Since May 3, when four-year-old “Maddie” disappeared from a holiday apartment in Praia da Luz in southern Portugal, British newspapers and television networks have dispatched waves of correspondents to the town.
Tabloid newspapers have regularly splashed pictures of blonde Madeleine on their front pages, accompanied by new theories about her disappearance, including most recently that she died following an accident.
“Our popular press is extremely good at appealing to the emotions of the British people,” Roy Greenslade, a journalism professor at London’s City University says.
“I think we live in an age where emotionalism rather than rationalism governs much of the work in the media, in all media, and perhaps maybe especially the broadcast media,” the former Daily Mirror editor adds.
‘Parallels with Diana’
For him, the Maddie story has clear parallels with the outpouring of public grief which greeted the death of princess Diana – dubbed “the people’s princess” by then premier Tony Blair – in 1997.
“It’s the same kind of sentiment to which the media plays,” Mr Greenslade says.
Some 210,000 people are reported missing in Britain every year – two-thirds of them aged under 18 – and the majority are found, the Home Office says.
The scale of coverage of this case is unprecedented.
It does, though, feature several elements which have strong tabloid appeal – a pretty, young child; devastated parents who, as doctors, are firmly middle class; their decision to stay at the resort during the search; the air of mystery surrounding the whole situation.
“This will be a story that will be visited endlessly if the child is never found, alive or dead.
“I have the feeling in many respects that this child is dead but the story will never die,” Mr Greenslade says.