A South African judge has ruled that parts of the trial of Oscar Pistorius, the Paralympic athlete accused of murdering his girlfriend, can be broadcast live on television.
Judge Dunstan Mlambo, sitting at Pretoria High Court where Pistorius’ trial is due to begin on Monday, said that broadcasting the proceedings would go “a long way” to dispelling the perception that the rich and poor were treated differently by the country’s justice system.
He allowed the installation of small, fixed cameras that will live broadcast the opening and closing arguments of the lawyers, the evidence of experts, and the judgement and sentencing comments made by the trial judge.
He also allowed the audio broadcasting of the entire trial including witness testimony, provided they did not object.
The ruling is a legal first in South Africa and was welcomed by the three media outlets that brought the application, eNCA, a rolling television news channel, Eyewitness News, a radio broadcaster, and Multichoice, a digital television channel that has set up a special Oscar Channel to cover the sensational trial.
The decision will inevitably bring further comparisons between the Oscar Pistorius case and the trial in America of OJ Simpson, the American football player accused of killing his ex-wife, which was also televised and followed by millions around the globe.
Several applications by the state television company, SABC, to televise trials including that of now President Jacob Zuma for corruption in 2006 have been turned down in the past.
Pistorius’ legal team had opposed the application arguing that broadcasting the events would lead to an unfair trial and create a media “circus”. Barry Roux, Pistorius’ lawyer, argued that his client’s trial should be treated like any other, and televising it could see witnesses tailor their evidence.
The National Prosecuting Authority initially backed Pistorius’ objections, but withdrew them on the basis that witnesses would not be “intimidated or exposed” by the cameras.
Pistorius, 27, is accused of killing Steenkamp, 29, in February last year by shooting her through a locked lavatory door. He claimed he thought she was an intruder. Prosecutors say he murdered her after a row.
The trial starts on Monday and is due to last three weeks.