The justice minister's threat to put the kibosh on television news coverage of court cases would leave viewers very much the poorer - even allowing for a fair amount of gore-blimey melodrama.
You only had to look at the stricken demeanour of the police official giving evidence at the current Kim Dotcom appeal in the High Court at Wellington this week to see what an economical and valuable news resource footage of a person's actual testimony can be.
We saw just a few seconds of the man confirming that police and the Government Communications Security Bureau had launched surveillance on the on-remand internet millionaire (which turned out to be illegal), but his discomfort was palpable. In just those few seconds, we saw vivid confirmation of the absolute panic and mortification that is going on behind the scenes these past few days, as shocked politicians and officials try to get to grips with this most appalling situation; a trivial oversight that has made a massive political and legal mess.
A television reporter can stand in front of the camera and tell us a witness seemed unhappy, defiant or evasive. But it's quicker and clearer if we can see it, and often, as in this case, visuals freight so much more information.
Even our glimpses of the demeanour of witnesses in the Canterbury earthquakes inquiry as they enter and leave have been useful. There is always a degree of voyeurism about watching someone undergo an ordeal - that's the whole basis of the dreaded reality-television genre. But when it comes to court appearances, there's nothing contrived afoot. It's the justice system at work, and the vast bulk of that process is public, aside from the odd bout of suppression.
It's true the television cameras did rather feast on the two devastated Feilding wives in the coverage of the Scott Guy murder trial. A lawyer and a politician, Judith Collins has as her chief concern that the heavy television focus on them revictimised them. But newspapers featured large photos of the extremely attractive bereaved, as well. The media will always reflect the human appetite for attractive faces wherever they may be found.
Infuriating though it can be, and endangered though it is becoming with the boom in cyberspace, television remains a highly effective and popular news source. If it faces heavier restrictions or a ban from the courts, it will mostly have been punished for playing to its strengths.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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