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Murder trial as entertainment?


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Just over a year ago a young, successful woman was shot and killed on Valentine’s Day. There are several variant explanations of how this tragic event came about, and it is now up to a court of law to decide whether or not Oscar Pistorius killed Reeva Steenkamp. This morning, however, this stopped being a murder trial and became entertainment.

Not many people know what actually happened on that night. I have my opinion, formed by the evidence that came to light; others will have theirs. This is ok. With any big case which the public follows closely it seems natural for people to align themselves with the jury and form judgements on what the outcome should be.

The issue lies with the televising of the trial. From the off, this case has been treated differently to most. Mainstream televised media saw an opportunity and seized it. It was F. Scott Fitzgerald who said ‘show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.’ Mainstream media saw a hero teetering on the edge of a precipice, and turned all their cameras to him, hoping for a fall.

Right now, I am watching Oscar Pistorius’ statement being read to the court. I had been prompted to tune in by ITV’s twitter feed, encouraging me to ‘watch the proceedings live here.’ This is simply the latest courtroom drama to hit our screens, artfully set up for the last year, with promos and teasers, and now it begins. Now we get to see who did the deed, who was lying, what that vital bit of evidence actually means. The only problem is that this is real life. There is a mourning family. There is an accused man. Neither have been afforded the privacy they deserve because it is too entertaining to miss out on.

There are logical problems as well as moral ones with televising any murder trial. It could alter the decision of the jury, 12 people who will be acutely aware that most of the world is watching them. This kind of pressure could prevent a fair conclusion to the trial being reached. It could also put a great deal of pressure on the judge and the rest of the courtroom employees. They have to perform. In this case, they have been given the hefty task of dispelling the belief that South African courts favour the rich, a long standing opinion. This kind of pressure is one they will not be used to working under.

The idea of adding cameras to court is not one that we should be entirely opposed to. In the information age it seems a natural step that decisions about people’s futures are not made behind closed doors, or in a room with 20 seats. The lies with the timing of this. There is no justifiable reason to televise this particular trial. In fact, there are many reasons not to. It has already captured the interest of most of the world. It has developed fame in itself. It is too big a case to test cameras in the courtroom on. There is only one reason why this case would be chosen: entertainment.

This is where the problem lies. Whatever the outcome, whatever happened, no one’s demise or redemption should be entertainment to others. We should not be allowed to sit and gawk and comment and gasp. We should not be allowed to forget that just over a year ago today Reeva Steenkamp was shot and killed. We should not be allowed to forget that what is happening here is real life, at its most tragic.

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