The BBC has come under fire from some of its listeners for broadcasting a debate on the McCanns’ case on Radio 5 Live.
The show asked listeners for their opinions on whether they back Kate and Gerry McCann, now back in Britain.
Listeners of the Victoria Derbyshire phone-in were asked: “Do you back the family and feel they have to fight their corner against the speculation or do you think that all those involved, including the media, should shut up and let the experts do their jobs?”
But some listeners were angry that the station was having the debate.
One said: “Telephone opinions will do nothing to help Madeleine. Please leave this family alone.”
Another texted in: “I’m switching off. You have lost a listener”.
One listener said: “Take this programme off. This is journalism at its lowest. Everybody should be ashamed of themselves.”
One caller asked Derbyshire: “Would you want to wake up to a radio show talking about your disappeared child? …. If this was your daughter would you want the BBC to be discussing her disappearance on open air? I think you should stop this debate.”
He added: “It’s unusual for a lot of people to say to the BBC ‘you’ve made a mistake here with the topic you’ve picked’.
“On moral, legal and ethical reasons, and the best interest of the child, this is not an appropriate topic for public debate.
“I don’t think it’s right for our national broadcasting organisation to be debating this. This is an ongoing criminal case.
“‘You do or don’t support the McCanns’ is almost a question of saying do you think they’re guilty or innocent.”
Others praised the BBC for “being balanced”, saying the public “had a right to know” and the debate highlighted important issues about society.
During the debate, Peter Horrocks, head of BBC television news, said his journalists had been told to focus on fact, not speculation, but that viewers were interested in the story.
“This morning we have decided that it is not the most important story today, unlike this network which has been leading on this story, different parts of the BBC take different decisions,” he said.
Derbyshire said: “Lots of people are saying ‘no, no, no, I’m switching off right now.”
She told listeners to text in and say whether they wanted the discussion to continue.
She said: “We began the discussion this morning by asking if you supported the McCanns.
“Because of the number of text messages that were coming in saying ‘you should not be discussing this, this is gutter journalism, I’m switching off now,’ I then asked you ‘should we be discussing this at all?'”
A BBC spokesman denied criticism from listeners forced the station to hold the phone-vote.
He said the vote about whether or not they should be discussing the case was planned from the beginning.
A majority of listeners, 68 per cent, said it should not be discussed further and the debate came to a close.
A Radio 5 Live spokesman said: “The Victoria Derbyshire programme decided to discuss the McCann case but also decided, in advance, to allow the audience, after a period of discussion, to vote on whether to continue with or stop that discussion.
“As we made clear earlier, those members of the audience who voted were split, by about 60-40, in favour of ending the discussion.
“It was a simple production device to try to gauge public attitudes to media coverage of the story.
“We did not … ask listeners to vote on whether they still had sympathy for the parents of Madeleine McCann. Our vote was always about whether we should continue discussing the case.”