Profile: Mirella von Lindenfels, Amnesty International - Doing what’s morally right/Mirella von Lindenfels is no stranger to speaking out for worthy causes

Laydeez an gennlemen, takes your places please for this contest to decide the undisputed ownership of the moral high ground of the world.

Laydeez an gennlemen, takes your places please for this contest to

decide the undisputed ownership of the moral high ground of the

world.



In the red corner we have every tyrant, despot and dictator on the

planet.



In the blue corner we have a mild-mannered young woman from North London

with an abiding hatred of injustice.



’It makes me angry. Always has,’ says Mirella von Lindenfels, who next

week takes up her new role as head of the international media function

at human rights charity Amnesty International. Amnesty is a charity

running campaigns in 142 countries worldwide with no promotional and

marketing budget to speak of. So relations with the press are absolutely

central to its success.



First impressions are of a slight, unassuming figure, almost girlish in

her demeanour. She’s certainly not angry and not someone you would pick

from a crowd as most likely to extract human rights concessions from say

the Chinese government or to secure the release of detainees in

Malaysia.



But the art of understatement, cool professionalism and steely resolve

are infinitely more valuable in this field than firebrand oratory and

impassioned pleading. ’My brief is to manage the media function of the

international secretariat and to work with international media,

primarily the wires, to kick start global stories,’ she says. That and

to co-ordinate and support the work of 60 national press offices.



She points out that it is only through public pressure, from individuals

and other governments that most countries will move to end human rights

abuses. It’s an awesome task. Her primary audiences are not so much

political establishments, as less obvious targets such as doctors,

lawyers and even multinational companies whose support she has to

mobilise in order to put pressure on the politicians.



Although von Lindenfels claims not to be ambitious or have any kind of

career plan, she has always shown extraordinary focus. It looks, on

paper at least, as if her whole working life has been leading to this

job. After school she chose not to go to university and instead opted

for a CAM (Communication, Advertising and Marketing Education

Foundation) course in the evenings while working full-time as a

volunteer for what was then the Spastics Society. ’I had always been

interested in the voluntary sector and in the media, this seemed the

perfect combination,’ she says.



On completing her course, she spent three years as a divisional press

officer for Scope, as the Spastics Society had now become. This was

followed by a three-year stint as press officer at Action for Blind

People, where she set up the press office. It was at this point that she

decided that charities are too impotent, too palliative for her taste.

’Charities have their teeth drawn by the compromises they have to make

for funding, by their charitable status and by their innate

conservatism,’ she says displaying a hint of steel for the first time.

She then joined the child pressure group Child Poverty Action where she

again set up the media function and freelanced as a consultant to

various issue groups.



It was at that time that she helped Church Action On Poverty set up a

’national hearing on poverty’ and first demonstrated her star

potential.



’She helped us put together a communications strategy and helped turn a

minor event into a major event that set the political agenda for the

next three years,’ says Paul Goggins, now MP for Wythenshaw and East

Sale, then director of the charity.



Next stop was Greenpeace, initially as a press officer and then as

acting media head. ’I learnt I could cope in the most horrendously

pressured news environment’. But more importantly she realised that even

when dealing with the press if you have good stories, real news as

opposed to manufactured puffery, you can afford to bully the press

back.



’It’s perfectly all right to tell the press to eff-off at times, when

they are having a go and have it all wrong,’ says the quietly spoken

lady from North London.



Dictators, despots and hacks, you have been warned.



HIGHLIGHTS

1990

PRO, Action for Blind People

1995

Set up International Year for Prevention of Poverty

1996

Press officer, Greenpeace

1999

Media unit head, Amnesty International



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