Sunday, 2 March 2014

take your bets on the pestorius trial while you watch it live... have we lost sight of why this is even happening?

Tomorrow sees the start of the murder trial of South African paralympic champion Oscar Pestorius.  Pestorius, who won two gold and one silver medals in the 2012 Paralympics shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at his home on 14 February 2013, but maintained that he believed her to be an intruder hiding behind a bathroom door, and didn’t realise that it was his girlfriend until he had fired four bullets through it. 


It is of course natural that the world will be taking an interest in this trial, both because pestorius is somewhat of a hero for his Paralympic achievements but also because he has overcome adversity to get where he is, and the thought of someone doing that and then turning out to potentially be a murderer does not, as a general rule, sit well with people.


However,, it would seem that this trial is entering a new dimension of world interest due to the fact that it was announced last week that large parts of the trial will be broadcast both on television and radio.  This of course means that the world’s press will have access to this broadcast and they will, of course, be able to broadcast it on news outlets around the world.  Our own Sky News have in fact been advertising the fact that coverage of the Pestorius trial will be broadcast during the day and at 9:00 every night. 


It’s not unusual for criminal trials to be televised.  In the US the televisation of trials is in fact quite common and has been for a number of years. I remember in fact that the OJ Simpson trial was televised in the mid 90’s, as was the trial of Louise Woodward, the British Nanny who was found guilty of murdering a baby in her care, a conviction which was subsequently reduced to manslaughter.


But this is the first time that South Africa has broadcast a trial, and I can’t help wondering why A, there seems to be the need to do so, and B, who wants to watch it and why. 


Perhaps it is because South Africa does unfortunately have a reputation for having a rather corrupt legal system, and the televisation of this trial could show the world that their legal system is in fact firm and fair and that Pestorius will receive a fair hearing.  Or perhaps it is because the television company who will be broadcasting this sees this as an opportunity to gain a bit more world recognission.  Or perhaps, in fact, it is being broadcast because someone somewhere feels that as Oscar Pestorius is a world recognised figure, broadcasting his trial is somehow in the public interest.  Or perhaps it interests the public...


But I have to wonder about this need for the public to follow the trial and possible conviction of a man who killed his girlfriend as if it is some kind of courtroom drama. 


It is one thing to follow the details of  a trial when the case is high profile.  As human beings we have a fascination both with crime and with celebrities.  Throw those two together and you end up with an almost irresistible combination. 


But it is quite another to sit in front of your television and watch the coverage as it unfolds, taking in the detail, perhaps making your judgements while you do so.  And it is also worth bearing in mind at this point that much of the evidence (and a considerable amount of speculation) is already in the public domain due to the fact that the bail hearing, which took several days, presented much of the evidence which was then published widely in the international press. 


But there is another turn to this.  This week bookies Paddypower have been criticised for advertising the fact that they are taking bets on the outcome of the Pestorius trial, with 7-4 odds for him to be found guilty and 4-2 not guilty.  Today they have gone one further by offering refunds on any bets if pestorius “walks.” 


Naturally complaints have been made to the Advertising Standards Authority, however it is too late as the advert has already been broadcast and no doubt there are people out there who will have gone into paddypower and placed bets to that effect.


It is like a boxing match, with people waiting for the action and placing their bets while they do so. 


And at the centre of all of this a young woman was shot and killed by the man she believed loved her, a man she may (or may not) have trusted.  Yet she has seemingly been forgotten in the feeding frenzy that is the media and the general public, desperate to catch every detail of this trial, desperate to know whether or not Oscar Pestorius did in fact mean to murder his girlfriend.


This trial is not in fact about Oscar Pestorius.  There is no question that he pulled the trigger of the gun which killed Reeva Steenkamp. If he is found guilty he will hopefully serve a significant sentence for his crime.  If he is found not guilty of murder he will be left to rebuild his life in the knowledge that he killed a young woman. 


This trial is not about needing to show the world’s press that South Africa has a true and fair justice system.


It is not about providing entertainment for the world’s voyeurs and rubberneckers desperate to  see whether their hero did it or not, or as something to watch with the morning cup of tea.


It is not about opportunities for the likes of Paddypower to make money by encouraging people to place their bets as to whether he did or didn’t do it.


In truth this trial is about Reeva Steenkamp, and the justice which she deserves.  She is not here to tell the court what happened on that fateful night, and therefore the evidence has to do that for her.  We can only hope that it will do just that, and that somewhere in the media circus that is the Oscar Pestorius trial, someone will actually take a step back and remember that all this is only made possible due to the fact that a young woman is dead.