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HomeScreen: Amanda’s anguish

HomeScreen: Amanda’s anguish

In late 2007, the sexual assault and brutal murder of 21-year-old British exchange student Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy gripped the world. Caught in the middle was her roommate, 20-year-old American student Amanda Knox, as well as her Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, with both being prime suspects.

What followed was a media circus. Headlines made the front pages every day featuring every snippet of news possible to feed audience hunger for details of the case. When the particulars grew scarce, the media ran away with a theory, painting Knox as a sex-crazed vixen who killed Kercher after she refused the advances of her and her boyfriend in a surprise sex game.

This was purely speculation of course, but the masses bought it because as they say, when a theory is repeated often enough it transforms into a fact. Knox was not only characterised as a sociopath by the Italian and British tabloids, but by some quarters of the American media as well, including Fox News.




The media trial coupled with international pressure for speedy resolution saw the prosecution convict Knox and Sollecito in quick time. Eventually, the verdict was overturned through the appeals process and was upheld by the Italian Supreme Court in 2016, but not before the nightmare had taken a toll on the two survivors of this travesty.

Directed by Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn the Netflix documentary Amanda Knox skilfully takes us through the case with a microscope, featuring exclusive interviews with the accused as well as the prosecutors, lawyers, and forensic DNA experts involved in the case. The superbly edited documentary works like a murder mystery, and also manages to humanise both Knox and Sollecito while not resorting to cheap sensationalism. And as we gradually begin to believe in their innocence with irrefutable evidence piling in their favour, we begin to feel disgust at their nine-year-long ordeal that grew worse with every passing year.

Amanda Knox truly excels thanks to its surprisingly candid interviews with Italian prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, who fancied himself as being a Sherlock Holmes type (except that Holmes actually followed evidence), and British tabloid journalist Nick Pisa who added fuel to the fire with countless inflammatory stories for The Daily Mail at the time, the majority of which seemed to have swayed public opinion.

As a Pakistani, there are two things I am familiar with: incompetent law-enforcement officials and incompetent journalists (at least on TV). It was therefore a little surreal to see two European men boast about their incompetence so cluelessly. On one hand, the sexist prosecutor was convinced that Amanda Knox was a sexual deviant and a sociopath based purely on his gut. It is alarming to think about how many ‘criminals’ Mignini has put away thanks solely to his intuition.

Then there is Pisa, who would be right at home on a Pakistani news channel, pushing theories as fact. Here, he readily admits that he was getting a rush earning bylines on articles being consumed across the world. Ultimately, he argues that as a journalist it’s not his job to check facts. No Mr Pisa, that’s exactly your job.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, December 11th, 2016

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