Media focus on Maddie

Many children miss out on the publicity that could bring them home.


    Madeleine's parents have been named
    as suspects by the Portuguese police[EPA]
    The search for a four-year-old British girl who went missing from her parents' holiday apartment in Portugal in May has gripped the British media throughout the summer.

    Her parents have fought to keep the case in the public eye with frequent media appearances and a poster campaign that has stretched across the world, and now they are fighting to prove their innocence after being named as suspects by the Portuguese police.

    But Madeleine is just one of thousands of children who go missing every year and most of them receive nowhere near the same level of media coverage.

    Katrice Lee disappeared from under her mother's nose at a supermarket in Germany when she was two-years old. She has not been seen for 26 years.

    External link

    Missing People: UK charity working with runaways, missing and unidentified people

    Natasha Lee, Katrice's sister who was seven-years old at the time, told Al Jazeera: "I remember seeing my mum stood outside the car just screaming and screaming and screaming. And suddenly it hit me, this was something really, really bad, something really, really bad had happened,"

    She has never given up hope of finding her sister, but the British media have never taken much interest in the case.

    "I can't recall immediately that when Katrice went missing that we had any press interest. It was only about, I think, a year afterwards that we got the British media interested in Katrice's case."

    Exhaustive coverage

    Which is all a bit strange as the story bears a striking similarity to that of Madeleine McCann's.

    If you spent this summer in Britain you would think nothing else had been happening in the world so exhaustive has been the media coverage of a pretty girl and her well-spoken middle class parents who are both doctors.

    The McCanns appeared on television reading statements or answering questions from journalists almost every day during the early days of the inquiry. Later, they travelled across the continent urging people to keep their eyes open for "Maddie".

    Two-year-old Katrice Lee went missing from
    a supermarket in Germany 26 years ago 
    Newspapers joined the campaign publishing missing posters of the girl, while family members in the UK appeared on television and launched email and internet campaigns.

    News programmes sent reporters and presenters to front their extensive coverage from the Portuguese resort where she disappeared.

    England footballer David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United's Portuguese star, both made televised appeals for information, while Everton football club wore Madeleine T-shirts before a match.

    There are just a few voices prepared to make the controversial point that there is something wrong with the entire state of affairs.

    Matthew Parris, a columnist for the London-based The Times newspaper, said: "The parents were white, they were middle class, they were articulate, they were well-spoken. There didn't seem to be any sort of problem in their family which would have invited a disaster like this.

    "I would like to believe that if the family had been, say, black or working class, that the press or the public would have been just as interested, but I'm afraid I'm not absolutely sure of that."

    Charity 'strapped'

    Other people whose children go missing and do not have the entire British media behind them rely on a charity to help them. It says that since Madeleine McCann went missing it has received more than 4,000 reports of other missing children in Britain. Most turn up, but that is not the point, it seems some people's stories are more important than others.

    Paul Tuohy, chief executive of the Missing People charity, told Al Jazeera: "We've got about 2,000 cases that we are working on at the moment.

    "We're pretty strapped with our case workers and staff supporting these families, and we try as hard as we can to get enough publicity to reunite families. You do wonder about the level and the scale."

    Which makes you wonder how many children would be found if they all got the same amount of support as the McCanns.

    The publicity generated by the McCann story has led to more than $2m being donated to help find her. That is more than the British government has ever given the Missing People organisation in a single year, in fact, recently they even cut the charity's budget.

    Missing People currently has more than 6,000 cases on its books.

    Madeleine McCann's story may be tragic, but she is not the only missing child from Britain and her parents are not the only ones living a nightmare every day.

    Al Jazeera is not responsible for the content of external websites.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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