Monday 10 October 2011

Communicator of the Week

The role of the media in high profile court cases and criminal investigations has never been greater. The coverage of the murder of Joanna Yeates last Winter led to two national newspapers being found to be in contempt of court, with eight others paying damages for false reporting. More recently the government announced the televised sentencing of offenders as part of plans to improve transparency in public services. Meanwhile we have the ongoing court case of Michael Jackson’s doctor being shown live each evening on 24 hour news channels around the world. Murder and court proceedings have always sold papers, but in the modern media world the way scandal and intrigue is reported can have a significant impact on justice.  

Originally painted as a deeply unseemly individual beneath her good looks, Amanda Knox captivated the world when she was found guilty of murder four years ago. Her photogenic features, and gender, made her even more appealing to the media who gloried in reporting her every move. Knox was found guilty in court but was also tried by the media who portrayed her as ‘evil’ and revelled in her ‘bizarre behaviour’.

While her successful appeal was ultimately as a result of failings in the original investigation, to get to that point in the Italian justice system took an awful lot of work behind the scenes. There is no doubt a substantial PR campaign – in the industry it is called reputation management – was planned and implemented almost to perfection. There were a few moments when things didn’t go perfectly such as Knox failing to mention Meredith Kercher or her poor family when speaking to the assembled media pack on arrival at Seattle. Thankfully for the Knox campaign her lawyer stepped in to make amends and I’m sure whenever Knox next steps in front of the camera to tell her story she won’t make this mistake again.

A grassroots campaign was implemented with websites like ‘Friends of Amanda’ and ‘Amanda Knox Defense Fund’ building support and crucial momentum. Her parents made appearances on all the major US TV networks. Briefings were also provided it seems to question the Italian justice system, contrasting their methods with those in the United States. These were backed up by tid-bits of what life was like for Amanda in prison; stories of chronic stress, ill-health and an eating disorder made their way into the US tabloid media. Finally Knox herself was transformed. Gone have her quirky, sometimes bright and far-too-cheerful-for-a-murder-trial, clothes replaced instead by neutral, even sombre colours. Her behaviour, once described as bizarre, has been muted to the point of regimented and her final speech, delivered in near perfect Italian hit all the right notes.   

It may be intensely cynical when the truth of what happened to Meredith Kercher remains unknown but, to win a high profile, controversial, court case in today’s modern media age you also need to win over or neutralise the media. The Knox family, supporting team and Amanda Knox herself recognised this which is why she is my communicator of the week.

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