Pistorius trial could become PR circus

Oscar Pistorius' killing of his model girlfriend has provided the global news networks with a real-life 'OJ Two', where tragedy, news and soap opera become indistinguishable in the search for justice under a global media spotlight.

Ian Monk: 'PR is playing a major part in the positioning of the prosecution and defence cases'
Ian Monk: 'PR is playing a major part in the positioning of the prosecution and defence cases'

South Africa’s system permits full pre-trial discussion and analysis of defence and prosecution claims, so there are few holds barred in media reportage or speculation of guilt or innocence.

Just as with the Simpson case 18 years ago, the Blade Runner’s trial is as much by media as by court.

Thus PR is playing a major part in the positioning of the prosecution and defence cases. The sometimes dark arts of our trade ensure that every TV viewer globally is addressed as a hypothetical juror in the court of public opinion. Statements by Pistorius’ family are crafted to weigh the reputation of the Olympic icon against the bleak loss of the Steenkamp family.

Cynical? Possibly. Skilful? Certainly.

Within hours of the shooting, the media’s attention was drawn to the horrific prevalence of armed crime in South Africa. The implication was that, in such a violent society, shooting into a locked bathroom first and asking questions later was a natural survival action.

There is also a whiff of media manipulation and leaks around the judicial process. The timing of the revelation that the original detective on the Pistorius case himself faced gun charges seemed helpfully timed to secure Pistorius’ unlikely release on bail.

It helped counter blows dealt to public perception of the defendant by the withdrawal from him of global sponsorship deals such as Nike. Perceptions of the Pistorius family were again adjusted when it emerged that Oscar’s brother, Carl, also had a homicide charge hanging over him from a car crash years earlier.

The main weapon in the armoury of the Pistorius media team is its management of a sporting reputation forged in the face of epic adversity and now tragedy.

Hopefully the victim’s own posthumous reputation, her family’s most enduring heirloom, does not become a casualty of over-aggressive reputation management.

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun


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