Laydeez an gennlemen, takes your places please for this contest to
decide the undisputed ownership of the moral high ground of the
In the red corner we have every tyrant, despot and dictator on the
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
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
’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
’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.
PRO, Action for Blind People
Set up International Year for Prevention of Poverty
Press officer, Greenpeace
Media unit head, Amnesty International