Africa

South Africa press review: Pistorius trial

  • 4 March 2014
  • From the section Africa
South African Paralympian star Oscar Pistorius (2nd L) leaves the court after the first day of his trial on March 3, 2014 in Pretoria.
The trial has attracted unprecedented media coverage

The world media's fascination with the trial for murder of double-amputee Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius is amply reflected in the coverage by the media in his native South Africa. Several newspapers have live pages online and are covering the proceedings blow by blow.

But it was problems over translating the evidence of the first witness that caught the attention of Afrikaans-language daily Beeld.

South African website News24 describes an "unusual start" to an "unusual" trial, saying it is the first of its kind in the country, as it involves a celebrity and a "huge international following", and requires the court to rule on media access.

"The trial is scheduled to last for three weeks, but it promises to be much, much longer than that," it concludes.

On the front page of daily The Star is a photograph of Mr Pistorius with the caption "Oscar screams like a woman". The headline relates to the contention by the defence that the screams Michelle Burger says she heard were those of Oscar Pistorius, not the girlfriend he is accused of murdering, Reeva Steenkamp.

The paper comments: "Pistorius cut a lonely figure in the dock, his family sitting right behind him, while Steenkamp's mother, June, and other relatives sat on the opposite side of the same bench... His demeanour contrasted sharply with the emotional mess he was during his bail hearing in February last year."

In Beeld, the main headline is: "Interpretation of evidence 'scandalous, pathetic'." The paper is indignant about the "poor quality of interpretation" as Michelle Burger chose to give evidence in Afrikaans.

Reader Cherryl Boshoff laments that "SA can do better than this with the world's eyes on us". Another reader, Louise Roodt, is unsurprised and recalls the sign language interpreter at Mandela's memorial service.

The Sowetan features prominently the denial by the justice department spokesman that there was been a problem with the interpreter used to translate for Mrs Burger.

"To this end, the department is not aware of any concerns raised and would therefore allow the wheels of justice to continue to be in motion," the paper quotes him as saying.

'Nearly ideal'

On the front page of the online version of the Sowetan is a picture of Mr Pistorius, with his head bowed, under the headline "Day 2: Inside the Oscar Pistorius trial". The paper also has a "wrap of all the court proceedings on one page". There, the lead story is the row over a picture of Michelle Burger being shown on TV despite her request that this should not happen.

The hard copy of the paper also has the Pistorius trial on the front page with a photograph of a half-empty court taking up the whole of the top half of the page. "OSCAR WON'T RUN" is the headline.

The front page of The Mail & Guardian - self-proclaimed "Africa's best read" - carries the headline "Pistorius: SA justice puts its best foot forward."

Associate editor Philip De Wet says the trial "has put the spotlight on SA's justice system, which is performing better than usual". His analysis piece says that all that foreign journalists "who parachuted into South Africa... to cover the murder trial" know about the country is that it "is home to an interpreter that made a mockery of the official memorial service of Nelson Mandela, and the police seem to have a penchant for shooting people dead".

He adds that they were expecting "a disorganized mess of a justice system" but feels that this is not what they found. "What South Africa put on display on Monday was very close to the ideal the system strives for - even if that is far from the daily reality in so many other courts around the country," he says.

'Not personal'

The Times shares a headline and "the wrap of all the court proceedings on one page" with the Sowetan, but features a picture of the victim's mother as she stares grimly at Oscar Pistorius.

In an item entitled "The circus comes to town", the paper reports on the attention Mr Pistorius is getting from the media and the public. It describes how he "had to be bundled into his family's Toyota Fortuner after photographers and passers-by shoved each other to get a photograph - or glimpse of the accused".

The paper says he would not have seen ANC Women's League members outside the court chanting "Oscar's going to jail" in isiZulu. One member told the paper that they were there to "support the Steenkamp family." "We're sick and tired of women being killed senselessly", the paper quotes her as saying.

The Times also notes: "News broadcasters including eNCA, Eurovision, Sky News, BBC, Al Jazeera and SABC set up gazebos and scaffolding opposite the court entrance." The paper interviews an acquaintance of Mr Pistorius's from Johannesburg Scaffolding who said the company was charging agencies and broadcasters R1000 (£55) a day for the use of the scaffolding.

Mr Pistorius's "mistake is my fortune, although it wasn't personal - just business", the paper quotes him as saying.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

Around the BBC