Is it any wonder that members of the National Prosecuting Authority and the police are wary of the efforts of the media when it comes to high-profile criminal matters?
I have worked against our prosecutors and police for a number of years and have found them to be highly dedicated professionals tasked with protecting an ungrateful public, using limited resources, for little pay while encountering substantial danger.
The media, on the other hand, where I have been an editor for about three years, are entrusted with providing information that will capture their readers imagination ie produce sales, which in turn drives advertising. Unfortunately this is dependent on public interest, which generally trends towards things like scandal and pornography rather than arts and culture.
We get the media we deserve because we are the ones driving sales.
Enter a high-profile criminal case.
World-renowned athlete and top model in a murder mystery — the public can’t get enough. Even the one’s complaining about too much coverage fall into the trap of driving up the clicks or purchasing the newspapers.
As an editor, watching every target for the month being surpassed within hours, it is almost impossible not to be seduced by the story.
This however produces a problem because if your newspaper wants to get ahead it has to provide the most sensational headlines or risk being left behind. This encourages speculation rather than hard facts.
The police and prosecutors are required to follow strict rules of procedure and comply with the law. This means they can’t go to the media to counter the nonsense until such time as they have the facts and feel comfortable enough that what they are saying will carry forward in the build-up to trial and the trial.
Worse, they have to live by standards far higher than those they are prosecuting.
In the case of the lead detective investigating Oscar Pistorius, Hilton Botha, we have been advised that he is allegedly facing charges of attempted murder, which has occasioned his withdrawal from the matter.
The charges purportedly relate to an incident in 2009.
With the world’s media trawling for dirt, the National Prosecuting Authority, in my humble opinion, probably felt that they had no choice but to charge Botha before the overseas press starts claiming that the police are quick to charge Pistorius but slow to deal with their own.
The fact is the charges had previously been provisionally withdrawn and were with the director of public prosecutions for ruling.
Botha, as many others will find in a high-profile case, is the victim of the media’s thirst to dig up the dirt on anyone and anything related to the matter.
His career in tatters they will then move on to others in their attempts to sensationalise everything and anything they can.
No doubt Botha will be able to piece his life back together but the untold damage caused by an unfeeling media, which places advertising and ratings above the interest of the public has to be seen to be believed.
Freedom of the press is of paramount importance, I have championed it often enough, but the reckless abandon with which it is employed is just as dangerous as censorship.
I’m sure Botha and many other victims of this media circus will understand why I am saying this by the time this trial is over.