Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Madeleine McCann and the media


  COMMENT

The most reported and discussed missing person case ever recorded is still not only a highly contentious mystery, but also a personal tragedy that has been turned into a public farce by elements of the media.
In the entirely predictable press frenzy surrounding the imminent 10th anniversary of the disappearance, much of the coverage, particularly in the British tabloids, has been absurd. But it should not be dismissed lightly.
Unable to come up with “news” on the case, the tabloids have been rehashing the same old speculation and guesswork.
Could Madeleine McCann have been snatched by a lone paedo or simply wandered off?....”
Abducted by slave traders and sold to a rich family, says ex-Met detective..”
New hope after decade-long search....”
Experts say Madeleine McCann’s body is almost impossible to find ”.
And then there was the much-touted Australian TV show that promised “a major breakthrough in the case”.
Meanwhile, the Daily Mirror took a slightly different tack with a story headlined, “What REALLY happened the night Madeleine McCann disappeared as nanny breaks her 10-year silence”.
The story did not explain what “really” happened, nor did it name the nanny or why she had remained silent for so long.
It quoted her as considering the McCanns to be “the picture perfect family” and repeated the usual British criticism of the Portuguese police.
More surprisingly, she claimed that the resort from which Madeleine vanished was considered so unsafe that nannies were given rape alarms (whistles) and advised, “don’t go anywhere by yourself, ever”.
There was nothing to suggest the Mirror had tried to question or check this or any of the nanny’s other assertions, but, in Praia da Luz, they were viewed with derision. It was seen as yet another attempt to brand Praia da Luz as a den of iniquity, which it is not and never has been.
The official police files on the case contain nothing about rape whistles or alarms. None of the signed statements by child-care workers mentioned anything about suspicious goings-on or Luz being “unsafe”.
The manager of the Ocean Club where the McCanns were staying said in a police statement in 2007 that he had “no knowledge of any untoward situation involving Ocean Club users or in the village itself, other than some damage and minor thefts”.
The Mirror story was also a reminder that real journalism has to a large extent been replaced by ‘churnalism’, which disregards traditional standards of original news gathering based on impartiality and fact-checking for accuracy and honesty.
The nanny’s story was quickly recycled virtually verbatim on the Internet by other tabloids. Even the broadsheet Daily Telegraph fell into line as did news services in the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
Trial by the media has had a huge influence on public perceptions about guilt or innocence in this case. Most of the mainstream media reports state as if it were a fact that Madeleine was “abducted”. Maybe she was. Maybe she wasn’t. There is no certainty either about the other main theory, that her parents covered up an accidental death in the apartment.
Until solid evidence is found and the culprits are brought to justice, the public fascination with this case will continue to fuel and be fuelled by the media’s determination to churn out stories whose accuracy and agenda may sometimes be open to doubt.
The current avalanche of stories inevitably evokes the previous admission by Lord Bell, founder and former chairman of the Bell Pottinger public relations group, to columnist and author Owen Jones, that “the McCanns paid me £50,000 in fees to keep them on the front page of every single newspaper for a year, which we did”.
Nevertheless, “Maddie” helps circulation figures and makes money. Money, along with misinformation, has always played far too big a part in this case which, let’s remember, is about the tragic loss of a child.




Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Searching for Conman Ken


Lee Mackenzie, author of a book published this week called The Charming Predator, is hoping to flush out the notorious, international conman Kenner Elias Jones, her former husband. He was last reported to the police while seeking political asylum in Sweden.
Originally from Caernarfon in Wales, Jones absconded from a trial in Lewes Crown Court in Sussex, England, in 2003. He has been at large ever since, continuing a career of theft, deception and fraud.
Jones has been deported from both Canada and the United States. A senior immigration officer in America described him as “the best conman I have ever encountered in my entire career.”
He is wanted in Kenya. allegedly for unpaid debts of more than $100,000 after running his own charity for seven years, posing as a doctor. He also conducted church services claiming to be a priest.
Back in Europe he continued on his wicked way across the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal and Spain, apparently undeterred by having previously racked up more than 60 convictions over a period of four decades.
BBC Wales tracked him down and filmed him in Lisbon, but ‘Conman Ken’, as the BBC dubbed him, refused to answer accusations of defrauding individuals, businesses and institutions.
A travel agent in the town of Palmela near Lisbon said he persuaded her to hand over €2,500 worth of travel tickets and then disappeared without paying for them.
But his deceptions in Portugal were minor compared with his activities elsewhere.
In southwest Spain he spent six weeks having medical checks in a district hospital only to leave in apparent good health without paying a bill of some €26,000.
Two years ago a man in Malmo reported Jones to the Swedish police because of suspicious money transfers and after researching the Welshman’s background on the internet. The Swedish police declined to investigate. Meanwhile, Jones was seeking political asylum in the country as a refugee from Kenya.
The Canadian author Lee Mackenzie has written an account of how she met, fell in love with and married Jones only to find out too late about his true character.
As a young, unworldly woman from a small, trusting community on Canada’s west coast she fell victim to a sociopath regarded by all who met him as highly intelligent and charming. But he went on to shatter her emotionally, psychologically and financially.
After storing all the memories away in a cardboard box for decades,” says Mackenzie, “I finally opened it and looked inside. Not long after that I connected with an editor who challenged me to write my story. I love a challenge.”
Mackenzie admits that even after a long passage of time, sifting through the story was difficult. “It was certainly a journey into the past,” she says.
And along with remembering the damage Kenner had done, I also had to face my own part in the story. It was embarrassing, humiliating to see how easily I had been duped. I see now how I simply wanted to make my marriage and my life a happy one. I had to heal and forgive myself. That’s part of the story too.”
A former CBC radio and television journalist, Mackenzie is now a professional artist as well as a member of the administrative staff at her local detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Since her ex-husband’s last sightings in Spain and Sweden she has been trying to locate him via the internet.
With the publication of her book she plans to step up her efforts and has launched a website with a page called “Where’s Kenner?” www.thecharmingpredator.com.
The Charming Predator has been published by Penguin Random House:
A CBC interview with the author on the subject of deception can be heard here:  
     http://www.cbc.ca/radio/outintheopen/pastepisodes/deception-effects-1.4030392?autoplay=true

Monday, April 10, 2017

Algarve Romanis in major German photographic project

Romani families in Portugal recently welcomed into their homes a professional German photographer, Florian Schwarz, to take portraits for a unique exhibition to illustrate the diversity of migrant communities across Europe.
Schwarz’s focus on Romani people, more commonly known in English as Gypsies and in Portuguese as Ciganos, was the start of a year-long project. Having previously photographed all over the world, his current project will take him to four geographical extremities of the European continent – west, east, north and south.
In the Algarve, local contacts introduced him to different Romani communities, the one in Porches long settled in municipal apartments, the others in Albufeira transient camps. He encountered remarkable hospitality, he said.
Originally from northern India, Romani people have been on the move for many hundreds of years. They first arrived in Portugal in the 15th century and long thereafter were subjected to severe discrimination. Full integration in Portugal continues to be officially encouraged, but it is still slow. Most Romanis live in close family groups with their own distinct cultural and social preferences.
As an integral part of the country’s population, official government statistics about Romanis do not exist. About 40,000 to 50,000 spread across Portugal as a whole is thought be a realistic estimate by the Council of Europe’s Commission against Racism and Intolerance.
Next stop for Schwarz, 37, will be Bucharest, capital of one of the continent’s most easterly countries, to photograph Romanian nationals (not to be confused with Romanis) heading westward on transport services to seek a better life in Germany, France and beyond .
This autumn he will be in Lapland to portray nomadic Sami people, the northernmost indigenous group in Europe, who traditionally travel around the Arctic regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia with herds of reindeer.
His final destination will be the Greek island of Crete where he will focus on the workers who arrive in droves to take part in the olive harvest that has been going on since ancient times.
Schwarz’s intention is to depict aspects of migrant life very different to the much televised mass movement of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa in recent years.
He uses a a small, modest-looking camera with a standard 50mm lens that takes images, undistorted by wide-angle or telephoto lenses, as near as possible to the way they are perceived by the human eye.
The exhibition of his work will be held next year in four public venues as part of a major cultural event in his home city of Konstanz in southern Germany. 
 
An exclusive preview image taken in the Algarve, the only photo from the project so far made public.