Rethink after 'reality-TV' court case

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 24/09/2012

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Justice Minister Judith Collins has signalled a review of television cameras in court saying she was "appalled" by reality TV-like coverage in the Scott Guy murder case.

"I'm not comfortable with the sensationalisation of a few moments. We saw . . . in that case where cameras were absolutely trained not only on the accused but also on his wife, on the widow of Scott Guy; that it was sensationalised to the extent that it was almost like reality television," Ms Collins told TV3's The Nation.

"I don't think that does justice any good."

She would review the practice as part of a broader range of work being done in the justice portfolio, but also acknowledged it was important for justice to be seen to be done.

Law Society president Jonathan Temm last week called for cameras to be banned in court because they misrepresented evidence. Ms Collins said she agreed it was "not good" for the justice sytem to have small moments of "sensationalised recording" shown to portray a case when a jury had sat through all the evidence.

"One of the problems with the cameras used as they are is we see a tiny snippet . . . usually of someone about to cry or crying and frankly that does not give any indication of the evidence that a jury is hearing."

Feilding farmer Ewen Macdonald was acquitted of murdering his brother-in-law Scott Guy.

Ms Collins also defended the decision to withhold evidence from juries. The jury in the Macdonald trial did not know he had pleaded guilty to killing 19 calves with a hammer, and other crimes.

"If for instance the jury had known about the appalling attacks on those little calves, I doubt whether any jury would say, ‘Well actually, I can now look at that man and give him a fair hearing.' I think that would be very hard, and I think the judge made the right decision."

Paul Norris, a lecturer at CPIT's Broadcasting School, said Ms Collins was entitled to her opinion, but he wondered whether she had been watching all the coverage of the trial.

"The drama was in the courtroom, and media reports fairly accurately reflected that."

The media had a job to do in any courtroom, and he believed having cameras there had brought a new dimension to coverage.

"There's no reason to suppose the coverage has been anything other than fair and accurate. The case needs to be put forth and debated."

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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