On 25th February Justice Dunstan Mlambo gave confirmation that remotely operated cameras would be allowed to record proceedings in the trial of Paralympic icon Oscar Pistorius. Three South African media companies: MultiChoice, eNCA and Eyewitness News, put forward the request to film the trial under the guise of it being in the public interest to present evidence from the case. The introduction of cameras into the court room, according to Justice Mlambo, aims to increase transparency and trust in the South African judicial system. However it opens the system – and those in other countries that may choose to follow a similar policy – to a whole new catalogue of issues.

Since the opening of the trial, seemingly endless coverage and updates have been plastered across international news platforms. Images of Pistorius portraying numerous emotional states all seem to blur into a collage of a downtrodden and fragile man being crucified by a flurry of media interest. From the start the process was flawed as some vital evidence will be withheld from the public in the interests of maintaining the privacy and dignity of those involved. If the interest was really in the freedom of information, all details would be released. And while the dignity of witnesses is being preserved, the dignity of Pistorius is ignored.

The question we should be asking is: why is there such intense media interest? Would such an important decision as letting the filming of trials occur have been taken had circumstances been different?

Oscar Pistorius became the poster boy of Paralympic sport, a story of incredible achievement through adversity. Reeva Steenkamp was a beautiful, well-known TV personality. In the last year there were over 16,000 murders in South Africa yet there was no question of these trials being televised. Pistorius, the witnesses and the family and friends of Reeva Steenkamp deserve privacy. There is no reason why Pistorius’ success should be taken as a justification for making a spectacle of his downfall.

A person’s innocence or guilt is, in South Africa, determined by a judge. A comprehensively trained and analytical independent body. Judge Thokozile Masipa should, hopefully, make the correct decision to punish Pistorius according to the crimes the evidence suggests he committed. However, the media have generated a situation in which public perception is formed by snapshots, highlights and ‘best bits’ replacing the long, intense process of a criminal trial. eNCA, one of the media groups who initially made the appeal, even has a ‘Collection of the Best Clips’, just in case you want to experience a man’s life being torn apart but don’t want to fully commit to it.

The Judge’s decision should be trusted but in this situation, regardless of the verdict, people will be happy to produce ill-informed opinions. By allowing only some of the evidence to be revealed, a dangerous perception can be created that the presiding judge will be wrong in her decision. This serves more to undermine trust in the system rather than encourage it. The only benefit for the media companies being able to film the courtroom is money and popularity. The more footage they can produce, the more traffic they get on their website, the more views they have on their news programmes and the more advertisers are willing to pay. What relationship does that have to justice?

The decision to allow the trial of Paralympic icon Oscar Pistorius to be televised is deeply unsettling. It paves the way for a justice system far weaker in its impartiality and credibility, one that sensationalises crime and the misfortune of those involved.

If an ordinary citizen of South Africa was, in their view, wrongly accused of a crime, I highly doubt their support for this public annihilation would extend to their own trial. After all, everyone has the right to privacy.

The principle of a court is that you are innocent until proven guilty. This move makes the harsh realities of criminal trials into a pseudo-reality TV show. Is Oscar guilty? Text ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to 80909. Texts will be charged at your standard operator rate. Please ask the bill payer’s permission. Vote now for your chance to win the Pistorius Trial: Director’s Cut DVD and an ‘I <3 Justice’ T-shirt. Terms and conditions apply.

BY: PETER MITCHELL

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References:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/03/cameras-in-court-threat-justice

www.enca.com/south-africa/viral-seen-court-day-eight-collection-best-clips

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/oscar-pistorius/10660023/Oscar-Pistorius-trial-to-be-broadcast-on-TV-rules-South-African-judge.html

https://africacheck.org/factsheets/factsheet-south-africas-official-crime-statistics-for-201213/