UK & World News

  • 9 March 2014, 3:35

Pistorius: Public Opinion And Evidence Collide

The first week of the Oscar Pistorius murder trial has delivered plenty of drama and, for millions of South Africans, their first real glimpse of local criminal justice in action.

The trial is the first to be televised live in the country and a special 24-hour TV channel set up for the case is broadcasting every moment as the prosecution tries to prove the athlete deliberately killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

The 'Oscar Pistorius Channel' is combining traditional court reporting with hours of analysis, accompanied by a stream of tweets and comments from social media as viewers react to what they are seeing.

"He shouldn't hold his head now," one woman tweeted, commenting on the athlete's position, head in hands in the court.

"He should have held his head together on the night he lost control and shot Reeva!" the tweeter adds.

"How did he not recognise his partner's scream?" another tweet demands, following evidence neighbours heard a woman screaming before and during shots being fired on the night Ms Steenkamp was killed.

The collision of opinion and evidence is striking and sometimes shocking for those of us used to the strict rules governing contempt of court in the UK.

South Africa's legal system, with just a judge not a jury presiding over criminal cases, allows "comment" on the basis there is no-one who will be unduly influenced by the media coverage.

So the tweets roll down the screen during gaps in the proceedings, revealing much about what the viewers make of it so far.

"If you were going to the bathroom in the night would you lock the door?" one tweeter asks, referring to the fact, undisputed by the defence, that Reeva Steenkamp was shot through a locked toilet door.

"He's trying to put clever words in the witness' mouth," another viewer says, referring to another tough cross-examination by the lead defence advocate, Barry Roux.

He has been the subject of much comment so far, with many considering his style too aggressive and some admiring his skills.

While tweeters in the UK have faced the threat of prosecution for commenting on ongoing legal proceedings there are no such consequences in South Africa and apparently few boundaries of taste.

"Grilled Burger" became a popular tweet while one of Oscar Pistorius' neighbours, Michelle Burger, was enduring rigorous questioning by Mr Roux.

The majority of tweeters so far seem sceptical of Mr Pistorius' claim that he thought he was shooting at an intruder; but that may change once the defence gets the chance to call its own witnesses, including Pistorius himself.

This trial has an unofficial 'jury' in the form of countless South Africans watching from their sofas. But it will be one woman, Judge Thokozile Masipa, who will decide the athlete's fate.

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