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IOL Oscar Court DONE

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Murder accused Oscar Pistorius. File photo.

Oscar Pistorius doesn’t deserve privacy from the media, writes Chris Moerdyk.

I suppose one can have some sympathy for the Pistorius family and Oscar’s groupies who aren’t at all keen on TV cameras and radio microphones being allowed in to court when he goes on trial a week’s time.

The problem is, though, that the TV cameras and radio mics have a right to be in court. Purely from the point of view that if the court is indeed open to the public, as court cases usually are, then it is a pretty foregone conclusion that the number of people who would like to attend will probably outnumber the available seating by a factor of around a thousand to one.

There is another aspect to the right of the media to poke its lenses and pencils into whatever celebrities do in public because those celebrities actually derive financial benefit from that very same public.

Yes, they all have a right to privacy in their own homes, for example. But, that right should not extend to public places and certainly not courtrooms.

Oscar Pistorius made a fortune out of sponsorship exclusively on the basis that he was able, through his status as a sports star, to influence the public.

Guilty or not, the fact that he is now up the creek without a paddle does not mean that he can demand privacy.

One cannot switch celebrity status on and off like a tap. Once it is turned on, it stays on. That’s the way life works.

Then, of course, there is the argument of public interest. Is live media coverage of the Pistorius trial in the public interest?

Well, I suppose it depends on how you define public interest.

This is dodgy territory because we have been told by those in power that the Nkandla issue is not in the public interest. We are also told by those same people that details of the arms deal are not in the public interest.

And there are now acts of parliament and draft bills that designate more and more things that are not in the public interest.

But that doesn’t apply to Oscar Pistorius. He isn’t a state secret or a national key point.

So, in his case, one surely has to assume that the only definition of public interest would be how interested the public is in what happens to him in court?

There is massive evidence to suggest that the public of South Africa is deeply interested in the Pistorius case, but since the bulk of the population has to be at work and cannot afford to travel all the way to Pretoria anyway, the only way they are going to know what happens is via TV and radio.

The fact that the top 10 television programmes in this country are soapies and reality shows suggests that huge numbers of South Africans are ardent voyeurs and voracious consumers of gossip and controversy.

Since there is nothing in the constitution of this country that prohibits gossip or voyeurism, one has to assume that they are not only okay, but that the public has a right to indulge in them.

But that aside, the Oscar Pistorius case has proved to be big news. From February 14 last year, when Pistorius shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp, the story has boosted newspaper and magazine sales and increased TV viewership and radio listenership.

The court case will be just the same whether cameras and microphones are allowed in court or not.

Quite frankly, I believe that in the interests of transparency and objective reportage, either all media should be allowed in court or none at all. It has always amazed me that print journalists are allowed in court and social media journalists are allowed in court, but the TV cameras have mostly been kept out.

I have to ask, what on earth is the difference? Surely it’s far better for the public to see and hear what is actually happening than to have to try and work it all out from Tweets and time-pressured crossings by radio reporters?

The only argument I hear in favour of keeping TV cameras out of the court is privacy of the individual.

Frankly, unless the entire case is held in camera, there is no privacy for the individual as long as one or two complete strangers can sit in court and listen to the proceedings.

Whether two people are watching or two million, one cannot play the privacy card based on numbers.

I believe the mass media has a right to live TV and radio broadcasting.

That right was awarded to them the very first time Oscar Pistorius took a cheque from his sponsors in exchange for influencing the public to buy whatever it was they were promoting.

From that minute he effectively sold his right to privacy.

In the same way, a member of Parliament gives up the right to privacy with their first pay slip.

* This article first appeared on The Media Online. Follow Chris Moerdyk on Twitter @chrismoerdyk

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

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