When international criminal tribunals deal with accusations of grave human rights abuses, genocide and crimes against humanity, media scrutiny is at its most ferocious and reputations at their most fragile. With his decades of experience on landmark cases in international courts like the UN Yugoslavia Tribunal and the International Criminal Court, Steven Kay QC, one of the world’s leading criminal lawyers, reveals that in high profile international criminal cases there are often blurred lines between the law, politics, the facts and a bias ‘narrative’ woven by the media.
“The trials concentrate on politics as much as crime. And essentially, the prosecutors generally choose a side and it's that side’s version of events that’s the most important narrative.”
His job is therefore to break down preconceived notions of what happened in history and reshape the narrative using the facts of the evidence - rather than whatever story has been crafted by political agendas or otherwise.
‘History is written by the victors’
In other words, Montfort Communications learns that there are two sides to every story and Steven’s job is to tell the side of the story the media often leaves strategically untold.
For example, Steven argues that the narrative surrounding post-election violence of 2007 in the Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta trial was a bias tale written by the West and propelled by the BBC and CNN telling untruths about those really involved in the violence.
“And it happened to be the case that it was the side that was being backed by the West that actually started the violence and the rioting, but events get forgotten”, Steven recalls.
Informing public opinion of what really happened and who is responsible for such egregious crimes is a key part of achieving the justice that international tribunals are set up to achieve.
As such, Steven says having experts to manage communications is ‘very helpful’ to allow the missing parts of the story to be heard.
However, with international trials putting government reputations at stake, the pressure to win and avoid ‘major political embarrassment’ can result in underhand tactics and manipulation.
Steven himself has been subject to smear campaigns where the opposition attempted to sully credible evidence that demonstrated the opposition’s case was ‘built on fabricated evidence’.
That is to say, even in a court of international law, trickery is used to attack the reputations of individuals, including the lawyers, to create distracting media headlines and manipulate the public from hearing what is really going on in the courtroom.
When trickery is at play, “you do need those experts around to help you try and deal with those events”, he says.
Multi-disciplinary work in a globalised world
Globalisation, technology and the speed at which information can imprint a prejudicial story on minds is changing the way legal and communication experts need to work together.
Or, as Steven eloquently puts it, “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has time to put its pants on” so multidisciplinary collaboration is the best available strategy to correct narratives and protect reputations.
Discussed in this podcast episode