German satirical magazine Titanic is the focus of fierce criticism from the British media after publishing a two-page spread featuring fake ads for products emblazoned with the image of missing toddler Madeleine McCann.
Madeleine McCann, who went missing in May, was the focus of the spoof advert
In a full-color feature, the magazine printed a fake supermarket ad under the headline "This Is Going Too Far" with pictures of products with Maddie's face on them.
"Here comes Maddie! She is the best known face in the world, if not in the entire universe," the fake ad screams. "You will find her image on selected products in our store. If you find her, simply take her -- and pay only half price!"
One of the ads is for a domestic cleaner guaranteed to remove "all traces at home and against which DNA tests have no chance" while another is for a popular brand of soup called Maggi renamed after the missing four-year-old. Another promotion is for a brand of chocolate with the usual childish face on the packaging replaced with Maddie's image.
Each product is offered at half price with a pledge announcing that one cent of every sale will be donated to Interpol, the international police cooperation organization.
"Totally sick, hurtful and in no way funny"
Maddie's parents are said to be distressed by the article
British newspapers were incandescent over the use of Maddie in the spoof advert with many accusing Titanic of plumbing the very depths, not only of journalism but of human decency. The spokesperson for Maddie's parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, was quoted in many of the nation's papers as saying that the spoof was "totally sick, very hurtful and in no way funny."
Spokesperson Clarence Mitchell added in his statement that "the use of Madeleine's image in this way is not only extremely distressing for Kate and Gerry but totally disrespectful to Madeleine."
The magazine did not seek permission to use Madeleine's image to be used in this so-called joke, he continued. "If they had it would almost certainly not have been given. The hurt and distress this kind of thing causes Madeleine's parents should be obvious for all to see."
The McCann's lawyers are planning to sue the publishers of Titanic, the German equivalent of British satirical magazine Private Eye and a magazine notorious for pushing the boundaries of good taste in its native country.
Titanic unapologetic and ready for legal challenge
Controversy is Titanic's business
The threat of legal action was dismissed by the magazine's editor-in-chief Thomas Gsella. "I would advise any company to go ahead and sue us," he said. "Then we'll both be in the media and will get some great publicity."
"Of course it is satire that crosses the line -- as it crosses the Channel," Gsella added, saying that Maddie's face was such a famous image it was fair game for spoofs.
"The reaction of the British media is hypocritical. They're just upset because the idea was taken out from under their noses," Gsella said. He also pointed out that the satire didn't make any jokes about Maddie's parents nor was it aimed at Maddie herself.
Madeleine vanished from her parents' holiday apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal, on May 3, two days before her fourth birthday. The McCanns have since led a global campaign to keep her face in the media as the search for their child continues.
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The search for Maddie has received almost as much publicity in Germany as in the UK and the McCanns visited the country as part of their Europe-wide campaign to locate her.
Titanic bosses said the double page mock supermarket ad was "harmless fun" designed to ridicule the "media machine" surrounding the missing girl.
Titanic editor Oliver Nagel defended the feature, saying: "It was just for a German audience. The magazine is not ever published outside Germany.”
Nagel also refused to apologize for the feature. "I would not say anything. We don't go round apologizing for the articles we are printing," he said. "We are not making fun of a child getting lost but we are making fun of the media blowing it all up to such a good height.”
"So far no-one has complained about the collage," Gsella added. "We hope that everyone will find it as funny as we do because it is not aimed at the little girl, but against the media machine that surrounds her."
"Her image can be seen everywhere and it is getting a bit too much for many people."