Monday, 6 May 2013

Mike Blakemore

Mike Blakemore gave me a completely new perspective on the power of the media this week. I spoke to Amnesty UK's Media Director as I paid a visit to their Human Rights Action Centre in Shoreditch this week on the day of their Young Human Rights Journalist of the Year Awards. Mike had just placed a segment on the Radio 4's Today Programme that morning on the Sri Lanka conflict and talked me through how it had worked. 

"The Sri Lankan authorities need to be held to account for government-sanctioned abuses and for their current crackdown on dissent. Our activity this week has focused on urging the Commonwealth not to hold its November Summit unless the country's human rights record improves. We believe Amnesty has a critical role to play in this regard. Ideally we wanted to be able to confront Sri Lankan High Commissioner to the UK, Dr Chris Nonis, directly on the programme. We discussed this with the producers and what we were able to do instead was to pose some questions to the presenter at the start of the program which the Today team was then able to pick up and put directly to Dr Nonis in an interview later on in the program. So this way we were able to set the agenda and make sure he was put on the spot to answer the points we felt he should be called to account for."

So less about raising Amnesty's profile then, and more about using press contacts and media opportunities to put the spotlight on different issues, make governments and individuals answer for what they are doing, or not doing?

"Absolutely. Profile-raising is important of course and it does have a place in our programme of media activity as you would expect as it is important for fundraising apart from anything else. But this other very different use of the media is a key part of our campaigning work. The media is a very very powerful tool and with skill we can use it to great effect in challenging and changing the status quo."

One of the reasons for my trip to Shoreditch was talk to be Amnesty UK about the upcoming Amnesty Media Awards on 11 June. They are keen to Increase their engagement with the legal community, not just because this campaigning organisation was founded both by a lawyer and on a legal principle: to uphold the rule of law worldwide, but also for a very practical reason when it comes to corporate sponsorship. 'We have an inherent difficulty when it comes to corporate sponsorship: one of our most important roles is holding corporates to account for their activities, alignments, relationships, etc as they may impact on human rights around the world. How can we do this on the one hand, when we are taking money from them with the other? However when it comes to lawyers it's a different story, because having a good level of defence whether innocent or guilty is a central tenet of human rights. Indeed robust convictions i.e. that are less capable of being unravelled after the event, depend on the accused having had a strong defence in the first place. This means we are much more comfortable taking sponsorship from law firms and lawyers. It just makes much more sense for us."  Of course this is where I thought I might be able to help so I had gone along to see if there might be any firms or  people I might usefully introduce them to.

The Amnesty Media Awards make for a spectacular event. They celebrate the best in campaigning journalism, both written and photographic. Regular followers of this blog will remember my post from the event last year and how inspired I was after an evening focusing on the heroism and altruism that you find in this part of the journalistic community. (A posthumous award was collected by wounded photojournalist Paul Conroy on behalf of his colleague war correspondent Marie Colvin who died in the course of covering their story about the Siege of Homs.) Last year's event coincided with the Leveson Enquiry and our TV screens at the time were being dominated by tales of journalist and other sleaze. A stark contrast indeed. Amnesty is trying to create a fund to enable more people to enter the awards. A donation of around £5000 could cover the entry fees for a number of worthy, talented but underfunded media teams that would otherwise not be able to enter.

"It's not just about making sure these people are rewarded for their work promoting human rights," says Mike, "but also, in a time where media and publishing budgets are so stripped back, these accolades, or the promise of them, can make a difference between teams being able to persuade their bosses at an expensive trip overseas should be funded, or not."

Want to make a difference? Do make contact with the team if you do.
Congratulations to our friends at The Lawyer magazine for their shortlisting as Business Magazine of the Year at this year's PPA Awards! No surprise to us, as clients and friends in the legal profession continually feed back how much they love The Lawyer's coverage and I myself have said publicly how much I respect the way they have adapted their publishing model so successfully as the digital revolution has taken hold and news consumption habits changed so dramatically. They most definitely lead the legal field in this regard.

Good news also to see how Alex Novarese is shaking up Legal Business, launching a brand new website just months after taking over the role of Editor-in-Chief. He has also snared the mercurial but inimitable Charon QC to contribute regularly to the new look magazine. Looking forward to seeing what plans Georgina Stanley has in store for Legal Week, now she has had a few months to think about it since Alex left for Legal Business.
To welcome the Spring, we have now set a date for our next Tonic event: drinks at the Hospital Club in Covent Garden on 22 May (6.30pm). Our Tonic group is exclusively for PR and marketing people in professional firms, designed as a forum for exchanging useful information and experience via LinkedIn and In Real Life. We have a number of new faces at Kysen so look forward to introducing them to our clients and friends at this event. 

If you work for a professional services firm in a marketing, PR or leadership role but have not yet joined Tonic, please do feel free to do so here.

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