Sunday, 2 March 2014

Trial By Media

Oscar Pistorius' trial for the alleged premeditated murder of Reeva Steenkamp begins tomorrow.

I'm among his many supporters but, like them, I'm not allowed a voice. He has been tried and found guilty by the media. Comment anywhere - Facebook, Twitter, Disqus, on articles etc - and we're shouted down. Any Facebook page has a bunch of trolls on it, no matter how carefully it's moderated.  One idiot hijacked my thread the other day with a diatribe which ended "whatever you say you won't change my mind". Well, guess what, we don't need to change your mind. Justice is not about collecting votes in a country thousands of miles away.

I'm so sick of all the nonsense being spouted.

"We saw him out shopping". Bail, you silly people, not house arrest.

"He shouldn't have got bail, he did it." Please read up on the purpose of bail.

"Someone said he said ...." OK, let me stop you there. Go and read up on hearsay.

"We know he's guilty so we don't need a trial" Ah, a time traveller ...welcome to the 15th century. We've struggled for hundreds of years to create a justice system and you'd like to throw it away.

"New facts have emerged". No, actually that was a journalist making something up to sell papers.

Here's a sinister one: "Innocent until proven guilty is just a legal fiction. No-one believes it" Really? I studied law for four years and worked with lawyers for most of my professional life  and never met anyone who didn't believe it.


Were you there?

Do you know Oscar personally?

Are you familiar with South African Law?

Have you read up on crime statistics in South Africa?

No? So basically you gleaned your opinion from the Daily Mail, Facebook, your mates down the pub? Just what do you think a trial is for?

Yes, Oscar does have the advantage of money to pay for expensive lawyers and poor people don't. That is the same the world over and that particular injustice is not something that can be laid at his door.

I'm not a blind lovestruck Oscar fan. I loved watching him run, who didn't? I admire his massive achievements - and know more about them than most folk do - but actually I believe he's been rather stupid in how he's reacted to his fame and fortune. No more stupid than any other person would be with that level of fame and fortune at that age but nonetheless stupid. Hanging out with the so called friends who only want him because he's famous, spending ridiculous amounts of money on racehorses and fast cars, saying utterly stupid things on Twitter that you just knew (and told him ...) would come back to bite him, his acknowledged love of guns. I won't bore you with what I think about guns (again). You can read what I said about it further down this blog in regards to America and multiply that several times for South Africa.

I don't think he has been well served by the professional people he's been paying over the years. His PR team have been dreadful. They allowed outrageously offensive and libellous - and not just against Oscar - Facebook pages to run for months on end. It did rather look like someone had lost the password ...

Basically I don't believe he had any reason to kill Reeva. If he had wanted to kill her, he wouldn't have shot at her through a locked door. That could mean your victim doesn't die and you leave a living witness to testify against you. As for the reasonableness or otherwise of shooting someone you believe to be an intruder, I presume there is case law to cover that. I wouldn't know.

Supporting Oscar is hard to do. Not because my belief in him wavers but because of the constant attacks from the pitchfork-wielding angry mob. Last year I got loads of abuse and threats because I joined in a campaign to get people to buy chocolate rabbits at Easter instead of real ones. When people hate and despise you because you love rabbits you can imagine what they do when you support Oscar. It's driving my husband barmy. The favourite phrases are "You can't do anything to help Oscar and he wouldn't expect you to get stressed like this" and "Discussing anything on Facebook is like arguing with a drunk".

No, I can't do anything to help him other than pray for him but it's time to stand up and be counted. I will lose Facebook friends but then I don't want the angry mob amongst my friends. "Innocent until proven guilty" is not just some throwaway phrase to me. It's a basic tenet of civilised society. If you can't respect it I really don't want to be your friend.

For anyone who wants to follow the trial without all the sensationalist drivel I suggest you follow David Smith on Twitter @smithinafrica and/or read his summaries in the Guardian. I followed every word of the bail hearing and he reports fairly and succinctly without making it up. Sky News were an absolute disgrace. If the judge had said it was raining the reporter would have tweeted "the judge remarked on what a lovely sunny day it is today". Perverse is the only way I can describe it.

I won't be following every word. My lawyer friends will alert me to what I need to follow in detail otherwise internet and TV will remain switched off.  I'm tempted to tune in to the audio of cross-examination of the aggrieved ex-girlfriend but then we know how that will go, even if she hasn't worked it out yet.

It will be a ludicrous media circus. Whatever happens, the angry mob will stick to their "verdict". Whatever happens, Oscar's life is over. Whatever happens, nothing brings Reeva back and her parents spend the rest of their lives in the Hell only experienced by parents who have lost a child.

I wish we could all turn the clock back.

God bless you and keep you strong, Oscar. Time to publish and be damned ...

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