Eddie Mair In May 2007 a trip to the sun turned an anonymous British family into people who were nationally and internationally known. Kate and Gerry McCann’s eldest daughter, Madeleine, went missing in Portugal.
Initial media support turned into suspicion. The McCanns’ privacy was treated with contempt by sections of the press who stopped at nothing to write something, anything about the couple. When they attended the Leveson Inquiry, the McCanns were clear on why they had decided to take part.
Gerry McCann (archive) A system has to be put in place to protect ordinary people from the damage that the media can cause.
Kate McCann (archive) When it’s your voice against a powerful media, you know, it just doesn’t have a weight. And you know we are desperately shouting out internally, “Please stop what you are doing. I mean we are trying to find our daughter and you are stopping our chances of finding her.”
Eddie Mair Among the worst offenders, newspapers owned by the Express Group. The McCanns were shown some of their stories.
Gerry McCann (archive) It’s nothing short of disgusting.
Kate McCann (archive) And I think the same journalist, if memory serves right, also said we stored her body in the freezer.
Eddie Mair The News of the World got hold of a copy of Kate McCann’s private diary and published it without telling her.
Kate McCann (archive) It was my only way of communicating with Madeleine and for me, you know, there was absolutely no respect shown for me as a grieving mother or as a human being.
Eddie Mair By taking part in Leveson, the McCanns hoped that their testimony would help bring a change in the law. A new press regulator with legal backing.
Eddie Mair Kate and Gerry McCann you heard John Witherow just now, editor of The Times, former editor of The Sunday Times, saying that from all his private discussions it seems like the political parties are coalescing around this Royal Charter idea. If that’s what we end up with was going to Leveson a waste of your time?
Gerry McCann I think it certainly won’t be what we were hoping to achieve and I very much disagree with John that, er, that this is what Leveson is tough. I think Leveson has actually been quite generous to the Press and erm, more than their behaviour or certain sections of the media deserve really. Erm, they are getting a last chance at self-regulation, er, which for me was actually a step too far.
Eddie Mair Can you explain from your point of view what’s the practical difference between what Leveson wanted and what is now, what seems to be the compromise? What difference does that make?
Gerry McCann I’ve got three concerns at the minute. The first is the transparency. The Inquiry was open. You could see what was going on. Leveson has reviewed all the evidence. Er, and what’s happened in the last two and a half months is exactly what you have talked about where we are having a number of private meetings, the minutes are not published, the discussions are not published.
And then that leads to serious concerns about independence of what is being proposed because a major part of Leveson was acknowledging that the Press had got too close to politicians.
And the third concern for us in what is being proposed is that we are going to end up with sub-Leveson recommendations really, err, particularly around independence, er, both of the Board who are going to oversee it and the fact that there should be complete independence of the appointments of that board.
Eddie Mair I’m struck by something you are quoted as saying, err, Gerry. “The Leveson package including legal underpinning is the minimum acceptable compromise for us.” I just wonder if it was up to you, if they gave you the power to draft something, the future of the Press, what would you do?
Gerry McCann To be honest, I’ve already said this to you, that I feel that the Press has lost its entitlement to self-regulation over many, many years. And I would have liked to have seen actually statutory regulation and not self-regulation.
Eddie Mair I get the impression if it was up to you, you’d go much further.
Gerry McCann Absolutely.
Eddie Mair And people might not blame you. What would you do?
Gerry McCann Well no, I would make it very much that it wasn’t self-regulated. There would be independent regulation.
Kate McCann I think when we saw the Leveson recommendations we probably thought for us it was probably a seven out of ten. And obviously it’s been a painstaking process and I think Lord Leveson has come up with something that’s very balanced and he’s trying to be as fair as possible to every party involved. But actually I think what the Government are proposing with this Charter, which I have to say a Charter body is overseen by ministers for a start, which again takes away the independence. It’s basically a compromise of a compromise. And why, why do the Press, why do the Government not want to be accountable like everybody else. I mean the Press are the first to hold people in authority to account.
Eddie Mair Have you noticed any improvement in the Press since Leveson?
Gerry McCann It’s very difficult to say that because you only know, err, about your own individual circumstances.
Eddie Mair Well even there, I mean have things been better?
Gerry McCann Obviously the situation for us, we still have, er, episodes where things are published which we would much prefer weren’t published. There’s been a recent headline, front page of a Sunday newspaper about a potential lead in Madeleine’s case and it hadn’t been fully explored. And it’s something that we raised at Leveson that Madeleine and her safety is often treated with complete contempt. And we have no redress currently and I would have concerns that if the editors get what they want which is how complaints are dealt with, it would only be certain complaints and they could decide which ones would come. And one of the things that we are very, very concerned with and is about accuracy and standards and consideration for the public. We want the regulator to be able to protect the interests of the public.
Eddie Mair And the recent story about Madeleine that you were unhappy with, did you, did you try and speak to the paper concerned?
Kate McCann Yeah, I wrote to the editor of the newspaper and explained my concerns and I have to say I got a reply back which made my blood boil. It was basically telling me that he, they knew what was best for Madeleine, that they knew best what was for missing children. So despite what we as parents thought, despite what the Metropolitan Police thought, they knew what was best. And that is really concerning, post Leveson Inquiry that this is the kind of response we are getting. I believe if the Royal Charter goes through we’ll be no better off. And this is one opportunity now which might not come again. And I think the general public deserve to know what’s happening because, as Gerry said, there’s been a total lack of transparency. And what the Government are proposing is not what Leveson has proposed.
Eddie Mair Do you have much hope that the change you want will come in?
Gerry McCann I’ve not given up hope. I think the first thing is I think the vast majority of MPs actually are fully supportive of Leveson. And I’ve mentioned this before but if parliamentarians want to redeem themselves in the public light they know that the right thing is to implement Leveson in full. Not a compromise, not a sop to the editors.
Eddie Mair Right, Kate and Gerry McCann, thank you both.
Kate and Gerry McCann Thank you.