Editorial: Trial of the century

19:19, Feb 21 2013

It's almost certainly the most followed bail hearing in history.

Not that there's live television coverage of the court proceedings as the athlete known as ‘Blade Runner', Oscar Pistorius, seeks bail on a charge of murdering his girlfriend, 29-year-old model Reeva Steenkamp, in his plush house in a gated community in Pretoria.

But take a look at the television coverage, or follow the Twitter feeds of any number of news organisations and you'll be amazed at the detail that's out there. Virtually every point made in a hearing that was due to go into its third day overnight is being condensed into a tweet of 140 characters or less and disseminated far and wide.

Add to that broadcast news networks squeezing every breathless detail of the case on to the airwaves, websites updating regularly and newspapers everywhere carrying daily reports and it's hard to imagine any previous such hearing having reached as far and wide as this one.

One can only imagine what will happen when Pistorius - arguably the most famous Paralympic athlete in history, because he overcame the odds to run against able-bodied athletes at the Olympics - actually faces trial.

Given the preamble we're seeing unfold this week, it seems certain to be bigger than the Michael Jackson and OJ Simpson trials, with an inevitable clamour from global news organisations for live television coverage.


What's really striking, though, from a New Zealand point of view, is just how much detail is already out there. If a prominent New Zealander - do we actually have an Oscar Pistorius equivalent? - was to be charged with murder, there's simply no way, even assuming we knew his/her name, that we would be reporting the kind of detail that has come out about the Pistorius saga.

The phrase "trial by media" has popped up regularly in recent days and certainly, the mainstream South African media have been able to canvass significant details material to the case that would be strictly off limits here in New Zealand.

There's the small matter of an accused having the right to a fair trial, which can easily be compromised by details being published that could influence the thinking of potential jurors.

But there's also been a trial by social media, with speculation rife about the relevant details. I saw one radio announcer pronounce Pistorius guilty multiple times via Twitter on Wednesday night. Undoubtedly he voiced the same sentiments on his show.

And then there's the level of detail revealed in the bail hearing. Days after his arrest, virtually the entire case for and against Pistorius seems to be in the public arena.

So will he get a fair trial? That's debatable. But a made-for-TV trial? You can bet your boots.

The Timaru Herald