Judge Thokozile Masipa went “too far” by restricting the media from tweeting post-mortem evidence in Oscar Pistorius’s murder trial, a media law expert said in a television interview on Tuesday.
“Unfortunately in my view that was a decision that, with respect, went slightly too far because it misunderstood the nature of Twitter as a court reporting tool used by journalists,” Webber Wentzel’s Dario Milo told Channel 199.
“I have never heard of a witness making that kind of articulation… for no live streaming of evidence… there’s very little to distinguish between live tweeting, for example, of the evidence and then 15 or 30 minutes later summarising the evidence in the form of a broadcast or reporting back to one’s listeners/readers/viewers.”
Professor Gert Saayman on Monday objected to his evidence being broadcast live, saying he was bound by certain ethical rules and there might be statutory limits to his conduct. He said he would not be comfortable with live unfiltered streaming of his evidence.
“I think that the very personal nature of findings that are made at an autopsy examination as well as the very graphic details… have the potential to compromise the dignity of the deceased and… I believe it is our duty to preserve the dignity of the deceased,” he said at the time.
Masipa ordered that there be no live feed, tweeting, or blogging.
Milo said the key point of the order was that the media needed to treat the post-mortem evidence sensitively to respect the deceased’s family and in accordance with the media’s ethical code.
The issue of verbatim reports in Tuesday’s newspapers was also tackled by The Morning Show.
“[Prosecutor] Gerrie Nel was quite insistent that there be no verbatim reporting of Saayman’s evidence. He had no objection to paraphrasing/summarising,” said Milo.
“The media should be careful not to do verbatim reporting of this particular witness, and live tweeting of this particular witness. It is wise for the media to tread carefully in this case.”
Milo said the case was different because of its high profile nature.
“Court cases in trials for murder/homicides/violent crimes will always have this kind of graphic evidence.
“It’s just that this is such a high profile case that I think the issue needs to faced head on for the first time from the media on how one can report.”
On Monday, law expert Pierre de Vos said the prohibition sounded unenforceable.
“I haven’t heard the whole order, but from what I have heard it sounds confusing,” he told Sapa.
“It sounds unenforceable. I wasn’t there to hear her [the judge's] exact words, but in other court cases, people and journalists use Twitter so I don’t know why they doing this in this case, what makes this case so special.”
Pistorius is charged with the premeditated murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, and with contravening the Firearms Act.
He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges, and contends he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder when he shot her on 14 February last year.