News / Africa

Pistorius Trial Judge Notes Pitfalls of Media Attention

Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius (C) leaves after his trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, South Africa, March 4, 2014.
Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius (C) leaves after his trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, South Africa, March 4, 2014.
Anita Powell
The murder trial of South African Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius has attracted unprecedented media attention. The coverage of the story, however, has not been without problems.

Pistorius' closely watched murder trial is the first major South African criminal trial to be broadcast live from within the courtroom.
 
The trial is being played on local radio stations and two South African news providers have started a cable channel dedicated entirely to the case.

But critics say the media attention has had significant issues. Among the critics is the trial's judge, Thokozile Masipa.

On day two of proceedings, Masipa lashed out at local media for publishing a photo of a witness who did not give broadcasters permission to film her testimony. In doing so, Masipa showed while that she may talk very softly, she carries a big stick.

“I must say this is very disturbing, I am warning the media if you do not behave you are not going to be treated with soft gloves by this court,” she said.

Media mistake

University of the Witwatersrand journalism professor Anton Harber said the media outlets, including a prominent TV news station that ran a photo of witness Michelle Burger on screen along with her testimony, made a mistake.

"I think it was very foolish of the media to run a picture of the witness when it is clear that courts were trying to protect her. I think technically they may not have been in breach of the rules and regulations, but they were certainly in breach of the spirit, and that is a rather silly thing to do when the judge has her finger hovering over the control button for public broadcast," said Harber.

Pistorius has pleaded not guilty to the charge of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day, 2013. He said he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder when he shot her four times through a locked bathroom door.

In its first two days, the state has tried to use the testimony of Pistorius' neighbors and circumstantial evidence to discredit his story. Each time, defense lawyer Barry Roux has methodically tried to pick apart the witnesses .

Varying levels of professionalism

Harber said this level of skill and detail, though, is not typical.

“Well, this is representative of the best of South African justice, when media scrutiny and lots of money means everyone’s on their best behavior and have all the resources they need. But this is rich man’s justice in a country where, in most cases, and cases of this sort are not unusual in South Africa, the defense, and often the accusers, would often have no defense, the prosecutor would often be overworked and underprepared, and you never know about the behavior of the judge or magistrate," said Harber.

To see that, one need look no further than the Pretoria High Court.

Court GD, where Pistorius is being tried, is a hive of media activity. Reporters madly type in the packed media seats. Photographers lurk outside the courtroom. Across the street, media organizations have erected a virtual tent camp.  

But just down the hall, a court has been listening for months to the wrenching tale of Zanele Khumalo. Her's is a common  tale in South Africa, where a woman is killed every eight hours by her intimate partner.

Zanele was 18 and five months pregnant. Her 26-year-old boyfriend and father of that unborn child, Thato Kutumela, was found guilty in January of raping and murdering her in 2011.

The case has dragged on for more than two years since then. On Thursday, Kutumela is due to be sentenced in the High Court.

No one expects the case or the verdict to garner much attention. The eyes of the world will be looking just down the hall, at Oscar Pistorius.

  • Oscar Pistorius leaves the high court in Pretoria, April 14, 2014.
  • Oscar Pistorius outside the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, April 10, 2014.
  • Jane Steenkamp, Reeva Steenkamp's mother is comforted by a relative after her dead daughter's picture was shown on screen during the trial of Oscar Pistorius at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, April 9, 2014.
  • Family members, including uncle Arnold Pistorius, right, cry as they listen to Oscar Pistorius testifying in court in Pretoria, April 8, 2014.
  • Oscar Pistorius becomes emotional during his trial at the high court in Pretoria, April 7, 2014.
  • Members of the public crowd around Oscar Pistorius as he leaves the high court, Pretoria, March 12, 2014.

  • Oscar Pistorius cries as he prays with his sister Aimee and brother Carl at his indictment at the magistrates court in Pretoria, August 19, 2013.
  • This aerial image taken from video provided by VNS24/7 shows the home of Oscar Pistorius in a gated housing complex in Pretoria, Feb. 14, 2013.
  • Olympian runner Oscar Pistorius posing next to his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at Melrose Arch in Johannesburg, Jan. 26, 2013.
  • Oscar Pistorius celebrates winning the men's 400 meter final during the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Sept. 8, 2012.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Researcher: Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor at Symposium on Obesity, Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome says problem involves more than calorie intake, warns of worldwide health impact More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Roy Devenish from: Pretoria
March 06, 2014 5:47 AM
Pretoria News has, in fact, carried substantial reports on the Khumalo case during the course of the trial. To the best of my knowledge the case is adjourned until Friday for judgment.

by: Micheal Wade from: Puerto Rico
March 04, 2014 12:24 PM
Why did he shoot 4 times! When he shot once it sounds like she was screaming to tell him it was her in the bathroom! Something is wrong with his side of events!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thoughti
X
George Putic
May 26, 2015 9:26 PM
Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

VOA Blogs