South Africa judge permits televising parts of Oscar Pistorius trial

South Africa judge permits televising parts of Oscar Pistorius trial
South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius stands in court during a bail hearing in Pretoria last year. (Themba Hadebe / Associated Press)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius on Tuesday lost a bid to prevent the live broadcast of his murder trial next week in the death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

Under a High Court ruling Tuesday, the bulk of the athlete's trial can be televised and audio from all the proceedings can be broadcast. However, Judge Dunstan Mlambo ruled that there would be no television coverage of Pistorius' testimony nor that of his defense witnesses.


Evidence provided by expert witnesses will be televised, but the court could refuse to allow other testimony to be filmed, if requested.

It will be the first time that South African court proceedings will be televised. The decision follows chaotic media scrums because of  limited access at the Pretoria court where Pistorius' bail hearing took place last year.

In parts of the United States, courts have long allowed trials to be televised.

Mlambo said denying permission to broadcast this case, as requested by Pistorius, would "jettison the noble principles of open justice."

"Court proceedings are in fact public, and this objective must be recognized," he said.

Mlambo noted that the South African justice system "is still perceived as treating the rich and famous with kid cloves, whilst being harsh on the poor and vulnerable."

"Enabling a larger South African society to follow first-hand the criminal proceedings which involve a celebrity, so to speak, will go a long way into dispelling these negative and unfounded perceptions about the justice system," he said.

Pistorius, a double amputee known as South Africa's "Blade Runner," made Olympics history as the first sprinter to compete using prosthetic blades.

He is accused of fatally shooting his girlfriend through a door in the bathroom of his Pretoria apartment during an argument in the early hours of Valentine's Day last year. He admits firing, but says he mistook Steenkamp -- a model, lawyer and reality TV figure -- for a burglar.

Whether a tragic accident or a deliberate attack, the case has divided South Africans and enthralled global audiences. Several hundred journalists from around the world are expected to cover the trial, which begins Monday.

Media groups that applied for permission to film proceedings argued that Pistorius was an iconic celebrity, that the trial was of immense interest to the public, and that an unfiltered live broadcast would prevent any media distortion of the trial.

They argued that their request was allowed under the country's open justice system, contending that preventing a live broadcasting would give more access to the small portion of the population with access to Twitter.

Defense lawyers argued that allowing the broadcast would undermine the fairness of the trial, because Pistorius and defense witnesses might feel inhibited or be distracted. They also argued that it would allow witnesses to make up evidence based on what they had heard earlier in the trial.

Mlambo said the key question was not whether the media should cover the proceedings, but how to guarantee that the public was well informed about them. He agreed that televising proceedings might inhibit some witnesses but said radio broadcasting them would not.


The trial will be filmed using three cameras controlled remotely from another room.

As the trial approaches, South African newspapers have provided front-page coverage of the case, including reports that the prosecution will rely on several witnesses who lived near Pistorius and who say they heard arguing and a woman's screams, which seemed to be extinguished by gunshots.

According to the reports, prosecutors are expected to challenge Pistorius' portrayal of a happy couple, deeply in love and relaxing at home, with him watching television while she did yoga.

"Oscar surfed porn sites on fatal night" said a headline this weekend in South Africa's Sunday Times, describing the case as "the criminal trial of the decade."

Local media have also reported that prosecutors will provide evidence from a security guard who says he phoned Pistorius after screams and shots were heard to make sure that he was all right. Pistorius reportedly replied that he was fine and did not mention the killing, according to the reports.

Prosecutors deny leaking information about the case to journalists.

Pistorius, who rarely appears in public, released a statement on his website on Valentine's Day expressing regret for what he described as a "devastating accident."

He also set up a new Twitter account, @OscarHardTruth, that purports to give the facts about the case. In just two days, the account garnered more than 20,000 followers. It provides links to what it calls "key media coverage," including reports of prosecution "setbacks."

His website, which the family says will be devoted to clearing his name, contains a page with messages of support from people around the world who believe he is innocent.

"You, your family as well as the Steenkamp family are in my thoughts and prayers during this extremely difficult time. This was nothing more than a tragic accident," wrote Sharon, of New Jersey, whose surname wasn't published.

"I just want to say that my heart is broken for Oscar," wrote another American whose name was given only as Sarah  "I wish him the best of luck and pray for him and the all families involved. I can't imagine being in his situation."

Twitter: @latimesdixon