Boy's father was terrorised by media, says Madonna

Madonna yesterday sought the assistance of perhaps the second most famous woman in the world to justify her adoption of a young African boy.

The pop star used a pre-recorded satellite interview with the US chat show host Oprah Winfrey to hit back at critics and explain her sense of hurt after the revelation that she had adopted 13-month-old David Banda generated headlines around the world.

Speaking from London, Madonna accused the media of manipulating the boy's father and of stoking controversy, which she said could deter families from adopting African orphans.

The star has been facing a growing backlash from human rights groups, which will this week ask a Malawian judge to review the case amid claims the super-rich singer bypassed normal adoption procedures in the impoverished African state.

Most stinging has been the claim that the boy's father, Yohane Banda, did not fully understand the terms of the adoption. He placed David in an orphanage when the boy's mother died shortly after his birth but was reported as saying he did not realise he would lose custody of him for good.

However, the star said: "I do not believe that is true. I sat in that room, I looked into that man's eyes. I believe that the press is manipulating this information out of him. I believe at this point in time he's been terrorised by the media."

Madonna, who along with her British film director husband Guy Ritchie, was awarded temporary custody earlier this month, said the negative publicity could backfire. "I wanted to go into a third world country - I wasn't sure where - and give a life to a child who might not otherwise have had one," she said.

The star also revealed that the boy had pneumonia when she first met him at the orphanage in Malawi, having already survived malaria and tuberculosis. "I was in a state of panic, because I didn't want to leave him in the orphanage because I knew they didn't have medication to take care of him," she said.

Madonna said she was given permission to take him to a clinic and have him placed on a bronchial dilator and given antibiotics. She said her celebrity cut little ice with authorities.

"If only my wealth and position could have made things go faster. I assure you it doesn't matter who you are or how much money you have, nothing goes fast in Africa," she said.

The singer described first spotting David in footage from a documentary she was financing about orphans in Malawi, in which he was being held by an eight-year-old girl with HIV.

"I became transfixed by him," she said. "But I didn't yet know that I was going to adopt him. I was just drawn to him."

While the American media seemed almost as concerned about Madonna's adoption of a British accent, audience reaction was initially positive to the star.

"In watching her, I thought that she was very sincere, and now I'm sympathetic," said one viewer. Another said: "The consensus of the audience seemed to be that the father of the child, like, the reporters got to him."

David will initially live with the couple and their children for 18 months while a London-based social worker checks that he is being cared for properly.