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Informative and sympathetic – but two things were missing from a law lecturer’s BBC Breakfast interview
March 17, 2021

This morning BBC Breakfast explored the continuing fallout from the murder of Sarah Everard by talking to Jenny Barksfield, Deputy Chief Executive of the PHSE Association and Dr Jane Krishnadas, a Senior Lecturer in Law at Keele University.  The “one plus two” as it’s known in the trade, meaning a presenter plus two guests, is a standard format and a good way to get two different but complementary perspectives on a particular issue.

We work extensively with organisations in the education sector but we’re also specialists in media training for lawyers and so we were interested to see how Dr Krishnadas performed.  Typically, both interviewees joined the programme via Zoom and Dr Krishnadas maintained a good eyeline with the camera, speaking at the right pace.  The books provided a good backdrop.  We advise against wearing black in TV interviews as it can be draining on camera.  These observations might sound trivial but, as we point out in our media training courses, the visual impact profoundly affects how people receive your messages.

Dr Krishnadas outlined clearly with minimal legal jargon for this general audience how the criminal justice system is still frequently inappropriate for dealing with rape cases.  Asked about the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, she explained:

“We find that criminal justice itself is a structure that finds it very difficult to be able to listen to the subjective experience of women and for women to be able to give evidence in these circumstances.”

This is a good point well made, but an example, a bit of picture painting would help.  Dr Krishnadas could add something to the effect of:

“Just imagine what it’s like for a woman who had gone through a terrible ordeal…”

It sometimes goes against the grain for lawyers to express this kind of emotion but many of the lawyers that we work with realise during our media coaching sessions that, properly planned and deployed, it has a role to play.

Presenter Louise Minchin asks her:

“What do you think would make a difference?”

This is a clear invitation for a Call To Action.  We advise anyone doing an interview like this to be clear on what they’re calling for. That might be more of something, less of something else, the government to do something or prevent something or companies to sign up for something or be aware of something.  This works in almost all interviews and Dr Krishnadas does well to pick up on this invitation.

“I think we need to have a survivor focus,”

she explains.  What does that mean in practice?  Again, examples and anecdotes are key for a lawyer or anyone else doing a media interview.

“We have to provide evidence beyond reasonable doubt as if it was any other offence.  But…we’ve got to remember the impact of rape on the victim.  That might be memory loss, getting confused, not knowing exactly what happened when.  There are many concerns that make it extremely difficult for a witness to prove [their case] under the standard conditions of reasonable doubt, which is why sexual violence services such as the Independent Sexual Violence Adviser are critical in giving support to women going through the process.”

This is a really clear example but, here too, Dr Krishnadas could even drill down into greater detail and evoke more of the difficulty of the situation if she wants to.  Again,

“just imagine…”

would work well, as would the use of the second person to make her comments even more direct and even more striking.

Her final question relates to street harassment and here’s her answer:

“I think there could be laws in relation to street harassment but we need to go back to the fact that 90 per cent of rapes are [committed] by someone you know and I think the real concern…and listening to Jenny’s points, the difficulty with sexual violence is around silence and that key quote: ‘Are you silent or are you being silenced?’”

Two good points here – one, Dr Krishnadas uses her fellow interviewee’s name which sounds friendly and inclusive.  Second, she bridges firmly away from a subject that she obviously feels is important but so relevant to this discussion (street harassment) to one that she regards are more relevant here (rape being committed by someone known to the victim).  We always advise the lawyers and others that we media train to take control of the interview as we saw here.

This was a great interview – powerful and informative.  However, a bit more picture painting would be good.  The other point is a reference to what sounded to us like “cedor”.  If you know what it is then please do let us know but the point really is that it’s important to explain any jargon or acronyms to a general audience.  That way, whether you’re a lawyer or anyone else you’ll get your messages across more effectively.

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