Litigation PR – On behalf of the media
The presumption of innocence of a defendant is one of the fundamental principles of criminal proceedings under the rule of law. With reference to the fundamental right of freedom of the press, we experience daily public prejudgments in the context of court reports. What is the reason for this? In place of unquestionable evidence, many media lay judges are followed by their own laws, which must take into account the basic legal knowledge as well as learned patterns of justice of the mainstream:
- David vs. Goliath – Parties with much less power can proclaim a special right of protection in front of the camera.
- Bad News are good news – For the purpose of polarizing a paper and increasing the chances of publication, a journalist must consider which exculpatory facts can be omitted
- Well-founded rumours – Instead of dispelling all reasonable doubts before reporting, an editorial team explains and visualizes constraints and systemic motives that make a perpetrator seem obvious.
- Emotions before facts – while Justitia must be blind for an unbiased decision and reach a decision solely on the back of facts, the media emotionally color a situation. Unfortunately, political visual errors and personal prejudices are quickly forgotten. Pictures of the accused, accompanied by the title music of “Play me the song of death”, can hardly hope for a fair assessment in public.
- Nothing is as old as yesterday’s newspaper – a court ruling can take longer than a whole law degree. Journalists usually only stay for days, if not just hours, if they don’t want to lose viewers and readers.
It goes without saying that a courtroom cannot and must not be declared a media-free zone. The public is entitled to hear the arguments of both the plaintiff and the defendant party in a timely manner. In doing so, however, the warring parties as well as the media regularly underestimate their responsibilities, which result from their role as a value-free informant as well as that of the neutral observer. Instead of helping the audience to form their own opinions, the expected court ruling is already being delivered. A guilty verdict issued on behalf of the media seems more sustainable than a real-law verdict. While in real life a sentence is time-barred or served at some point, the Internet and the media archives repeatedly remind us of an act and of the appropriate punishment from the point of view of journalists. In fact, this means multiple media condemnation for the same facts.
Classic Litigation-PR tries to avoid a prejudgment and to keep the rumour kitchen in check and thus transport a certain objectivity into the heated mood. This is only legitimate in order to avoid repeated public condemnation. In particular, companies and public figures would therefore do well to explain the circumstances of the crime in a comprehensive, comprehensible and transparent manner to the media in the event of a trial. If you want to win your trial in the virtual media court as a defender, you should above all answer your positions from an ethical perspective and encourage journalists to reconsider existing quick judgments:
- Goliath meets David: Clients who are attributed ad hoc stereotypical qualities such as arrogance and abuse of power, especially by the tabloid press because of their market leadership, must prove that they are willing to engage in dialogue with critical stakeholders.
- Good news are better than Bad News: Disputes are really of interest to the public only because of the surprising human inadequacies. A realistic solution or comparison signalled by one client can speed up a process or at least significantly increase the pressure on the other party to the dispute.
- Fact Check: Speculation is a prerogable of the media and indicates that the parties to the proceedings have underestimated the public interest and their need for information. Chronic speculation can lead to prejudgments. In such a case, PR managers and lawyers need to clarify which facts can be communicated at an early stage from a process tactical point of view in order to reduce the public’s knowledge deficits. However, the parties to the dispute must under no circumstances start their own speculation or make unproven accusations, as this will damage their credibility in the long term.
- Authenticity instead of emotionality – in case of doubt, it means “for the accused”. However, in order to remove residual doubts in public, the ex-defendant should also make his point of view objectively in the event of an acquittal. Emotional outbursts and the announcement of retaliation undermine a person’s credibility and set a negative precedent for a process, which is then rightly pulled out of the media archives time and again.
Conclusion: Professional litigation PR can only succeed if lawyers and communication experts pull together with their client. The boundary between the real and virtual courtrooms clearly records who has to take the lead in the respective front section. It is crucial that each of the actors agrees on a common process tactic and a related language regulation. At the end of all days, the accused must be ready to present his emotional before the factual necessities of a courtroom. Whether and how this will be achieved will be discussed in future articles.