Total Pageviews

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Murder Porn & Trial by Media - This should disturb everyone.

Reeva Steenkamp died in the early hours of February 14th. Her killer is a national hero in South Africa, the blade-runner Oscar Pistorius.
So far, so horrible. One life taken, many more shattered - her family, and his, the friends, the colleagues, and because both led high-profile lives, they inevitably touched a lot of people. All of these must be affected.

What must be doubly horrifying for Reeva Steenkamp's family, not mention Pistorius's, is the trial by media. The whole bloody, gory mess is being dissected and trumpeted across the globe, and by the way, SAP - exactly who is leaking the details?
If true, a nasty tragic incident is fast becoming a brutal, cold-blooded murder. But some of these details - the shooting through a closed door, the bloodied cricket bat - should be coming up in court, not via he tabloids howling so gleefully as they paw through the remnants of two lives looking for dirt.

If not true - and having seeing what the tabloids in the UK have achieved with speculation, bias, and outright falsehood in other cases - that's also possible, then we have a man who's just been tossed to the wolves.

Whether true or not, the implications of the media details are frightening. The jury trial system in South Africa was abolished in 1969, according to Wikipedia. While this means that you cannot taint a jury, it also means that the judge on the case needs to be almost super-human not to be affected by media coverage to this degree, and the tone implied in the vast majority of them. The burden of proof in South Africa rests on the prosecution to prove it's case without doubt. Those two little words are probably behind the details we're hearing.

A cynic would wonder if the information being fed to the media is deliberate, rather than a leak. That cynic might also wonder if this is a way of ensuring public outrage; rather than a trial by jury, we have a man now undergoing trial by tabloid. Trial by television reports, by outraged sound-bites and speculation from "friends and neighbours."

The problem I have with this is that speculation is not proof. Stories of Pistorius getting drunk and doing stupid things/aggressive things are not proof. Speculation that Reeva was shot by accident, that she was deliberately hunted and killed, are not proof.

Proof is what should be presented in a court. Proof is forensic evidence and time-lines. Everything else is shadows and smoke, and sharks moving through bloody water. It's always easy to find people willing to kick someone when they've fallen from the pedestal, and right now everyone with an axe to grind against Pistorius is lining up for their 15 seconds in the media spotlight.

Trial by media is nothing new. But it taints. It takes the concept of a trial based on proof and actions, rolls it in mud, and kicks it in the teeth. The justice system is inherently flawed - I can't think of a single one currently operating that is not - but what is being done to it, not just in this case, but others before it, takes a flawed system, and twists it. It turns it into a self-feeding machine, a trash-collector, a monster that feeds off of public perception. And it forgets the victims, 9 times out of 10, or twists them just as much as the guy on trial.

One notorious red top in the UK didn't even mention Reeva Steenkamp by name, the day the story broke. They put her picture on the front page, the golden girl in a bikini - and they never mentioned her name. Not once. In all the paragraphs of lip-smacking, delicious, oh-my horror, they couldn't be bothered to put her name into it.

Murder porn sells papers. The rich and famous fallen, that sells papers. Murder in the early hours of the morning - sells. Combine all of the above - oh, baby! Have a source feeding you details that would sway the court of public opinion - more! More! Justice and fair trial? Boring as hell.

But tell me, folks - what happens when it's one of us in this situation? What happens when one of the little people get fed into the media mill? Because that, too, has happened before, and will probably happen again.

Trial by media is scary as hell. I can't think of many things worse.

But next week, we get to play feed the monster again, with a man's life and a woman's death, and the play, I guess goes on.