Although the McCanns have washed their hands in public of the Netflix documentary that’s all about them, their struggles, and the search for their daughter, they do feature prominently in every episode.
On March 15, 2019, People was one of many publications to claim that the McCanns “didn’t participate in or approve of” the Netflix documentary. Do the McCanns really not approve of the narrative that Madeleine may still be alive, as The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann documentary asserts?
That’s odd because the eight-part docuseries does the McCanns [and their version of events] many favours, not to mention the timing of it. The timing of the docuseries – from a PR perspective – is perfect.
So maybe we should mention the timing and one other thing – the money and potential fortunes – that’s ebbing and potentially flowing around the McCanns and the McCann case as of right now.
In terms of timing, the European Court of Human rights is about to rule, about to pronounce a verdict now, at the end of an eight-year legal slugmatch between the McCanns and their arch nemsis. The Portuguese detective that initially led the investigation features prominently in the Netflix documentary, although much of what he says is juxtaposed with others casting doubt or disputing his version of events.
Goncalo Amaral did the unthinkable in this story – he had the temerity to suspect both parents of complicity in covering up whatever happened to the doctors’ daughter.
A similar scenario played out in the Ramsey case when lead detective Steve Thomas suspected the Ramseys and then resigned in protest when Alex Hunter, the Boulder District Attorney failed to press any charges against them [or anyone]..
Amaral was fired in October 2007 just five months into the investigation, and only one month after the McCanns were named official suspects in a highly controversial shift. This also caused the media coverage to change dramatically in tone from sympathetic to suspicious.
In any event, the timing of the Netflix docuseries coming out now is interesting, if nothing else.
The docuseries does a brilliant job of besmirching Amaral’s reputation as a possibly corrupt cop and potentially compromised individual.
If the series was as unbiased as it purports to be, it would have also investigated Julian Peribanez, the former Metodo 3 investigator hired by the McCanns with the same meticulous thoroughness. It seems a little tricksy to have the McCanns’ detective narrate large fractions of the documentary where he openly criticises, accuses and undermines his opposition in the case.
In many of the slick true crime documentaries, the devil is in the details, not in terms of factors or evidence, but how the audience is influenced. Amaral is invariably interviewed in the same dour, claustrophobic setting.
The McCann’s PR person who also does plenty of narrating here, is shown in a lofty office which conveys a sense of professionalism and authority. Peribanez, Amaral’s counterpart , also appears in a professional setting, and then occasionally he is depicted “on the job” as it were, the crack detective in a fancy car basically role-playing the Spanish version of Magnum P.I.
Along with his boss, Francisco Marco and other Metodo 3 staff, he got into big trouble in early 2013. He and a number of other Metodo 3 staff were revealed to have been behind the illegal recording of conversations between high-level Spanish politicians in a Barcelona restaurant. Peribanez was discovered to have been involved and arrested. However, unlike his boss Marco, Peribanez rapidly admitted his guilt, confessed all to the police, and may have ended up assisting the police with their enquiries.
In 2014, it was announced that he had become a ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’ by publishing, jointly with the former head of Metodo 3 in Madrid, Antonia Tamarit, a book blowing the lid on corruption in Portugal but also, more specifically, the cess-pit of dark, nefarious and illegal activities carried out by Metodo 3. By this time, many of the top Metodo 3 staff had been arrested or imprisoned over the illegal recording of conversations at a Barcelona restaurant, and Metodo 3 had gone into liquidation.
So, in a classic case of ‘thieves falling out’, Peribanez and Tamarit decided to wrote a ‘tell-all’ book exposing the corrupt and criminal activities they had themselves been engaged in…
When the McCann’s Arch Apologist Tracey Kandohla weighs in on the couple’s behalf, then PR is to be expected. It’s from Kandohla that we’re informed of the cost of the docuseries: £20 fucking million or $26.43 million.
That’s more than the budget – almost twice the budget – of the entire search for Madeleine McCann by the authorities over the span of twelve years, the most expensive missing person’s search in history.
If we add the cost of the documentary to the cost of the search we’re in the region of £32 million spent on “the disappearance and search for Madeleine McCann.”
That’s a shitload of money based on a rather glaring assumption, that Madeleine McCann is alive and went missing to begin with.
Kandohla notes in her puff piece that the Netflix series was “commissioned in 2017” and conflates the commissioning of the series with “the explosion of the true crime genre.” In other words she’s suggesting the Netflix documentary was commissioned to make a mint out of the true crime genre, but she neglects to provide specifics on who commissioned it.
By mentioning the two documentaries in the same sentence, she also effectively compares The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann to Making A Murderer – the latter not necessarily a paragon of true crime documentary investigation in terms of accuracy or neutrality either.
Dead Certainty – How “Making a Murderer” goes wrong. – New Yorker
‘Making a Murderer’ Left Out Crucial Facts, Prosecutor Says – New York Times
Does anyone seriously think the filmmakers are going to make a profit on a budget of £20 fucking million for a documentary? The answer to that probably depends on who the filmmakers [and backers] are.
In Steven Avery’s case, all the Making A Murderer documentaries ultimately bore fruit, didn’t they? In February 2019 it was announced Avery had “won” the right to an appeal. You could say that, but you could also argue his PR had triumphed eventually. It’s not the first time that’s happened either. The Paradise Lost trilogy of documentaries also led to the release of the three men accused of murdering three boys in West Memphis [the West Memphis Three].
PR also played a huge role in the “acquittal” of Amanda Knox. Her father Curt once confided that his best move was to hire a PR guru within days of his daughter’s arrest. PR can and does influence legal narratives.
Was catching the commercial true crime wave really the only objective in making the 8-part series? Because the timing is very interesting. On January 31st, 2017 the Guardian reported on the first major legal setback the McCanns suffered in ten years.
So we see in 2017, the same year the legal tide turned against the McCanns, the 8-part documentary was commissioned. It was a major PR coup for them if the commissioning of the documentary with an enormous budget which just happened to support their own “pedophile abduction” theory to a “T”, happened coincidentally. But was it? Was this pure happenstance?
While Amaral’s libel damages as they stand now [£29 000] are fiddlesticks, barely a tenth of what the McCanns sued him for, it’s possible if the McCanns lose their final appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, the floodgates will open, clearing the way not only for Amaral to launch countersuits but potentially also many new media that the McCanns have sued for the years for defamation. Even if this doesn’t happen, a verdict that goes against them at this stage could swim the pendulum of public and media sentiment against them.
Interestingly in the Guardian article cited above the McCann’s refer to how much “the landscape has changed” in the eight years since they lodged their lawsuit against Amaral. Well, no landscape has changed more fundamentally than the media landscape, particularly with the advent of social media and more recently, streaming services like Netflix.
It’s clear Netflix has made available a documentary that is likely to influence people’s opinions on the McCanns, one way or the other. Does Netflix hold any responsibility in this regard? Should they? Should they be held to account for the veracity of the investigative content they provide to their subscribers especially as regard high-profile true crime?
In the past, Netflix has been beholden to the consumers of its product.
It remains to be seen whether true crime audiences will be aggravated or impressed, or simply too entertained to care about veracity or bias of the £20 fucking million documentary that the McCanns didn’t participate in [well, they appear in every episode], haven’t seen [apparently] and don’t support [ahem…].
If the the European Court rules against the McCanns, despite the influence or lack of the costly docuseries, will Amaral institute a colossal damages claim against them for systematic character assassination?
Whether he does or doesn’t, and whether the ruling goes for or against them, the McCanns are in an unusual position for the first time in many years. Instead of hope they have something to fear, and perhaps this time there is real reason to fear.