/ 2 November 2007

German magazine mocks hunt for Madeleine

Images of Madeleine McCann, the British four-year old who went missing six months ago in Portugal, have been printed in a spoof supermarket advertisement by a German satirical magazine, outraging her parents.

The ”Find Maddie” photo-spread in Titanic, a monthly humour magazine that makes a habit of breaking taboos, has prompted a chorus of complaints in the British media at the ”sick joke”.

Maddie’s face was superimposed over images of the cute blonde children usually shown on the packaging of popular brands of rusk and chocolate bar.

A ”Maddie” brand of liquid soap mocked whoever allegedly removed the girl from the McCanns’ holiday apartment. The pseudo slogan says the product ”cleans every smear in the home: the DNA test hasn’t a chance”.

Titanic, which often pretends to find its own humour repulsive, headed the spread with a popular-press-style headline: ”They’re going too far,” and invented a story that retailers might soon use Maddie for advertising.

Satire is a minority humour form in Germany, where satirical television has never achieved much success.

Titanic, which has a circulation of about 100 000, has been unrepentant about the fuss. A couple of days later it added a poster to its website in which Mad, the United States humour magazine on which Titanic is largely modelled, was displayed as Maddie magazine and its mascot was given the little girl’s face.

Martin Sonneborn, a staff writer who wrote the Titanic spoof, told Germany’s Stern magazine the British media were just jealous ”because we’re fishing in their pond and making better jokes than them”.

He said ”many” British journalists had interviewed him about the Maddie spread and actually found it funny.

”Others are delighted that they can supply their readers with more shocking news from Germany. So both sides are quite friendly during the interviews,” he said.

The last time the Germans upset the McCanns was in June, when the couple visited Berlin and a woman journalist asked point blank at a news conference if they could in some way be involved in the abduction.

The father retorted: ”I have never heard before that anyone considers us suspects in this and the Portuguese police certainly don’t.” Three months later, the police did name the McCanns as arguidos, or suspects.

The mystery of what happened to the child remains unsolved. The McCanns have asked the public to keep an eye out for the child and to help catch whoever abducted her.

Gerry McCann, who returned to his work as a hospital cardiologist on Thursday, has not commented, but a family spokesperson, Clarence Mitchell, said that the satire was extremely distressing. ”It is totally sick, very hurtful and in no way funny,” Mitchell told the Daily Star newspaper.

This Saturday marks six months since the child was last seen at her parents’ holiday unit.

The couple, both 39, have told police they went out to dinner on May 3 with friends leaving their three children alone and asleep, and that Madeleine was gone when they returned.

Mitchell said legal advisers will study if Titanic can be sued. German law has privacy provisions allowing individuals to assert their ”rights of personality” over photos of themselves. German law also recognises copyright in images.

Titanic staff said they would welcome the publicity if they were sued.

A left-wing national German newspaper, TAZ, commented tartly that Mitchell must have welcomed the opportunity for some pro-McCann reporting, ”since for months he has been using the British popular press as a tool”. — Sapa-dpa