The media set the precedence, not Judge Masipa

Following Judge Thokozile Masipa’s decision not to allow any live media coverage of Reeva Steenkamp’s postmortem coverage, the media was pissed. But at the wrong person?

Writing in the Daily Maverick yesterday, Rebecca Davis said the Judge’s decision not to allow any live media coverage of Reeva Steenkamp’s postmortem coverage by pathologist Gert Saayman was doubtless undertaken for the noblest possible reasons. She said while it was not a “perfect call”, it however “reinforces the perceived discrepancy between the way white [Reeva Steenkamp et al] and black bodies [Annelie Booysen et al] are treated in death, or the idea that famous people have greater rights to dignity and privacy than folk on the street”.

While I will not say the judge’s decision was right and or wrong, it however appears as if the media is now attempting to twists issues, at least in my view. The media – Davis et al – forgets that Judge Masipa was not the presiding judge on the Booysen case and therefore cannot be seen as inconsistent in how she now treats the media on the Steenkamp case. Further, I am not sure whether the media also forgets that it is they – the media – that went into detail on the description of Booysen’s body when it was found as clearly no judge in his right state of mind had ever asked and or ordered them (the media) to descriptively write about the girl’s body and what had happened to it when it was found. The media took it upon itself – seemingly seeing fit to fill us on those details.

White I admit that a judgement sets precedence and that the tweeting, I suppose, of Booysen’s case, If ever, should have rang bells to Judge Masipa when she banned the tweeting and or live broadcasting and reportage of the pathologist’s testimony yesterday – she however cannot be held against that precedence set in the Booysen’s case because such was not a court order. By the way, while media refers to other similar cases, they however fail to indicate whether, for example, pathologists in those cases had request their testimony not be reported and or broadcast live from the court room – even through Facebook and Twitter – as the pathologist in the Steenkamp case did – a request which was of course granted by the presiding judge.

In his one of the conditions under which he granted a court order giving the media access to broadcast and report live (through Twitter and Facebook?) the Steenkamp case from the court room, Judge President Mlambo said “The evidence of all other witnesses for the state unless such a witness does not consent to such recording and broadcasting and the presiding judge rules that no such recording and broadcasting can take place”. The Judge President further indicated that “notwithstanding the above [conditions to the broadcasting and recording of the trial], the presiding judge shall retain a discretion to direct that, in the event that it becomes apparent that the presence of the cameras or the recording and/or transmitting and/or broadcasting is impeding a particular witness’s right to privacy, dignity and/or the accused’s right to a fair trial, MultiChoice and Primedia and the print Media 24 applicants will be directed to cease recording and/or transmitting and/or broadcasting and/or photographing of the testimony.”

Unless there was a court order in any such case indicating that live broadcasting and reporting, including through Facebook and Twitter, of graphic details that scrutinises “so publicly and clinically in death … the ongoing brutality inflicted on the victims of violent crime” should not be banned but allowed, then of course I think Judge Masipa’s order would be wrong. But there isn’t. So, what’s the fuss with such a banning?

Remember, no judge ever set the precedence of graphically reporting live from the court room “so publicly and clinically in death … [the] brutality inflicted on the victims of violent crime” – but the media did. So why blame the judge when she tells you to stop it? Surely Judge Masipa was only exercising her discretion and she can’t be held against any court order setting precedence. Right?

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