Why Kim Dotcom has the midas touch on media fever
"The craven attitude of the NZ Police and Crown Law Office to the Yanks, and their unlawful behaviour in sucking up to them, has me on Dotcom's side."Featured comment
Politicians, public figures and celebrities who have had a bad PR run need to take a leaf out of Kim Dotcom’s book – he has the midas touch.
When he first came to the attention of New Zealanders in January this year, he was described as the founder of megaupload.com, a giant file-sharing website.
We simply knew he was a larger-than-life German ex-pat living north of Auckland in the $35 million Chrisco mansion owned by NBR Rich Lister Richard Bradley.
New Zealand police, acting on instruction from their US counterparts, raided several homes and businesses linked to megaupload.com and arrested Mr Dotcom and three others on accusations they facilitated millions of illegal downloads of films, music and other content, costing copyright holders at least $500 million in lost revenue.
It was the 19th or 20th most visited website in the world.
Mr Dotcom’s Queen's counsel, Paul Davison, says the site had 66 million users worldwide and about 50 million visits every day.
In March, after Mr Dotcom’s release from custody on bail, he carried out his first television interview, with TV3’s John Campbell.
It was broadcast on the Thursday night and by the following Monday it had become the highest published ondemand figure for a single New Zealand programme – achieving 191,606 streams of the full interview.
Broadcasters worldwide, including Rtl Germany, NBC America and Reuters, picked it up.
Interview was the key
It was the interview, according to Auckland-based Sy Engage social media commentator Simon Young, which endeared the jovial German to the New Zealand public.
"If he had not been accessible and part of the conversation I think people would still think ‘some rich guy I don’t know – he deserves whatever he’s getting.’
"As soon as he became part of the conversation, instantly people start to reconsider. If you’re talking about somebody, and then you’re suddenly talking to them, that is a big change,” Mr Young told NBR ONLINE.
Mr Dotcom rejoined Twitter in July and, perhaps unsurprisingly, became an instant hit, attracting 40,000 followers in just over a week.
To celebrate, he even held a "swim with Kim" event at his Coatesville mansion for one of his Twitter followers.
The event, of course, received plenty of media attention, nationally and internationally.
Big business wherever they go
Dressed in his trademark black plants, shirt, jacket and scarf, Mr Dotcom and his entourage, which includes his wife Mona and numerous security staff, are big business wherever they go.
Eager media representatives clamber over top of each other to get a glimpse of him or speak with him as he emerges from court or even when he is about to enter parliament during question time, as he did this week.
For the most part, Mr Dotcom seems happy to oblige, talking to the camera crews as he walks. Mona, on the other hand, is a little more reserved.
Mr Dotcom was in Wellington this week for a Court of Appeal hearing.
The Crown, representing the US government, wants to overturn a High Court decision to make the FBI to hand over information in the Megaupload investigation.
Again, there were almost as many media representatives in the packed courtroom as there were interested onlookers, including other lawyers and police officers.
Those who have studied Mr Dotcom’s interactions with the media say his public likeability comes down to his charm offensive.
MindWorks psychologist Sara Chatwin says Mr Dotcom is fun, larger than life and is not afraid to put his opinions into the public arena.
She says Mr Dotcom is not scared of the media and may have deliberately decided not to let the media intimidate him.
“When you’re on the wrong side of the media, I don’t think anyone loves it. But I think he has utilised the media – he’s certainly not fearful of the media. The media isn’t going to go away,” Ms Chatwin told NBR.
Turning people's attitudes around
Mr Young thinks social media and Mr Dotcom’s earlier decision to get back into Twitter has had a lot to do with turning people’s attitudes around.
“In using social media, he’s made himself really accessible. He’s kind of done ‘judo’ on the authorities. People started to see him much more as a relatable person."
Mr Dotcom admits he has previously been convicted of insider trading and computer hacking in Germany. However, he said those convictions were wiped under Germany's clean-slate legislation.
So how did someone who openly admits he has convictions become so popular with the New Zealand public?
Ms Chetwin thinks the situation, by its very nature, is appealing to some people.
“It’s been very dramatic, there has been a lot of drama – police cars ramming down gates and people being forced down onto car bonnets. It’s been very dramatic, very sensationalised by the media. I think it’s captured people’s attention."
Mr Young says it is a case of David versus Goliath and New Zealanders not wanting to be told what to do by the American authorities.
“He’s managed to appeal to a wide range of people. From the more geeky crowd to the people who love a good story, they’re all interested in Dotcom’s story. We also don’t want to let Americans tell us Kiwis what to do."