Oscar Pistorius trial: Media m

Oscar Pistorius trial: Media misdemeanours during the first week

After a groundbreaking judgment that allowed media to broadcast the Oscar Pistorius trial, we look at how well the media has shaped up in the first week of proceedings at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.

Oscar Pistorius trial: Media m


This week has seen the start of the most infamous trial in years, as Oscar Pistorius arrived in court and witnesses from neighbours to an ex-girlfriend have taken the stand.

Thanks to the decision made last week, the trial is subject to more media frenzy than normal as the whole thing is allowed to air on radio and fixed TV cameras are set up in the courtroom.

But the week has not gone perfectly for the journalists who flocked to cover the case and Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa has made her strict position clear. She even started Friday morning’s proceedings by saying “If you misbehave, you will be chucked out.” So what has gone wrong?

Witness picture shown on TV

As previously reported, an image of Michelle Burger, who gave evidence on the first day as one of Pistorius’s neighbours, was shown on Tuesday. The photo was taken from the website of her workplace, the University of Pretoria.

ENCA, the offending channel, apologised, saying it was an unintentional misunderstanding of the court order made to govern the media coverage. Patrick Conroy, Group Head of News, said: “We did not understand the court order issued by Judge Mlambo to prevent this — we understood it only to apply to pictures taken of witnesses during the court proceedings.”

Regardless of the reasons behind the mistake, the media need to be careful. They should be erring on the side of caution rather than assuming what they can get away with and facing the consequences later.

Judge Masipa was not impressed, and said that this was just the “tip of the iceberg”. She added that she was able to revoke permission to broadcast the rest of the trial.

If the media do not treat the court order with total respect and avoid any possibility of crossing the line, they could risk losing similar leniencies in the future and other trials could therefore be less transparent.

Witness phone number read on air

Barry Roux, defence, read the phone number of Charl Johnson, another witness and Burger’s husband, out loud in court on Tuesday, and this was broadcast on television when it should not have been.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel has since brought up concerns of witness harassment and Johnson himself complained of receiving a “large number” of calls including a voicemail that said: “Why are you lying in court? We know Oscar didn’t kill Reeva. It’s not cool.”

Johnson also told the court: “It keeps on ringing so I keep it off. I feel my privacy has been compromised severely.”

This is unacceptable and could even obstruct the administration of justice if future witnesses, in this or any other televised trials, become scared that the same thing could happen to them.

Oscar Trial Channel Twitter account

140 characters are definitely too restraining and this is proving the case for the official Oscar Trial Channel’s Twitter account.

Their constant coverage throughout the trial is impressive, with a clear desire to be a reliable source for their readers and viewers. However, many of the tweets are either riddled with typos, likely due to having been written at speed, or simply do not have enough space to explain what they mean and often leave the thought dangling before simply moving on.

Considering court reporting is traditionally supposed to be accurate above all else, this Twitter coverage is simply not doing what is necessary to inform readers who may not be consistently getting news about the trial from anywhere else.

With over 71,000 followers, the authors of the Oscar Trial Channel tweets have a responsibility to do it right and they have some fine tuning to do.

Examples of the imperfect tweets: