, a spokesman on constant alert to pass on anything they could from the investigation plus they had asked the various newspapers to desist from printing what they were to no avail, coupled with the fact that one of the worst offenders, the editor of the daily express was on the PCC board. they had been informed that if the various newspapers at fault stood their ground would would have had to go down the court route anyway. In their shoes I can't say I wouldn't have done the same thing and clearly Sir Christophere Meyer tought it logical too.

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Re: PCC and Press criticised re McCann coverage

Post by Mgunnill on 25.02.10 11:21

@Tony Bennett wrote:
Inyx wrote:Tony in stead of posting that (again) why don't you comment on their report?
Just a few short lines will do, thank you.
I intend to, but we are preparing for our Conference right now and I will do it after that.

That will be a little late for a comment on the-topic-of-the-day.

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Re: PCC and Press criticised re McCann coverage

Post by whoknowsthetruth on 25.02.10 19:56

Obviously not many there because most the Anti's have logged on

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Re: PCC and Press criticised re McCann coverage

Post by Mgunnill on 28.02.10 11:05

@whoknowsthetruth wrote:Obviously not many there because most the Anti's have logged on

Yes I agree I understand not many people turned up for the weekend conference. I hope we get a report posted here, it should be interesting.

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Re: PCC and Press criticised re McCann coverage

Post by justagrannynow 1 on 28.02.10 12:05

@whoknowsthetruth wrote:Obviously not many there because most the Anti's have logged on

Maybe they have wi fi in the Conference Centre.

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Re: PCC and Press criticised re McCann coverage

Post by vaguely1 on 28.02.10 12:10

'conference centre' sound very.......grand.

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Re: PCC and Press criticised re McCann coverage

Post by justagrannynow 1 on 28.02.10 12:14

@vaguely1 wrote:'conference centre' sound very.......grand.

You have also reduced the venue to non capital letter status !!!

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