Patta stands firm on gruesome crime footage

By Time of article published Jul 24, 2009

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By Bronwynne Jooste

The news boss of e.tv, Deborah Patta, has again defended the free-to-air channel's decision to broadcast graphic crime scene footage and re-enactments of the brutal Sizzlers massacre in 2003.

Patta was speaking at a Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) tribunal hearing at a city hotel on Thursday.

It was an appeal hearing, after the mother of one of the nine young men killed in the gruesome attack at the gay massage parlour in January 2003 won the right to appeal a finding by the commission made earlier this year.

A 10th man, Quintin Taylor, was the only survivor of the incident, despite being shot in the head.

Marlene Visser, the mother of one of the victims - 22-year old Warren - said the 3rd Degree documentary aired on e.tv in March had horrified her family and violated aspects of the broadcasting code.

She complained to the BCCSA, but it ruled in April that the programme had not violated the broadcasting code. Visser then lodged an appeal.

On Thursday, the channel asked the commission to uphold its initial ruling.

Visser was not at the hearing and was represented by her lawyer, Basil Coutsoudis.

Coutsoudis's key arguments included that the programme should have had a higher age restriction and that warnings for sensitive viewers should have been displayed.

"A PG (parental guidance) rating is wholly inadequate when you have images showing bound corpses," he said. "There was also no warning at the beginning of the programme about these explicit scenes."

Coutsoudis also said the story could have been told without "shock tactics" and there had been a "degree of insensitivity".

The programme, he added, had also encroached on Visser's privacy.

But Patta said she had been in contact with Visser before the broadcast and that the programme had been intended to evoke sympathy for the slain young men. She added that journalists were "not immune to the suffering and trauma of the families we deal with".

She said the story had resonated with the public, meriting a follow-up.

"Violence is so rampant in this country. Here was the sole survivor (Taylor) of this horrific murder. We wanted to look at how people deal with murder. That is in the public interest," Patta said.

Olefile Tshweu, the channel's regulatory affairs executive, described Visser's complaint as "personalised".

"The complainant was aware this programme would be aired. There is freedom of choice, she knew this matter would be revisited," said Tshweu.

He said the graphic re-enactments were "crucial" to the documentary and had been accompanied by Taylor's voice-over of the ordeal.

"Journalistically, this is permissible," he said.

Tshweu also said the programme had been aired after the 9pm watershed period, where the onus shifted from the broadcaster to parents to regulate their children's viewing.

Professor Kobus van Rooyen, from the commission, said it "would reason out the matter properly", and would make a decision by next week.

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