South Africa is televising its first full case, the trial of Oscar Pistorius

The first day of what the South African media calls the trial of the century hears sensational testimony and a "not guilty" plea from Oscar Pistorius. (Reuters/Antoine de Ras/Pool)


The first broadcast of a full criminal trial in South Africa is underway in the murder trial of one-time Olympic darling Oscar Pistorius. The cameras began rolling yesterday after a long fight over Open Justice and Freedom of Expression. But here in Canada, most everything before our equivalent courts remains cloaked in electronic silence and darkness.

Today is day 2 of the Oscar Pistorius trial: The Olympian and double-amputee known as "Blade Runner" is better known as an accused killer these days. Oscar Pistorius was charged with murder after his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, was shot dead on Valentine's Day last year. He says he thought he was shooting at an intruder through the door of his bathroom. He faces 25 years in prison.

Here's a taste of what happened in the courtroom yesterday. Oscar Pistorius enters a plea of Not Guilty -- and his lawyer reads Pistorius's version of events:

"... the tragic accident that led to Reeva's death, we were in a loving relationship. The discharging of my firearm was precipitated by a noise in the toilet which I in my fearful state, knowing that I was on my stumps, unable to run away or properly defend myself, believed to be the intruder or intruders, coming out of the toilet coming to attack Reeva and me."

And from a witness, in translation, who heard gunshots that night:

"My lady just after 3, I woke from a woman's terrible screams. Then I also heard a man screaming for help. My lady, my husband talked on the phone and explained to the security that there are people next door being attacked, and they should go there. I heard her screams again, it was worse, it was more intense. Just after her screams, my lady, I heard four shots. It was four gunshots that I heard."

Reeva Steenkamp was not only a well known model, she was a law school graduate known for speaking out about violence against women.

A high court judge in South Africa granted media the right to broadcast from inside the courtroom using three "unobtrusive" fixed cameras that can not zoom or provide dramatic close-ups. Witnesses can opt out of being televised when they testify, and Pistorius's own testimony will not be shown, but all of it can be heard on the radio. In his decision, the judge - not the trial Judge by the way - said he was trying to strike a balance between the media's rights, and a fair trial.

The broadcast of a full criminal trial is a South African first. Both the Pistorius defence team and the Steenkamp's opposed the broadcast of the trial.

But it's music to the ears of Raymond Louw. He is the Deputy Chairm of the South African National Editors' Forum Media Freedom Committee. He believes the judge's decision to broadcast the majority of the Pistorius trial balances the right to freedom of expression and the important principle of open justice with Pistorius's right to have a fair trial and that it will contribute to an open, democratic South African society. Raymond Louw was in Johannesburg

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It's almost a legal cliché: "Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done."
And yet, cameras in courtrooms remain contentious. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

While it may all be very new for South Africa, Canadians have watched televised trials for decades. Admittedly, the justice they see done is mostly American justice. Who can forget the O. J. Simpson trial? According to advocates, cameras allow greater transparency and accountability. They educate citizens about the justice system and the pros typically outweigh the cons. Canada still debates cameras in courtrooms.

Rick Woodburn believes that when it comes to Canadian trials, cameras are better left outside because they interfere with the way a trial unfolds including possible intimidation of witnesses. Rick Woodburn is president of the Canadian Association of Crown Counsel, a national association which represents the collective interests of Crown prosecutors and Crown lawyers. He was in Halifax.

Amy Salyzyn thinks Canada should take a page out of South Africa's book when it comes to allowing cameras in courtrooms and says Canada needs to get with the times and adopt more accepting stances on cameras in courtrooms. She is a Doctoral candidate and a Sessional Professor at the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Law. Amy Salyzyn was in our Ottawa studio.

What are your thoughts on televising trials? Add your point of view to this discussion.

Tweet us @thecurrentcbc. Or e-mail us through our website. Find us on Facebook. Call us toll-free at 1 877 287 7366. And as always if you missed anything on The Current, grab a podcast.

This segment was produced by The Current's Pacinthe Mattar and Naheed Mustafa.

Last Word - Reeva Steenkamp on Tropika Island of Treasure

We've been talking today about televising the Oscar Pistorius trial. Unusually for a murder trial, the accused is a celebrity -- and so was the victim. In fact, Reeva Steenkamp's striking beauty made her a standout star on Tropika Island of Treasure, a South African reality show similar to Survivor. It aired just a few days after her killing, and her parents were dedicated viewers. They say the show allowed them to connect with their daughter.

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