There are a lot of interesting aspects to the Meredith Kercher murder case. But one of the most remarkable is the role that PR and marketing has played and continues to play in the defence campaign of Amanda Knox. The family of Knox has waged an impressive PR campaign in their battle to free her.
Her father Curt is a marketing executive. So it was perhaps an instictive response when he hired PR consultant David Marriott, a former TV journalist, to organise a campaign including appearances on the main US TV networks. Whatever you think of this sort of thing, the campaign was impressive and has certainly swayed opinion in the US. Amanda Knox has also counted on the support of the Friends of Amanda pressure group, which posts messages of support and seeks donations on its website and has mounted an equally impressive if misguided and unnecessarily abusive campaign in the blogosphere where ad hominem attacks on people are often seen as perfectly fair. In fact, earlier this year, Seattle police were asked to investigate death threats issued by people who believed Knox to be innocent against others who had argued her guilt on a website.
The voices that went up in protest when she was found guilty of the murder were loudest from this lobby, understandably. In part I believe their bewilderment at the verdict is rooted in a failure to grasp that US public and media opinion have little impact in Italy, where the system of law is very different and more dependent on the judgements of magistrates, not juries. However wonderful a campaign they put together, there is a less powerful jury to influence ahead of a trial.
This idea that an investigation and trial is carried out as much in the media as it is in the courts is a very modern one. It is also disturbing to think that defendants with access to the resources can influence a trial through the media, especially in countries such as the US and UK. There are elements of the Kercher case that are likely to sway public opinion in such campaigns, not least the fact that she is an attractive middle class woman with a devoted and industrious family, accused in a foreign country (crucial) with evidence that may be compelling but which can also be disputed. Add in to that the campaign’s ongoing appeal to paranoid suspicions that the case is tainted by anti-americanism and you can see why this whole thing will roll on. And on.
Even if Knox is unsuccesful in her appeal, which seems likely, the battle will rage on the Internet. What remains to be seen is whether this is an isolated incident or whether the Law will have to find new ways to take account of expensive co-ordinated marketing campaigns for those who can personally afford them or drum up enough public support to fund them.