(Tuesday) Gabba babba

I can't help but feel a level of cynicism when it comes to any story which receives the level of exposure that has been given to the one concerning to poor family of Madeline McCann. In the UK this story has been posted up everywhere. Some poor family have had their child kidnapped in a foreign country by some dirty pervert. Horrible story, terrible tragedy.

What rubs me up the wrong way is the enormous amount of mainstream media coverage which has been afforded to this unfortunate family. You can't even walk down a high street in the UK without being confronted with a poster of the unfortunate child glaring into your eyes asking if you've seen her anywhere. Now, let me repeat the facts of this case; abducted abroad, covered extensively by the national media. It's unlikely she'll be found in Market Street, Lancaster or nearby Barnsley Market. I'm not questioning the intentions of the people who have stuck these posters up, they're doing the right thing. I am confused by the disproportionate amount of coverage this one case is getting.

I remember being part of a 'breakfast show training weekend' where the media group I worked for at the time sent in some of the UK's top consultants to help us in our preparation for radio shows. One bloke in particular made a big impression on me. He did a presentation where he talked about primary news providers; people who dictate the news agenda.

He also carried out the following exercise:

1) Take four or five national newspapers.

2) Assign each of these newspapers a sheet of A4 paper.

3) Write out the first ten stories of the paper, onto the A4 sheet, in order going from the front page inwards. Be brief, you should encapsulate the story in no more than three or four words. So a story about a dog attack in Chigwell involving an old age pensioner will be written up as "DANGEROUS DOGS".

4) This will leave you with what looks like a top ten countdown of the big topics for that particular paper.

5) Repeat step "3" with all the papers and then compile your lists into a grand chart. This is your "zeitgeist list". There are many uses for it. One of them is that it allows you to predict which stories will come up in the mainstream media with about 80% accuracy.

The bloke who explained it to us then pointed towards a story which was at the bottom of the "chart" about dangerous dogs. "That'll be in the top slot soon," he said, "it's a new entry and is climbing fast". I remember thinking that he was obviously a bit of a nutter, until a few weeks later his prediction turned out to be correct. Be warned here, I'm not suggesting that the dangerous dog attacks which were front page news at that time were false, I'm just saying that those stories were given unusual prominence in those weeks.

And that's the grind.

The Madeline McCann story isn't fiction, it's an awful fact. It has annoyed me to hear the inevitable "backlash" against it as various 'pundits' have turned against the family. One pr#ck I heard recently even decided it was the fault of the parents? Such idiocy doesn't bear retort. However, the thing which is odd for me about it is the prominence it has been given by the national news media. Kids go missing all the time. It's an awful, awful, thing. But, not all of them get this level of media attention. What's the difference here? I suggest that it was in the interest of one of these primary news providers, i.e; The Government.

Today the Government announced new plans to offer chemical castration for pedophiles as well as new laws concerning your right to know if a new boyfriend of yours is one. The coverage afforded to this unfortunate case now seems like nothing more than a PR campaign orchestrated in support of these plans which were obviously drawn up way in advance of the family's loss. As soon as the plans were announced I noticed the McCann story started it's inevitable decline in the "News Charts". Almost exactly on cue. The parents have been advised to "take a break" to grieve.

Believe it or not, I'm not a conspiracy theorist these days. I subscribe to the c#ck up theory of history a lot more than I used to but, that said, I still think the bloke who showed us all how to make up a "zeitgeist list" back in 2001 was nobody's fool. People in power can control and set the news agenda. There's no doubt about it.

I hope the family find her alive and well.



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