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south africa

Pistorius murder trial can be televised, says judge

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-02-25

A South African judge ruled on Tuesday that the murder trial of Olympic track star Oscar Pistorius can be televised, giving millions around the world access to one of the most sensational trials since that of US footballer O.J. Simpson.

While testimony given by Pistorius and his witnesses can’t be filmed, opening arguments by the prosecution and the defence can be shown live, along with the presiding judge’s decision and sentencing should Pistorius be convicted of murder for the shooting death of his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Pistorius, 27, is accused of the Valentine’s Day murder of Steenkamp, 29, last year. He admits to shooting her four times through a locked toilet door but claims he mistook her for an intruder. If convicted of murder, he faces up to life in prison. The trial is due to start March 3.

In a televised ruling in a Pretoria high court, Judge Dustan Mlambo said it was vital that impoverished South Africans who feel ill-treated by the justice system be given a first-hand look at the trial.

“The justice system is still perceived as treating the rich and famous with kid gloves whilst being harsh on the poor and the vulnerable,” he said.

“Enabling a larger South African society to be able to follow first-hand criminal proceedings which involve a celebrity, so to speak, will go a long way into dispelling these negative and unfounded perceptions.”

Limits on filming

Mlambo attached several conditions, including no recording during breaks and no recording of confidential communication between parties.He also said the cameras could not take “extreme close-ups” or record witnesses who refused consent.

Mlambo said the presiding judge had the discretion to order that broadcasting be stopped if “it becomes apparent that the presence of cameras ... is impeding a particular witness’ right to privacy, dignity or the accused’s right to a fair trial”.

Pistorius’s defence lawyers had opposed any broadcast, saying it would harm his chances of receiving a fair trial and would be intrusive. Local media groups had argued for it under freedom of information principles enshrined in South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution.

Brian Webber, a lawyer for Pistorius, initially declined to comment on the ruling, saying he had to study it.

To some degree South African justice will also be in the dock, after Pistorius’s bail hearing exposed shoddy work by the lead detective Hilton Botha, who was consequently removed from the case and has since quit the force.

Double-amputee Pistorius, dubbed the “Blade Runner” for his running prostheses, became a global hero at the London 2012 Olympics when he made it to the 400-metre semi-final against able-bodied athletes.

He was born without fibulas and had both legs amputated below the knee before he turned 1, but his track success, supported by his rugged good looks and public charm, saw him elevated to a global symbol of triumph over adversity.

Media outlets had applied to broadcast the trial via remote-controlled cameras inside the courtroom. A 24-hour channel dedicated to his trial starts on South African network television on Sunday.

“We’re absolutely thrilled. This is a seminal judgement. It’s precedent-setting. It’s a victory for open justice,” said George Mazarakis, the channel’s executive director.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP, AFP)

Date created : 2014-02-25

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