By GABRIELLA SHOFER
Today, South African athlete Oscar Pistorius was found guilty of culpable homicide in the death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Feb. 14, 2013.
Since the trial began on March 3, 2014, it has captivated audiences in South Africa and around the world. However, the way in which the coverage of the trial has unfolded in the media is an issue that opens a wider discussion into the nature of news reporting on court trials.
Reporters are required to remove any personal judgment from their writing, as their coverage is the single method through which the public is delivered the information about the case. They need to be aware of the potential the media has to influence public perception of the parties involved in the case.
In this case, the judge recognized this influence of the media, suggesting that witness accounts drawn upon by the defense in the court were not sufficient evidence. This is a result of multiple interpretations of the situation being reported and thus the witnesses’ opinions were transformed by public opinion.
This influence was aided by the presence of social media in the coverage of the story. In particular, multiple newspapers and reporters provided continual updates as the case progressed through Twitter. The judgment was turned into a global spectacle with news websites delivering information through livestreams of the courtroom. The live streaming of the ruling provided a new dimension of insight for the public. Furthermore, social media enabled the public to comment on the case as it progressed.
The question that needs to be raised in relation to this is whether it is acceptable to invade these spaces and release this information to the public. While the public has the right to the information, perhaps the live streaming adds an unnecessary dimension to the reporting.
While Pistorius remains accountable for his actions and the associated consequences, the situation has been exacerbated by the media’s coverage of the event, which has transformed him into a celebrity for all the wrong reasons. When writing these types of news stories, reporters have to use their own moral compass to determine where to draw the line between invading privacy and providing information.
In the same way that Pistorious is accountable for his actions, reporters need to be aware of the impacts of their words when covering these sensitive issues. They have the potential to irreversibly alter the way in which the public perceives situations.
In this case, the work of news reporters has ensured that Pistorius’ achievements and success as the first double leg amputee to participate in the Olympics, will be forever overshadowed by this event.