Why, or more importantly, how has the disappearance of a four-year-old girl sparked such a frenzy amongst the world's media and in particular, the British public? The answer is quite simple. We’ve entered the age of entertainment news - an age where the importance of a news story is not determined by the value of it’s content, but rather, by its ability to mesmerise and sustain its viewers.
This is nothing new. Think back to the stories that have gripped the public’s attention of late. From Madonna’s adoption of an African baby to the Big Brother race row, we have to ask ourselves about the core value of these stories and whether or not they spark discussion about the real issues at hand. With these two stories serving as an example, did the media examine why there are so many orphans in Africa or the extent to which racism exists in Britain?
The power of the media to create, shape and influence public opinion is frightening. However, it is hardly a new phenomenon. In Britain, this power was witnessed with the overnight rehabilitation of the media representations of Princess Diana as a manic depressive, confused and immature member of the Royal family, into Diana Queen of Hearts.
With the influence of his omnipresent media empire, Rupert Murdoch has more power to impact the outcome of a general election in this country than any political figure regardless of their values or core policies. This is a damning indictment against the very notion of democracy and should act as a warning with regards to the unbridled power of the media.
The Sun newspaper is not only the most widely read newspaper in Britain, but it is the most widely read English-speaking newspaper in the world. Think about that when discussing the power of the media and its ability to influence and coerce public opinion.
This brings us back to our current example. Madelaine McCann disappeared on the 3rd May. In the weeks proceeding her disappearance, there has already been a short film about Madelaine broadcast at the newly opened Wembley stadium to an FA Cup audience, MP’s marching in solidarity for Madelaine’s safe return, and a family visit to the Pope. Would all these things have happened without such a grotesque amount of media attention focused on her disappearance?
Of course, it is unfortunate that a young toddler has gone missing. And it is certainly no fault of the parents that the media have turned their story and their tragedy into a public circus. However, the reality is that thousands of children go missing every year. Would the media have focused such attention on this case and not asked the question of why a three year old toddler was left unattended, if Madelaine was from a single parent family, living on a housing estate?
However this story may unfold, the public deserves a more responsible and ethical approach to reporting, rather than frenzied broadcasting. We need to begin to question the power of the media and the manner in which it manipulates the public’s interest. As viewers, each individual needs to begin to re-think their opinions and re-evaluate how their opinions are formed. What are your thoughts about the major issues of the day such as immigration or terrorism? Are they your own opinions or have you been coerced into the ideas and opinions you have formed?
In this bizarre, twisted and grotesque sideshow that we now refer to as Reality TV, don’t be surprised if Madeleine McCann’s parents show up on the next line-up of“I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.”