Media and the Law (Beyond Borders): Thesis Extract IV
Thanks to the various readers of my blog and followers of my Twitter account who involved themselves in the process of this project with great enthusiasm – challenging, questioning and offering feedback. It was through these animated debates and discussions that I first was able to articulate many of the concepts and ideas that are in this paper. A very special thanks to the Twitter user and Facebook Randi Palihakkara (best known as @randi_x) for constantly questioning, arguing, on occasion agreeing – and most importantly the wealth of knowledge that you shared with me. Much of this paper is a result of our discussions.
5.1) Amanda Knox Trial
On November 2nd 2007 British student Meredith Krecher’s body is found in the villa she shared with Amanda Knox in Perugia, Italy. By July 2008 Knox, her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito and a drifter Rudy Guede were formally charged by the Italian police with murder – all of whom by December 2009 were found guilty by the lower Italian courts. In the Italian criminal system however – the trials was far from over. Knox would not be considered guilty until the verdict was confirmed by the higher courts and on the second appeal the ‘guilty’ verdict for the murder was overturned and she was freed in 2011 . Up until March of 2013 this was believed to be the end - Amanda Knox became the poster girl for wrongful conviction and the media caressed the story with glee. Now in an interesting twist, the Italian Court of Cassation overturned Knox's acquittal and ordered a retrial at an appellate court in Florence
The Amanda Knox trial was a case that captivated its audience from the very beginning. A 24 year-old was being accused of murdering, raping and at one point of using the victim in Satanic rituals . The Italian media painted her as a “she-devil with an angel face who literally got away with murder” , while the American media chose the other end of the spectrum, portraying her as “innocent young student who fell victim to incompetent prosecutors and a medieval justice system abroad” . The public reaction to the news of the re-trial served to highlight just how stark the opinions between the two nations were. Media reports show that most Italians are convinced that the decision to acquit her was political, and believe she is guilty . But the media coverage of the case has not been limited to when the original trial took place, or now with the call for re-trial. In between the two years of Knox’s acquittal and March’s call for re-trial there have been several documentaries produced about it. All of them give you the same idea – Knox’s is innocent, a victim of bad circumstances and harassment by the Italian police. Knox made a book deal with Harper Collins for $4 million and it is set for release at the end of April.
America is likely to invoke the use of the ‘double jeopardy’ principle which doesn’t exist in Italian law creating an interesting technical dynamic. Under the U.s Constitution and law she has not obligation to return to Italy where she will likely be re-arrested . Knox has made open statements to the media about her re-trial, saying she will fight – causing one to question if after the harsh glare of the media on her for almost 4 years, has she learnt how to give them what they want, and will this help her case?
5.2) Oscar Pistorius shooting
On Valentine’s Day 2013 – romance was not making headlines across the world – murder was. Disabled South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius is famously known in the media as ‘Blade Runner’. Until February 2013, Pistorius was known for his exploits in the arena of sprinting in the Paralympics and Olympics, and was a celebrated figure for those promoting strength and endurance against life’s misfortunes. Famously credited for saying, “You're not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have ”; Pistorius has enjoyed his share of media attention – the height of which - or so it was thought – came after the 2012 Summer Olympics in London when he became the first disabled sprinter to complete in the able-bodied events.
On the 14th of February, news reports broke all over the world when Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend; model Reeva Steenkamp - allegedly mistaking her for an intruder when she surprised him at their home on Valentine’s Day . The next day Pistorius was formally charged with murder, BBC reports saying, “Defendant cut a lonely figure, holding his head forward and breathing heavily through tears” . While dozens of reporters were present in the courtroom for his bail hearing – the judge ruled that it would not be a live-recording as the already high media interest surrounding the case need not be added to.
The media frenzy was not daunted by this however and the case has been avidly discussed by various media outlets, social media being the primary point of discussion. It is interesting to note that the Pistorius case is the first celebrity-trial of this magnitude and charge that is taking place in the era of social media – giving it an interesting dynamic. Already the victim’s tweets prior to her death about Valentine’s Day have become a staple fact to be included in any news story about the event and various athletes have used Twitter as a medium to express their views on the case . ‘Oscar Pistorius’ has twice been a world-trending topic on Twitter – the highest being when his bail conditions were adjusted allowing him to travel for athletic events. Many questioned if this would have happened had he not been a celebrity. Pistorius’s full statement was published by CNN and other news broadcasting channels – all accompanied with the note that it was read out by his attorney, Pistorius being too distraught to speak . A cynic could argue that these open displays of grief could be a carefully constructed public relations stunt – his defense being well aware that the eyes of the world are on him and any negative publicity could discredit his stance that there was no element of pre-meditation to the killing. Pistorius was forcefully reminded of this when he stepped out for what he claims was dinner with friends. News reports disagreed, their stories headlining with “Accused of murder, Oscar Pistorius seen out partying” .
The Pistorius case like many others has incited the interest of the public for various reasons. One is the obvious – celebrity and murder make for a combination that is deemed newsworthy by any standards. The second reason for the interest is that it has sparked debate about the issues of gun control and violent crime prevalent in South Africa. South African talk show host Redi Thlabi tweeted: "Expressing our sadness at the tragedy and talking broadly about gun ownership. Nobody is judging Oscar”. The last part of her statement is doubtful – just Google his name.