Life, etc

Pistorius Trial, Week One: The Reporting Hall of Shame Oscars

By Rebecca Davis 7 March 2014

The Pistorius trial is putting enormous strain on journalists to churn out an incredible amount of content on a trial which pretty much anyone has full access to in other media. We feel it too, and we’re far from perfect ourselves – in fact, we were accused of straining for outlandish new angles on the case just this week. But it must be said that some of the news stories to come out of the trial so far are plumbing new depths of absurdity and desperation. We ain’t judging, we’re just observing. Okay, we’re judging. Here we award our first week’s Oscars for absurd reporting on the Pistorius trial. By REBECCA DAVIS.

Most Ridiculously Over-Cautious Punctuation Use

We’re all for hedging your bets when it comes to reporting on complicated legal matters and its matching legal jargon. None of us want to be sent to Barry Roux’s office to explain ourselves. But website DNA India took erring on the side of caution a step too far this week in their Pistorius coverage, when they referred to “the night that Pistorius ‘killed’ his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp”. Er, word to DNA India: You don’t need the scare-quotes around ‘killed’. He did kill her. He admits it. Even Barry Roux admits it.

Most Staggeringly Obvious Headline

A special gong to SABC Online in this category, for the thrillingly must-read headline “Public Shows Interest In Pistorius Trial”. There’s actually something quite profound about the piece that follows it, however, because it begins: “Paralympian Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria has generated not only media interest but also the public’s interest”. One might think that the media acts in response to audience interest – but as many are no doubt experiencing through the Oscar trial, sometimes the media simply force-feeds you what it thinks you should like. Thanks for the reminder, SABC, that media interest and public interest are sometimes worlds apart.

Scoopiest Scoop of Trial Thus Far

This one’s for SAPA, as published on News 24. Every scrap of new information in this story – and we’re using “information” in the loosest of senses – is conveyed in its headline: “Pistorius Takes Call, Chats to Sketch Artist”. That’s it. That is literally the sum total of fresh material to convey through this article. Pistorius was in the courtroom, and he answered his phone. And then he said hello to a sketch artist. (Who, by the way, is furiously busy in the courtroom every day, but where are his sketches? The role of a sketch artist seems so archaic in these media-mad days that he might as well do charcoal portraits of the journalists present instead and sell them in the court lobby afterwards for R10 a go).

Sleaziest Objectification of Women Around Pistorius

To the UK’s Sun, which announced Pistorius’ alleged new relationship with a 19-year-old paramedic student in an article bearing the headline “Blade Stunner”. We get it, okay? The media once nicknamed Pistorius Blade Runner, and therefore any woman connected to him can have their privacy and integrity sacrificed on the altar of a cheap pun. Them’s the rules. The article’s sub-head explains: “Blade Runner Oscar Pistorius is dating a stunning teenager”. Note to The Sun: The minute you start putting the words “stunning” and “teenager” together, you automatically sound like the kind of creep who hangs around outside schools. Really.

Most Dramatic Courtroom Performance

This award goes to a foreign correspondent covering the trial who is the subject of another scoop-tastic SAPA story entitled “Oscar’s Sister Frowns At Journo’s Remarks”. This carefree fellow, who has a penchant for recording loud radio pieces from the middle of the courtroom, could be heard after the first day’s trial bellowing out a bulletin which stated confidently that Pistorius “appeared to be on some kind of medication” and “looked like an unconcerned spectator”. You keep making shit up, man. We won’t tell.

Most, Just, Urgh, Really?

To the New York Daily News, which has long displayed its classiness through its habit of routinely referring to Pistorius as a “legless South African”. The newspaper built its entire second-day coverage around Pistorius crying in the courtroom, because we all know it is both fascinating and unnatural when men cry. (Wait till they find out how he screams.) Referring to Pistorius’s tears as a “display of waterworks” and “bawling”, the article announced: “It was a Oscar-worthy performance”. For heaven’s sake, everyone knows it’s an “Oscar-worthy performance”.

Sick of all the Oscar coverage altogether? There aren’t many news sources you can go to where you can be dead certain of avoiding it. But one of your safest bets is the North Korean State News Agency, which at time of writing had nary a crumb of Pistorius-related content. Instead, they were leading with a story headlined: “US Urged To Drop Bad Habit Of Deliberately Blaming Others”. Your call. DM

Photo: Oscar Pistorius sits next to the dock during lunch break at his trial for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria March 5, 2014. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

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