Media freedoms restricted in Pistorius case | Connect Asia

Media freedoms restricted in Pistorius case

Media freedoms restricted in Pistorius case

Updated 25 February 2013, 16:46 AEDT

The Oscar Pistorius story has attracted attention from around the world.

Hundreds of journalists both local and foreign have converged on the Pretoria Magistrate's court and authorities have been overwhelmed.

In a country which prides itself on having one of the most liberal constitutions in the world, it seems that when it comes to justice, not all citizens are equal.

Correspondent: Ginny Stein

Speakers: South African cameraman

GINNY STEIN: In South Africa, cameras in court are at the discretion of the judge.

In high profile cases, photographers and camera operators are often allowed in for a period to film before the day's proceedings get underway to allow them to film as the accused enters the court.

But once the court proceedings proper begin, signalled by the arrival of the magistrate or judge, they are asked to either stop filming or leave the court.

In today's multi-media environment, where reporters are camera operators, photographers are reporters, and everyone has a camera in their phone, South Africa takes a tough line.

Anyone not following the rules will be found in contempt of court.

What made covering Oscar Pistorius' case more difficult was a clear move on the part of the magistrate to ensure Pistorius never entered the court until the magistrate arrived, with the magistrate signalling from the bench at Pistorius that he should leave just before he announced every adjournment.

For media who scrambled and queued and fought to get permission to film in the main court, and waited during long delays to film the start of each day's proceedings to begin, there was frustration and anger at the special treatment offered to Oscar Pistorius.

Three times I managed to get into court. Three times I failed in my attempt to film Oscar Pistorius either arriving or leaving.

I spoke to a South African cameraman colleague with long experience of covering courts in South Africa after we were ejected once more.

So what just happened in there? I mean, is that normal?

SOUTH AFRICAN CAMERAMAN: No, this is very unusual.

I mean, he is a huge celebrity in this country, and it seems that the law that is normally for criminals doesn't apply to Oscar Pistorius.

I mean, he is getting preferential treatment - not only is he in a normal prison, but he seems to be in a prison that is different to any other prison in South Africa. It's close to his home, and he's familiar with Pretoria. His family are nearby.

So they seem to be slotting him into a celebrity status prisoner.

GINNY STEIN: So tell me what just happened. I mean, the media, we all got accredited, we were all told, 'you're photographers, you're allowed in. The rules are that until the magistrate comes in, you're allowed to film.'

What would normally happen?

SOUTH AFRICAN CAMERAMAN: Well I mean, first off, it's up to the magistrate obviously, and we've been given rules and regulations as to how we conduct ourselves when we are in there.

Just before the magistrate comes in, we're allowed to film. As soon as he sits down, everyone has to leave.

With Oscar, depending on his timing - whether he gets in before the magistrate or not - we cannot film him coming in. we have to point our cameras down or we have to make sure that we are not recording and leave.

GINNY STEIN: He seems to be making sure that he's in before Oscar every time.

SOUTH AFRICAN CAMERAMAN: Yeah. We got - on one occasion we managed to get a shot of him, but if we put anything to air after that, we are in contempt of court.

So we've got to be very, very careful in the media as to what we can show. And our organisation will not take any chance when it comes to Oscar.

GINNY STEIN: OK. You're pretty annoyed by it?

SOUTH AFRICAN CAMERAMAN: I am a bit. It's a very stressful environment to work in.

We are scrumming for every single space that we are trying to get in to that court. It's so, so hard for us even to get access, let alone access the outside of the court.

And you know, with the popularity of this story, tempers are flared, it's not good for morale, and we are struggling amongst hundreds of local and international media.

GINNY STEIN: Covering this case has confirmed once more why it is we are journalists.

First draft of history and all of that for sure, but no, it's not for the glamour.

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