Pretoria - While the world will not see “Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius testifying in court about how he shot his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, everyone will be able to hear a blow-by-blow account of his version.
Gauteng Judge President Dunstan Mlambo, in a groundbreaking judgment for media freedom and a victory for the people, has permitted live audio broadcasting to MultiChoice and Primedia of the entire trial.
Live television broadcasting of portions of the proceedings will also be allowed, which will include the bulk of the State’s proceedings, as well as the judgment and sentencing, if this becomes applicable.
The judge has allowed for three cameras to be set up in court for this purpose.
The print media, including Independent Newspapers, will also be able to take still pictures of the entire proceedings, subject to much of the same conditions as that of the audiovisual media.
In this regard, two cameras are allowed to be set up in court, and they have to share with the rest of the media pool.
Judge Mlambo said he was aware that some media houses planned to establish 24-hour channels dedicated to the trial and that media experts, including retired judges, would discuss proceedings as they unfolded.
“The so-called trial-by-media implications cannot be in the interest of justice as required in this matter and have the potential to seriously undermine court proceedings.”
The judge added that presiding Judge Matilda Masipa would retain ultimate discretion during the trial regarding aspects of the order he had granted.
The judgment was hailed as paving the way forward for court coverage and displaying an open justice system.
Media lawyer Dario Milo said the judgment was unprecedented and groundbreaking.
“It is an important pillar in our jurisprudence of open justice and how it is developing.”
The media, in their application, stressed that the Pistorius trial had captured the attention of the world. It was said that it was in the public interest that the world be informed about the case as it unfolded.
Pistorius vigorously opposed the application, saying live broadcasting would infringe on his right to a fair trial.
Part of the argument advanced on his behalf was that it would inhibit witnesses giving evidence.
He consented to small portions being broadcasted.
Judge Mlambo was not persuaded that the objection by Pistorius to the coverage of his trial should be jettisoned to the extent he suggests. He found merit in the argument on behalf of the media that acceding to Pistorius’s objection would perpetuate the situation that only a small segment of the population – those who have access to, among others, Twitter, would be able to follow the proceedings.
Acceding to Pistorius’s argument would mean the community had to rely on the summarised versions of journalists to follow the trial.
“Allowing Pistorius’s objection in their entirety will surely jettison the noble objectives of the principle of open justice, when one takes cognisance of our development in the democratic path. In this day and age I cannot countenance a stance that seeks to entrench the workings of the justice system away from the public domain.”
The judge added there was merit in Pistorius’s fears that his witnesses might be somewhat disabled in testifying on live camera. But, he said, audio coverage was not so inhibiting.
“In my view, while there may be no visual image of Pistorius and his witnesses as they testify, they should be heard on radio.”
He said there were many who found it difficult to access the justice system, and they, too, should have a first-hand account of the international icon’s trial.
The judge said that enabling a larger South African society to follow first hand the criminal proceedings involving a celebrity would go a long way in dispelling negative and unfounded perceptions about the justice system “treating the rich and famous with kid gloves while being harsh on the poor and vulnerable”.
One of Pistorius’s lawyers, Brian Webber, said he could not comment yet on whether they would appeal.