Media blackout sparks debate

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REUTERS

Journalists wait for the start of the trial of Oscar Pistorius for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. File photo: Alon Skuy/Reuters

Pretoria - A social media and broadcasting blackout was imposed on the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Monday, prompting debate across Twitter about whether or not explicit testimony should be broadcast live.

When Professor Gert Saayman took the stand, he told the court he had ethical issues with his testimony being heard immediately around the world.

The explicit details of his post-mortem on Reeva Steenkamp had the potential to damage her dignity, as well as that of her family and friends.

He was also worried that it went against “the good morals of society” and that unaware television watchers, including children, could be exposed to the testimony.

Nick Ferreira, for the media opposing the application, said broadcasters and other publications would compromise, that no exhibits would be published and that testimony would not be broadcast live. Instead, it would be recorded and summarised.

But defence advocate Kenny Oldwage argued that Ferreira had not addressed the potential damage that could be done to the dignity of Steenkamp’s family and friends.

He also said there was no solution to journalists taking to Twitter to publicly spread the details of Saayman’s testimony and that Judge Thokozile Masipa should uphold Saayman’s objection.

Ferreira said the broadcast media would prepare packages authorised by their editors, which would be given to the prosecution and defence to determine any issues before broadcast. Oldwage said that if a stalemate was reached between lawyers and broadcasters over content, it could lead to further litigation. But Ferreira said if there was a deadlock, the video and audio would not be broadcast.

Judge Masipa did not provide a concrete ruling on Monday, saying only that tweeting and live blogging on Saayman’s testimony were not allowed.

Many on Twitter mentioned that the post-mortems of other violent cases, including the rape and mutilation of Bredasdorp teenager Anene Booysen, had been splashed across social networks moments after being provided in court.

Legal expert Willem de Klerk said: “We are concerned that it would set a precedent for other cases. The restrictions that are now being opposed go way beyond any normal criminal case covered by the media.”

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