> Each year, thousands of people go missing in Britain. Yet only a handful receive the sort of media attention the cases of Joanna Yeates and Madeleine McCann have
> WesternEye brings you a special report on the media hierarchy of missing persons
The recent disappearance and murder of Joanna Yeates struck a dissonant chord with the nation, her face has appeared on every major newspaper cover at one time or another over the last month and a half.
Her death has also raised many questions with regards to the attitudes of the media. The media’s priority seems to lie with obtaining a story that the public can swallow and digest.
This article seeks to highlight a series of issues that could possibly question our moral standpoint on the media’s portrayal of these events and their often subjective motives for doing so.
To start with, there is but one simple, direct question that must be first addressed. Feel free to gasp where appropriate. Why do we care?
Now before you reach for the torches and attempt a good old fashioned witch hunt across forest and plane, it must firstly be noted that, according to www.missingpeople.org.uk an estimated 210,000 to 230,000 people go missing on average every year.
Their research team held that any exact figure is unfeasible without years of research and a 100% accurate nationwide census, again virtually impossible. With this in mind, out of the possible 230,000 people that do go missing per year, why is it only in this circumstance that the media’s involvement is so great?
Why only now is the whole nation asking the question, “Who killed Maddie (sorry, Joanna)?”
A swift perusal of the Big Issue can bring to light many cases of missing persons in the UK. Not only does the publication include pictures and pleas for returned loved ones, but it is probably fair to say that many of those selling the publication are themselves ‘missing persons’.
Why then is it that those names listed as missing on page 47 of the Big Issue, are unknown to the mass audience? In contrast, Joanna Yeates will inevitably become very much part of the nation’s idiolect, much like those of Holly Wells, Jessica Chapman and even Madeleine McCann.
Within this spread, authored by missingpeople.org.uk lies an example of a 32 year old lady named Natalie Bailey, missing from Kent since the 13, December 2010, four days before that of Jo Yeates. Why did she not make national news? After all, she is still unaccounted for much like her page neighbour, a 38 year old man called Chukwuemeka Meregini, missing also from Kent since 4th August 2010. Why is it that these people only made the rear of the Big Issue while others make the front page of every national newspaper?
Questions such as these rarely have definite answers; are the reasons sociological? Jo Yeates was after all a well educated middle-class woman in professional employment. Was the interest based upon her status or perhaps aesthetics? Was it Joanna’s beaming smile, blonde hair and fair skin that deemed her a worthy ‘public victim’? Put simply, did she just look better on a front page?
Is it possible that even now in 2011, a well educated, middle-class, White women still has greater pull on the heart strings of a nation than someone without said traits? It is clear that this is not merely a matter of ethnicity, socioeconomic demographic or race, which could all possibly account for this phenomenon.
Cases such as the murder of Damilola Taylor more than a decade ago springs to mind, which dismisses such a theory. Why does it seem to matter who is missing, killed, raped or abused? Surely anybody is worthy of a tragedy?
Is it that only when people succeed by the measure of society that they become more than a mere statistic? Are only those with some perceived value by society, are those deemed by the media to be worthy of our attention?
This is evident in our obsessive celebrity culture. A large quantity of the population cares so much about the constant rat race that is Katie Price’s life. If she was to go missing or die, why would her status ultimately create a larger wave of interest in contrast to the interest gained if you or I were were killed?
Celebrities are still the supposed examples for society and the guiding lights for the common person that they have always been? Or are they merely pawns used by the media to formulate an ideal world of sex, drugs and erm, advertising?
It is not alien to admit that the scale of importance defines the scale of public interest. Would the disappearance of a regular office worker make the news? Locally, probably yes. If it were a student such as you or I, people supposedly trying to achieve in life, then there is no doubt that we would get our 15 minutes, probably even nationally, maybe even a front cover spread.
Imagine now, you are a homeless alcoholic and former runaway, with little family or close friends and you disappear; possibly meeting an untimely demise. Do you honestly believe that you would have made the front page of any national newspaper? Or would you have simply sat with Ms Bailey on page 47?
In order to obtain some sort perspective, it seemed appropriate to do some ‘field work’ and gather information on ‘missing persons’ in relation to media attention.
During these travels throughout the streets of Bristol It became apparent that many ‘homeless’ people were unwilling to speak, some purely couldn’t through intoxication, although no fault can be found for them for donning their beer jackets, it was bitterly cold. However an source was found in Big Issue vendor, who will simply be referred to as Carl.
Carl, though himself not technically a ‘missing person’, assured your correspondent that there were many whom he knew that were runaways or missing persons, or who simply “don’t want to be found”.
In this short stint of time with Carl (he was busy trying to make some money for a sandwich) he said that the majority of ‘missing people’ he knew had no desire to return home.
“They are here because nobody cares” he said, “no one gives a shit about them”.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pxyHcPyEXA[/youtube]When asked how he felt about the amount of media attention that the Yeates case attracted he replied with an outburst of compassion, saying that it was “a tragic loss” and although he accepted the fact that if roles were reversed, the public would not show the same reaction, he also acted with a complete lack of bitterness towards the hypocrisy.
The brief encounter with Carl highlighted the asymmetry that comes with power and importance.
Here he was, a homeless man, a possible missing person, living on the streets that, although knowing full well that no one in the big wide world cared about him, he himself cared about the case of Jo Yeates.
This posed a significant question: Is the hypocrisy so deeply embedded in society, that even the homeless have been caught up?