Constitutional Hill

Pistorius on TV: The public’s interest vs. the public interest

On Wednesday, various media groups approached the court for permission to broadcast aspects of the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius live on television and radio. The application raises important constitutional questions about the manner in which the court should deal with the intense public interest (not necessarily to be conflated with the public interest) in the Pistorius case while jealously guarding the right of the accused to receive a fair trial.

When Oscar Pistorius goes on trial on 3 March in the North Gauteng High Court for the killing of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, an army of journalists from across the world will pack into the courtroom, crouched over their laptops, smart phones and tablets, ready to “live tweet” every detail of the trial to the inquisitive public.

Only a few family members of the accused and the deceased and the journalists seated in the public gallery will be able to witness proceedings in the trial.

BT (Before Twitter), the general public would not have had immediate access to every word and gesture of the prosecutors, the accused and the various witnesses called to testify in the trial. The public would have had to rely on second hand reports provided by journalists during breaks in the proceedings.

Twitter has changed all this.

Following proceedings in a criminal trial on Twitter can have an immediacy and can provide nuance and detail about the testimony and cross-examination of witnesses that can make or break the reputation of witnesses.

As the bail hearing of Oscar Pistorius demonstrated, in the age of Twitter it is very difficult to protect the privacy or the dignity of a witness in a criminal trial. Journalists “live tweeted” the testimony of former detective Hilton Botha, leading to widespread ridicule on social media.

However, this does not mean that the court should allow the broadcasting of proceedings in a criminal trial if this would negate the fair trial rights of the accused. Nevertheless, because there are no jury trials in South Africa and because our courts assume that the judge and assessors will not easily be swayed by media reports on a trial, the dangers posed to fair trial rights by the broadcasting of a trial is probably often overstated.

Those who oppose the broadcasting of criminal trials on radio and television argue that the presence of radio and TV in court could be too invasive, could intimidate or overwhelm witnesses, could infringe on the accused’s right to privacy, could inhibit interactions between counsel and the bench, and could turn the trial into a media circus in which prosecutors, defence lawyers and even the judge “act” for the cameras to the detriment of the accused and his or her right to a fair trial.

To counter this, lawyers for the media groups asking to broadcast the Pistorius trial are arguing that modern technology would enable the operation of TV cameras via remote control, making them relatively unobtrusive. They have also agreed that “unconsenting witnesses” would not be filmed, thus protecting such witnesses against an invasion of their privacy.

Despite these arguments it is not clear that the court will grant permission to the media groups to broadcast aspects of the trial live on radio and television.

In deciding whether to grant permission for the broadcasting of most aspects of the Pistorius trial, the court will have to rely on the general principles set out by the Constitutional Court in South African Broadcasting Corporation Ltd v National Director of Public Prosecutions and Others.

This case dealt with an application by the SABC to broadcast the proceedings before the Supreme Court of Appeal in the appeal of Schabir Shaik against his conviction for fraud and corruption.

The majority of the Constitutional Court explained that when considering whether to broadcast court proceedings, the overriding interest to consider was not that of the broadcasters but that of the public and of the accused.

A strong constitutional consideration to take into account when deciding on whether to grant permission to broadcast court proceedings was the right of South Africans to know and understand the manner in which one of the three arms of government – the judiciary – functioned.

The judicial function should not, said the court, be “shrouded in mystique and protected at all times from the prying eye of the camera or the invasive ear of the microphone”.

The right of the people to be informed of judicial processes presupposes that courts are open and accessible. The fact that courts do their work in the public eye is a key mechanism for ensuring their accountability.

The Constitutional Court pointed out in the Shaik case that section 35(3)(c) of the Constitution includes as one of the aspects of the right to a fair trial, the right to “a public trial before an ordinary court”.

Several advantages could thus be associated with the broadcasting of court proceedings. Open courtrooms are likely to limit high-handed behaviour by judicial officers and to prevent railroaded justice.

Open justice could therefore be said to be an important part of that right to a fair trial and thus served as a great bulwark against abuse.

Courts should in principle welcome public exposure of their work in the court room, subject of course to their obligation to ensure that proceedings are fair. The foundational constitutional values of accountability, responsiveness and openness apply to the functioning of the judiciary as much as to other branches of government. These values underpin both the right to a fair trial and the right to a public hearing (ie the principle of open court rooms). The public is entitled to know exactly how the judiciary works and to be reassured that it always functions within the terms of the law and according to time-honoured standards of independence, integrity, impartiality and fairness.

In the subsequent case of Independent Newspapers (Pty) Ltd v Minister for Intelligence Services (Freedom of Expression Institute as Amicus Curiae) In re: Masetlha v President of the Republic of South Africa and Another, the Constitutional Court affirmed the constitutional imperative of dispensing justice in the open.

This systemic requirement of openness in our society flows from the very founding values of our Constitution, which enjoin our society to establish democratic government under the sway of constitutional supremacy and the rule of law in order, amongst other things, to ensure transparency, accountability and responsiveness in the way courts and all organs of state function. From the right to open justice flows the media’s right to gain access to, observe and report on, the administration of justice and the right to have access to papers and written arguments which are an integral part of court proceedings subject to such limitations as may be warranted on a case-by-case basis in order to ensure a fair trial.

However, because the Shaik case dealt with an appeal – and not a criminal trial as such – the ringing endorsement of open justice to be found in the Shaik judgment is not directly applicable to the Pistorius case. Neither is the Independent Newspapers case, which dealt with the question of whether certain court documents could be kept secret, directly applicable to the question raised by the Pistorius application.

In fact, the Constitutional Court in the Shaik case suggested that it would be inappropriate to permit radio or television broadcasting of a criminal trial proper, remarking that:

no one suggested that the electronic media should be permitted to broadcast criminal trial proceedings when evidence is led and witnesses are cross-examined. Ordinarily, it will not be in the interests of justice for trial proceedings to be subjected to live broadcasts.

The court reasoned that the right to privacy of each individual witness was of overriding importance. Where this right was infringed, it could lead to an unfair trial and could conflict with “the public interest in a democratic criminal justice system” which brings wrongdoers to book while ensuring that justice is done to them. This was so because there was a real danger that witnesses would be prejudiced, intimidated, inhibited or prevented from communicating sensibly by the thought of having to appear on television.

Nevertheless, the court also quoted with approval a passage from a lower court judgment indicating that where both the State and the defence witnesses consented to the televising of their evidence, this would not necessarily render the trial unfair.

The Shaik judgment was handed down BT (Before Twitter) in 2006. Although there are indeed dangers inherent in the broadcasting of a criminal trial – amply demonstrated by the media circus that developed during the OJ Simpson trial – I would argue that these dangers could easily be managed by a competent judge who is in control of his or her courtroom and is able to manage the media by issuing the appropriate guidance or instructions.

The fact is that even if permission is not granted to broadcast the Pistorius case on radio and television, witnesses are going to be exposed to the immediate reporting allowed by Twitter. As long as the media use Twitter in a manner that does not undermine the right to a fair trial and as long as the presiding judge ensures that the media is kept in check, this will not affect the fairness of the trial.

If you take into account that new technology – including Twitter – has made it almost impossible to shield witnesses entirely from public scrutiny and publicity, and that there is no empirical evidence to suggest that a properly run trial broadcast on radio and television would in fact threaten the fairness of a trial, I cannot see why prelimiary permission should not be granted to broadcast certain aspects of the trial.

But given the mixed signals sent by the Constitutional Court jurisprudence on the matter (discussed above), it is far from clear that such permission would indeed be granted by the court to broadcast aspects of the trial – including the testimony of witnesses who had agreed to it.

  • Ben Pooler

    All these considerations exclude the rights of victims to some level of privacy. I know if it was my child who was murdered, I would not like the proceedings turned into a voyeuristic tabloid circus like the OJ Simpson trial.

  • Umkondo

    In what way does public scrutiny, no matter how intense or widespread, infringe on a person’s right to privacy in a public court?
    The moment anything becomes a matter to be decided in a public court, there is no more privacy unless there are compelling reasons for it (like the identity of a child victim of rape), in which case it doesn’t matter if it involves one person or a billion people.
    From time immemorial, public decisions on legal matters, whether made by a king, chief or judge, were held in the open for all to witness.
    The world has become a global village, and the media simply enables those not able to sit in a court to be witness to its proceedings.
    To argue, therefore, that people would be “intimidated” by it is absurd. How much less would a villager 500 years ago have felt intimidated by testifying before the entire village in which he lives and works every day?

  • 12040691

    Now that the Oscar Pistorius trial is underway, it is interesting to note how things have unfolded. Since the broadcasting of the trial has been permitted, and now that the grey-areas of media coverage have
    been clarified and resolved during the early stages of the trial, we can now see the immense response to the coverage of the trial and the effects thereof.

    To me, what has been most revealing of the majority of the South African public as a result of the broadcasting of the trial is how ignorant we are of judicial processes, procedures, rules and
    regulations. Some people’s comments on Twitter and other social media with regard to the trial are shocking as they expose just how little the average citizen knows about our law. However, this is where the coverage of the trial has afforded us the incredible opportunity of seeing first-hand how things unfold inside the courtroom.

    Even though we have open courtrooms, very few of us actually set foot inside the courts, and therefore must rely on often biased reporting of trials and courtroom happenings. However, the broadcasting of the Oscar Pistorius trial has given us the opportunity to see the truth of what happens in the courtroom; what was actually said (without the sensationalist twist), which points were established (without dramatic emphasis), how the accused responded (without emotional details) etc. However, this new-found freedom and
    inside-look into the courtroom has also opened up a can of worms in the form of ignorant opinions, slanderous remarks, unfounded judgements and not-so-factual facts being re-tweeted along with fake Twitter accounts, all in the name of getting attention. The truth is we all want to have our say.

    However, amidst the hype and sensationalism around the trial of our ‘fallen hero’, the broadcasting of this case has given me, as a law student, a lot of insight into what truly happens in court; the structure
    of arguments, the role of the Judge and her assessors, the styles of legal giants and the general procedures in the halls where justice (should) prevail. At least the glamorous image that series such as Suits and The Good Wife has created about lawyers has been stripped away and we now realise what a harsh and cold place the courtroom really is.

  • Danielle Steen

    The key question in the debate has to be whether the television access the the trial is really for the sake of public interest and the promotion of transparency with regards to the functioning of the judicial arm of government, or is it about the overwhelming interest that the public has displayed in the case?

    Never before was there such an interest in a case in our South African justice system but up to this point it has always been open and transparent in its processes, this we know as courts are always open to the public and the press to come sit in on proceedings and report on them if they so wish. Not having access to a courtroom through a television screen by no means infringes on our right to know how the judicial branch functions as it will still have the same open access it has had in the past. Whether we choose to use this function is up to us and the choice taken of not witnessing a trial first hand is one we make, the government does not make it for us and as such they have no responsibility to broaden an already open doorway that the public chooses to ignore.

    Having reporters from every news agency inside the courtroom writing about the day’s happenings and significant findings will by no means limit the public’s access to information as we will still find all the necessary information through newspapers, twitter, blogs, television interviews, just to name a few. I do support the notion of ‘we have the right to know’ but we do not necessarily have the right to choose in which form would be most preferable and convenient to us.

    My final thought on the matter is whether the courts considered the economic implication of their decision to allow the television broadcasting of the trial. For the better part of a month South Africans have been glued to television screens all over the country watching every movement made in court, has anyone stopped to consider the drop in productivity we as a nation are experiencing because of this? Would it not have been better for the workforce of the nation to receive a summation of the day in court via newspapers and other forms of media instead of spending the better part of the day devoting half our attention to a trial that will effectively have no impact on the daily functioning of the judicial system or the country as a whole once its over?

  • Jackline Kiarie

    The media is a powerful instrument of information which
    should be utilized vigilantly. The accused is usually tired both in the media
    and in the court of law. It is essential for them to ensure that the news which
    they broadcast is based on facts and not on personal feelings or opinions.

    On the one hand enabling the media to make such newscasts
    ensures that the news which they are broadcasting is accurate and unbiased because
    its straight from the source in contrast to it being reported based on a secondary
    or tertiary source.

    On the other hand I think the media being allowed to make such
    broadcasts desensitizes the viewer from the actual tragedy. Nevertheless the victim (in this case the
    deceased) would want to be granted an opportunity to convey their story to the
    public and the accused would want to be able to vindicate his or her innocence in
    court and to the public.

  • Tayla Moorley

    I agree with Umkondo.
    Every person has the right to court access. Any person may sit in the gallery during any case. It can therefore be said that all other trials and cases have been made available to the public. The Oscar case has too been made available to the public. The fact that the trial is being broadcasted is merely to satisfy the immense interest that the public has shown in the case. The gallery cannot seat thousands, and therefore the span of trial coverage has to be widened-to afford
    every person access to the trial. This case is no different to others, as the material facts are common in domestic disputes. The difference is however, that Oscar is a well-known celebrity, who has fallen off the pedestal on which the public has placed him. The public should have the right to access the trial in full, be it visually, an audio version, or on a social media platform. Whilst it is often argued that the trial’s broadcast is for the public interest, it is also a platform for South Africa to display its judicial system; a mechanism used to “enable the South African society to get a firsthand look at the trial” and to dispel “negative and unfound perceptions about the justice system”.

    I believe that the media coverage will have no effect on the Judge and her Assessors. As members of the Judicial Authority, they should apply the law partially, without fear, favour or prejudice.

  • Tiphaine 14428360

    The Pistorius case is special because he is a famous sportsman, hence the issue of broadcasting. The news from a trial should be based on facts, not on opinions. The broadcasting of the trial portrays what actually happens in the courtroom without event being distorted in newspapers. However, this can quickly lead to an unhealthy interest in the accused, and turn into voyeurism. The broadcasting desensitizes the public from the real event, and trial becomes a movie, or a show. For example, Oscar’s attorney, Barry Roux, is mocked and parodied for his gestures and when Oscar threw up, hundreds of newspaper articles were published although it was of no importance regarding the trial itself. The above mentioned may therefore pose the question whether the accused dignity is infringed in the process. Furthermore, the right of the victim and his family to privacy is called into question when the trial is broadcasted as every detail of the trial is disclosed.

  • Melissa Harmse

    As stated BT
    (before twitter) the public had to wait on newspapers and news reports the following
    day to keep up to date with a case they followed. Nowadays they have first hand
    information on every single bit of detail in the media cases. I can agree with
    the fact that the TV and radio in court could be to invasive for the witnesses.
    This could , as stated above , turn the trail into a circus because of the act
    everyone then will put on , which can lead to an unfair trail for the accused. The
    witnesses as well as the accused privacy will still be protected in way , but
    still they will be in the media. It is still not clear if permission by the
    court will be granted , which leads me to my next point. Why broadcast? The testimony
    of individuals as well as the accused deserves their privacy and fair change to
    state themselves without the influence of media and the stress feeling of being
    on TV or radio. If I could say this , if I was in a position like that I would
    not prefer the media in any matter near the case , it will influence me for

  • Melissa Harmse

    As stated BT
    (before twitter) the public had to wait on newspapers and news reports the following
    day to keep up to date with a case they followed. Nowadays they have first hand
    information on every single bit of detail in the media cases. I can agree with
    the fact that the TV and radio in court could be to invasive for the witnesses.
    This could , as stated above , turn the trail into a circus because of the act
    everyone then will put on , which can lead to an unfair trail for the accused. The
    witnesses as well as the accused privacy will still be protected in way , but
    still they will be in the media. It is still not clear if permission by the
    court will be granted , which leads me to my next point. Why broadcast? The testimony
    of individuals as well as the accused deserves their privacy and fair change to
    state themselves without the influence of media and the stress feeling of being
    on TV or radio. If I could say this , if I was in a position like that I would
    not prefer the media in any matter near the case , it will influence me for

  • Aalia Kharbai

    I believe that there is both possitive and negative aspects regarding the involvement of the media during the Oscar Trial.

    One one hand it is a good thing as it is an effective and simple way to keep everyone informed in the progress of the trial, while participating in daily chores and duties one can be kept uo to date. Oscar has been South Africa’s Golden Boy for a good few years, an idol for many, to them it is vital that they know whats happening as it happens.
    On the other hand there is a downfall to the medias 24/7 coverage of the trial, the deciding factor of whether or not Oscar is guilty can be highly influenced by the media and public, and like mentioned previously it will become more of an act for the cameras and this could result in an unfair verdict.

    I for one do enjoy being able to watch the trial and its progress live.

  • Juliun Giovanni Vannucci

    After the court’s ruling in favour of live public broadcast of the Oscar Pistorius case the general public has been given an exclusive and unprecedented experience of viewing the court proceedings live. Most individuals in South Africa have never seen the inside of a court room, even fewer have seen a murder trial in action. From talking to my peers and people in the community I have gathered that the general feeling toward South Africa’s judicial system is not positive. We hear about the backlog of cases and general administrative difficulties and assume that our courts are absolutely chaotic. I feel that this public court proceedings broadcast has enlightened South Africans by explaining how the court system works and showing that there are strict policies and procedures in place. The broadcasting of this case could do great things for the public’s opinion of the court system.

  • Khomotso Kekana

    The right to a fair trial is one that can be infringed easily, especially in this day and age of these social networks, Twitter being one of them. it used to be easier to keep the happenings of the courtroom in the courtroom and to protect the witnesses from public scrutiny before Twitter but these days every word that is said by a lawyer, judge or witness immidiately goes onto the social networks which was not the case before.
    The broadcasting of this case would teach a lot of South Africans about the way the legal system works and it will make them trust the system more than they currently do as then they would know that the judiciary is cometent but this could also be a disadvantage as it could also reveal the suspected incompetence which would also be a good thing because then it can be fixed but the public would lose whatever little trust they have in the sytem which would result in a higher crime rate.
    In terms of whether the Oscar Pistorrius trial is to be broadcasted on national television or not, it would generate a lot of money for the broadcasters thus their lawyers would work tirelessly to make sure that they find a gap in the law that would allow the companies to broadcast it and even if it was not to be broadcasted on TV people would still know about it due to the social networks thus it is almost impossible to limit what the public knows about the trial.

  • 14057396

    I think we should take advantage of the
    advancement of technology. People are obviously curious about what will take
    place because he was a well-respected celebrity and now his reputation is
    ruined. The information that will be released on Twitter should be objective
    and unbiased. But then again, the media does have the reputation to
    sensationalise everything. The witnesses’ right to privacy is protected as
    those who did not want to be named, do not have to be. All rights and duties
    were obeyed. A proficient judge will know how to handle matters in the
    courtroom. The media’s role in this case is to show how the judiciary
    functions, broadcasting the trial live will show that our judicial system is
    fair and transparent. I think that will be a good way to show the country’s
    progress on an international level, since this is an international case. The
    family of the victim may be distraught after discussing the murder in detail,
    they will be reminded about it quite often because it will be publicly
    broadcasted however, and this could bring them closure in time. The trial has
    to be broadcasted in a dignified manner in order for everyone to be pleased.

  • Nicole Austin

    I agree with views and opinions above. With technology changing rapidly I feel it is only fair to allow the media access to broadcast the trail. Due to Oscar being a public figure and sports hero to many young children and Reeva also being a public figure this raises the interest of the public into the case. The public interest in this case is not only adults but also includes young aspiring athletes. The younger generations are more prone to use social media networks such as Twitter, which is at the fingertips of anyone who has a smartphone or a computer. With the trail being broadcast it will allow South Africans to see how our justice system works. It will prove to many that everyone is entitled to a fair trail. Broadcasting the trail will give the public a first hand view of what is happening and what is going on in the trail. It will not allow any news reports to be interpreted in the wrong ways. However, we must still consider the rights of the witnesses that will testify in the trail. With the trail being broadcast the witnesses will be subjected to media invasion. This infringes on their right to privacy but with all the social networking it makes it almost impossible to hide anything from the media or public. By broadcasting the cross-examination this could discourage other potential witnesses to testify in court. We must also look at the rights of the victims family and their right to privacy. I feel that it would be to the best interest of the public and the court to broadcast the trail and I feel that if the judge is component in keeping the media under his or her control it would prevent this trail from turning into a media circus. With the rapid changes in media and social networking it is only fitting that the trail be broadcast to the public.

  • 13203241

    I agree with what has been stated above there are in fact two sides to publicizing the Oscar trial.
    People have the right to know what is going on in their country and how the justice system works.
    However even though witnesses have the choice to be shown on television,they may not want to be involved in the public saga and their every word is recorded and posted to twitter which violates their right to privacy.
    The Oscar trial has been turned into a media circus, had Oscar Pistorius been any other human being other than a public figure the trial would not have been broadcast to such an extent that people can make jokes and ridicule the accused and his advocate Barry Roux.
    Although it has been an interesting few weeks watching the trial and how the system works I believe it would have been better for the public not to have witnessed the proceedings and just learnt of the outcomes of the trial instead of channels capitalizing on the broadcast of the trial.

  • Tahlita Vanwyk

    The question remains if the witnesses and Oscar are influenced by the media coverage? Is the media now the judge and jury? The difficult question remains if the trail in being judged fairly and objectively. The media has shown to have a great influence in the past, as in the O.J Simpson case.

    The media has a huge influence on the witnesses, putting them under pressure and intensifying the experience, as if it is not enough to face adv Barry Roux on its own. The print media focuses on the sensational parts of the trial and in comparison, the broadcasting of the full trial could bring the public into the courtroom. The public is easily swayed by the media, making the writers opinion their own. Twitter has changed some of these aspects, because it is a live stream of facts and opinion that can be mixed.

  • Janice Ncube 13203747

    I believe there are positive and negative aspects regarding the broadcasting of Oscar Pistorius’ trial and Iagree with the opinions stated above. The courts should not at all be affected
    by the broadcasting of this trial and should not be biased by this media
    coverage and should be able to give a fair trial under any circumstances as we believe they are a fair legal system. The public is already uncertain about the Constitutional Court and how they handle this case as it involves a famous athlete and for this uncertainty to be cleared broadcasting the proceedings to
    the public will ease their uncertainty. The public has a right to know how the justice system works in South Africa especially with regard such a sensitive case; they want to be assured that the system is fair regardless of the people involved in the trial.
    As long as the witnesses’ rights are not violated I believe the trial should be broadcast as the public is very much interested about the trial proceedings.
    But,we should consider the fact that if Oscar wasn’t a famous athlete then this trail was not going to attract as much media attention as it is now. The public become more interested in this trail because of the person involved and pay close attention to the judgment and ruling to ensure it is fair and unbiased in any way.

  • S. Klopper 14212987

    Since this article was written,
    the Oscar Pistorius trial has been permitted to be broadcast on live
    television, radio, and social media outlets such as twitter. Apart from
    ensuring that the public has access to free and open information (which is an
    expectation of this day and age) and that the courts do their work and can be
    held accountable, as a law student, I
    can honestly say, not only has the live television broadcasting (on channel 199
    on DSTV) kept me up to date with the proceedings of the Pistorius trial, it has
    given me such an in depth insight as to how exactly the judicial process, the
    court and criminal procedure works, the importance of witnesses, detail and
    language used by the court, and much more. All of which I could not have dreamed
    of learning at such an early stage in my career. With 24 hour access to the
    trials outcomes of the day, professional and international opinion, and
    round-the-clock debate, I am constantly learning new things about the law,
    which will no doubt serve me in my future profession.

  • 14200059

    In today’s technologically advanced society, is it any surprise that a court case can be broadcasted live or shared openly on social media networks? Advancements such as these can benefit the public’s interest and provide as being educational. However, the fairness of a trail should be in no case affected by technology and media influence. The courts and proceedings should all be based on the law and therefore should remain objective throughout a trial. If they are influenced and become subjective based on public scrutiny and publicity then there is an obvious problem in the legal system that will then need to be addressed.

    It could be argued that there is an infringement of the right to privacy for the parties involved but, when dealing with the Oscar trial, we understand that Oscar Pistorius is a popular public figure or celebrity owing to his athletic career. We also know that his deceased girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, was a popular model. Therefore, the huge interest in the trial is to be expected. When a person chooses a career path that will lead to popularity and celebrity status they need to accept that their lives will be in the limelight, especially when it comes to serious incidents like the one at hand.

  • Lorenzo(13289722)

    Any persons right to privacy can be infringed in today’s era seeing that technology is so
    advanced and we have social networking, personally I feel that it’s wrong to
    broadcast the trial for many reasons, one of them are “Privacy” all the parties
    involved in the case rights to privacy have been violated as well as their
    personality rights. The fact that the case is in the public’s eye can in my
    opinion influence Judge Masipa’s ruling due to the large amount of “eye’s” on
    the case. But then again I am not against
    the fact that it has been broadcast because it teaches the people of South
    Africa how the Jury system works and it ensures the courts accountability.

  • Lalela Radebe(14212774)

    Personally, I think it is unfair for Oscar Pistorius’ case to be broadcasted on TV. As any other South African he has the right to privacy. However, as a well known athletic its in the public’s interest to be able to watch the trial. The public will not be forced to believe influenced reports from newspapers and radio broadcasts. The public gets to have a live broadcast which allows them to see and hear for themselves what really took place during the early hours of the 14th of February 2013.

  • Guest

    I believe that there some advantages as well as disadvantages to the broadcasting of the Oscar Pistorius case.

    The disadvantages are:

    – the media likes to sensationalize a lot of the information that is printed and even tweeted, which makes it very difficult to determine whether the information is true or not
    – witnesses could feel that their right to privacy has been infringed
    – witnesses could feel intimidated , knowing that it will be published/ seen world wide and some may even put up an act for the cameras
    – the case is open to public scrutiny, an example thereof is Barry Roux being mocked and made fun of just for doing his job
    – a percentage of the public believes that this case has been blown out of proportion just because Oscar is seen as a celebrity. Why was the Anene Booysen case not open to the public as well?

    The advantages are:

    – the South African legal system is “put on display” for all to see, as well as the transparency thereof
    – using social media to obtain information about the case , is fast and easily accessible
    – by broadcasting the case it could give the public a glimpse into the legal world and how it really works
    – gives the public the opportunity to form their own opinions regarding the case
    – may restore the public’s faith in the South African legal system

    I believe that broadcasting the case will not effect the Judge’s opinion in any way and that the public has a right to know what is going to happen to the former golden boy, Oscar Pistorius

    Ideally a University is a place where young people will be relatively free to
    explore new ideas, to question widely accepted beliefs or cultural practices,
    to experiment, to reconsider received dogma, to make mistakes and to question
    the wisdom of their elders and those in authority.

    Students who attend
    such an institution are extraordinarily privileged as they are often given the
    space and the ability to acquire the tools to begin to decide for themselves
    who they are, what ideological course they want to chart, and according to
    which norms and values they wish to live their lives.

    In such an institution
    students are free to pursue different forms of knowledge – both inside and
    outside the classroom. In dorm rooms, in cafeterias, in bars, in political
    meetings and even in the library, students making the best of the opportunity
    will pursue new and exciting forms of academic knowledge and ideas as well as
    knowledge and ideas about themselves and the larger world in which they live.

    A good University is
    also one where the opportunities exist for students to learn more from fellow
    students who are different from them (because of their race, their sexual
    orientation, their language or their class) and about the wider world in which
    they live.

    At a mediocre
    University, on the other hand, these opportunities will not exist or will be
    curtailed by a semi-authoritarian or group-based culture which may punish or
    discourage individuality, otherness and creativity.

    In such a University
    the management and student leaders will be scared of free thought and will try
    to stifle free speech and debate. Older students will try to impose their
    authority and the culture of loyalty to the “group” on new students through
    initiation practices and through other forms of social control.

    In such a mediocre
    institution conformity and loyalty to the group will be prized above all else
    and respect for (certain forms of) authority will be inculcated through fear,
    group pressure and by playing on students’ eagerness to belong and not to be

    That is why, in my
    opinion, allowing any form of “initiation” of first year students at a
    University is a sure sign that the institution has embraced educational
    mediocrity (in the broadest sense) in the name of loyalty to the group and in
    the name of tradition. “Initiation” is the handmaiden of group conformity and
    “groupthink” and the enemy of real and critical thought, reflection and deep

    Matters are made worse
    when, as part of the process of enforcing conformity through initiation, first
    year students – under the guise of “tradition” and of “having fun” – are
    required to give the Nazi “Sieg Heil” salute to those who are conducting the
    initiation, as happened at the Potchefstroom campus of North West University as
    recently as this year.

    Defenders of this
    practice have made the extraordinary claim that students at North West
    University are not aware that the “Sieg Heil” salute is associated with Adolf
    Hitler and the Nazis, who killed six million Jews, homosexuals and Gypsies
    during the Holocaust. Forcing first year students to execute the “Sieg Heil”
    salute, they claim, was therefore “just” an innocent joke.

    It would, of course, be
    quite a shocking indictment of the quality of Potchefstroom students if they
    were really ignorant about the fact that the “Sieg Heil” salute is now
    practically exclusively associated across the world with the most notorious and
    widely known oppressive regime of the 20th Century.

    Given the fact that
    depictions of Nazism (including the “salute”) permeate popular culture –
    including in innumerable movies, TV series and books – one would have to be
    extraordinarily ignorant and cut off from mainstream culture to be unaware that
    the “Sieg Heil” salute has acquired world-wide notoriety because of its
    association with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party’s crimes against humanity.

    Making the salute is
    prohibited in many countries across Europe on the basis that it symbolises the
    evils of Nazi Germany and because it may be used to re-awaken the bigotry and
    prejudices which lead the mass killing of millions of people because of their
    religious or social origin or sexual orientation.

    I suspect that in
    South Africa, some contexts, the giving of the “Sieg Heil” salute would also
    amount to hate speech in terms of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of
    Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA).

    Section 10 of the Act
    states that no person may publish, propagate, advocate or communicate words
    based on grounds such as ethnic or social origin, religion or culture against
    any person that could reasonably be construed to demonstrate a clear intention
    to be hurtful.

    Because words can also
    be communicated through gestures and because making the “Sieg Heil” salute in a
    manner that seems to endorse or celebrate – not critique – Nazi gestures is
    hurtful to many of us who know that we too would have been targeted for
    extermination by the Nazi’s if we had lived in Europe during the Second World
    War, giving the salute may very well, in certain context, constitute hate
    speech against people of Jewish origin or against gay men and lesbians.

    I might be wrong, but
    I suspect the Potchefstroom students of 2014 may not actually have intended the
    salute to be hurtful to Jews or gay men or lesbians. While any reasonable
    person would view the giving of the Nazi salute as shocking and upsetting,
    wether a reasonable person would construe the enforcement of the salute at
    Potchefstroom initiation ceremonies as intending to hurt Jews or gay men and
    lesbians is, in my opinion, not clear. In other contexts the giving of the
    salute will, however, almost certainly amount to hate speech as defined by

    I would guess that the
    “tradition” of forcing first year students to make the “Sieg Heil” salute may
    have more to do with a nostalgic yearning for the “good old days” of Afrikaner
    Nationalism and Apartheid. After all, during and after the second World War
    Afrikaner Nationalists – especially those who were members of the Ossewa
    Brandwag – displayed strong sympathy for the Nazi’s.

    But the meaning and
    effect of this practice may be more complex.

    Given its origin and
    predominant symbolism, some students may also be attracted to enforcing the
    giving of the “Sieg Heil” salute because it is associated with authoritarianism
    more generally. The well-known film footage of hundreds of thousands of Germans
    giving the “Sieg Heil” salute to pledge allegiance to Hitler and the Nazi party
    (re-enacted in many movies) reminds us of the role the salute played in
    pledging and affirming (in a theatrical manner) the German nations loyalty to
    the Nazi party.

    As such, re-enacting
    the Nazi salute may also be a way of inculcating into first year students the
    belief that they need to belong to the larger group and must display uncritical
    loyalty to that group – just as Germans were expected to display uncritical
    loyalty to the Nazis.

    I would argue the
    salute aims to inculcate into students exactly those values that cannot be
    squared with the well-functioning University. Where it is practiced and
    defended it reaffirms that the dominant student culture aims to promote
    group-think and to discourage critical thinking and reflection. Such a
    culture makes it more difficult to be different, to think different
    thoughts, to live a different life from that imposed by the group culture.

    This imposition of
    conformity is not to be squared with encouraging independent thought at an
    academic institution. After all, education – at its very best – is dangerous:
    it makes people question authority and conventional wisdom and allows them to
    start thinking for themselves, unfettered by the shackles of group pressure.

  • 14011345

    I believe that there are some advantages as well as disadvantages regarding the broadcasting of the Oscar Pistorius case.

    The disadvantages are:
    – the media likes to sensationalize a lot of information, which makes it very difficult to determine whether the information printed/tweeted is true or not
    – witnesses could feel that their right to privacy has been infringed upon
    – witnesses could feel intimidated , knowing that this case will be seen world wide and some may even put up an act for the cameras
    – the case is open to public scrutiny, an example thereof is Barry Roux being mocked and made fun of just for doing his job
    – a percentage of the public feels that this whole case has been blown out of proportion just because Oscar is a celebrity. Why are other cases not open to the public?

    The advantages are:
    – the South African legal system is “put on display” for all to see, as well as the transparency thereof
    – social media is easily accessible and allows people on the move to stay updated with the proceedings in court
    – may restore the public’s faith in the South African legal system
    – gives the public the opportunity to form their own opinions regarding the case

    I believe that broadcasting the case will not effect the Judge’s decision and that the public has a right to know what is happening to the former golden boy, Oscar Pistorius.

  • Sean Janse van Rensburg

    There are certainly some advantages as well as disadvantages when it comes to broadcasting the Oscar trial, however I believe that the advantages way out the disadvantages. This case allows so many people around South Africa to see how our court system operates and appreciate our legal system that is in place. This is especially crucial for many South Africans as we tend to look down on our justice system and do not appreciate the systematic procedures put in place. Broadcasting the case will definitely not influence the judges decision. She is merely there to look at the case from an objective view and I truly believe she will do this. The media will sensationalise the case a bit, but in the end the facts will remain unchanged and that is what is important. We have the right to information and by not broadcasting this case, many citizens rights will be infringed. The media has agreed to not broadcast statements which are deemed to be private and should be commended on their respect for the personal dignity of the witnesses. We live in an incredibly informative era where everyone has such a great desire to know what is going on around them. I believe that it would be incredibly unfair to deny people this information. Oscar chose a career path which will always put him in the lime light. He accepted this in all his glory now it is time that he accepts the media in this low time in his life.

  • 14254949.

    I think that the broadcasting of criminal trials on radio and TV simply supports the principle of open court rooms. Crime is in fact a public matter and I am unable to comprehend why it should be kept within the boundaries of the courtroom. The broadcasting of these would give public exposure and people will be given the chance to know how the judiciary works and to ensure that it always functions according to the law.However, my problem about this is that only selective cases are chosen to be broadcasted on radio and/or TV ,which means that these criminal trials become posed because people are aware that they are on live television – this questions the court’s transparency. I also understand why broadcasting everything could infringe the witnesses’ right to privacy because of the public attention they are expected to get in response to everything that they say. However, if the witnesses agree to testify then they should be prepared to be held accountable;acknowledging that a criminal court trial is a public interest. Social media,especially Twitter is being used as a platform for journalist to feed the public with first hand details and for supporters of the accused to attack the blabbers who negative things to say.

  • Johann van Tonder


    The manner in which the article distinguishes between public interest (also known as in the interest of the public) and public’s interest, which can also be referred to as – the interests of the public in different things. I understood in the article that the main question to be answered here is: Why is the Oscar Trail broadcasted so comprehensively? De Vos does a very nice study of South African Broadcasting Corporation Ltd v National Director of Public Prosecution and Others (CC), and in this case the Judge Ruled that all members of public who have an interest in matters of the court should always be able to enter the court. South African courts must follow the principle of openness.