Voyeurism populi

by Stephen Tall on September 10, 2007

I know practically nothing about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, something I have in common with the rest of Britain, in spite of and also because of the sick-makingly voyeuristic media coverage this case has attracted.

Like the rest of Britain I plead guilty to having followed this case with a horrified, saddened and sometimes prurient fascination. I have moved between judging the parents, and anger at those who judge them without knowing the full facts. And I have watched with helpless indignation the obscene and unthinking xenophobia which engulfs Brits, exemplified by the press at all levels, when something Bad happens Abroad.

And then, just as I have despaired of any sense of common decency emerging from this tragedy, at last (some of) the public rebels against the hysterical slaverings of the media:

Listeners outraged by a BBC Radio Five Live debate on Madeleine McCann forced the station to change a phone-vote on her disappearance. Victoria Derbyshire’s morning phone-in today asked listeners to vote on whether they still had sympathy for Madeleine’s parents Gerry and Kate after they were officially made suspects in the case by Portuguese police on Friday.

Dozens of listeners contacted the programme to say they did not think it was a suitable subject for debate while the legal process was still ongoing. … The weight of the negative reaction was such that producers were forced to change the vote to whether the station should be discussing the case at all – and listeners voted by 68% to 32% that it should not be.

It’s coming to something when the BBC – the BBC – has to ask its own listeners if it should exercise any editorial restraint when speculating live on air about an ongoing criminal investigation about which its journalists and listeners will know next to nothing beyond recycled tittle-tattle and their own prejudices.