Michael Trapido
Michael Trapido

Botha first casualty of the Pistorius media circus

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.

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    • Stephen Browne

      This debacle is showcasing the worst of a lot of people unfortunately. I’ll admit to clicking those buttons myself.

      P.S. I’ pretty certain this: “I have worked against our prosecutors and police for a number of years,” should be “I have worked with …”

      Unless it was an ironic affirmation of your opinion.

    • Tofolux

      And we wonder why a circus of spin doctors, brand and publicity managers have been flown in from overseas and this by the family of the accused. I have a feeling that this trial will be a circus and I fear the public at large will be manipulated into forgetting that a defenceless woman was brutally killed by someone she knew and trusted.

    • Truth be known

      The media is a commodity to be traded at the best profit at all costs.

    • The Creator

      Botha is alleged to have shot at a taxi full of people while drunk. The charges were initially withdrawn, but then, hasn’t that often happened with the police in our history?

      I don’t see that Botha is a casualty of the media circus. I don’t see that a senior police officer should be even in a position to be accused of using firearms while drunk. Doesn’t that suggest that he shouldn’t be a senior police officer in the first place?

    • Birdman

      I thought this case would draw you out. I may not understand the process well but expected the investigating officer would not be prone to dramatizing facts as much as the media are. (Herbal stuff implied as drugs, eyewitnesses 800m away and some other nuggets). It is early days yet but credibility from the start is no doubt crucial so Botha losing his can only help the defence.

      Churnalists construe facts according to their wits.SAPS only need to construe the facts according to the law so I expect them to get it right.

      Botha is the first target. By the time this ends Oscar, Reeva, their friends, family and pets will have every indiscretion since birth exposed and examined.

      We are all clicking the refresh button so we can reinforce our armchair verdict, already reached.

    • Enough Said

      The free media may be mercenary and they certainly destroy lives, but its better than government controlled and government sponsored media. They are just as mercenary and destructive and the public don’t get the benefit of a public watchdog.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      I don’t understand why people all want to live vicariously Other People’s Lives – why don’t they get lives of their own?

      And another thing that annoys me is that there is no clear cut “Guilty” or “Not Guilty”. It is not up to the defendant to prove innocence but the prosecutor to prove guilt – so often “Not Guilty” means “Not Proven” – which means the prosecution might have been right, but could not prove it sufficiently.

      In Scotland they actually allow a “Not Proven” verdict.

    • Momma Cyndi

      So cops shouldn’t face charges unless the media takes interest or the media shouldn’t take interest so they don’t face charges?

      To be honest, Botha didn’t exactly cover his career in glory before his charges were re-instated. Tuesday’s testimony was cringe worthy.

      My beef with the media is not their digging on this case, it is the blatant fabrications that they have come up with.

    • Thandinkosi Sibisi

      I have no training in the law hence my views are entirely those of a layman.However I think the The whole Botha saga emerged from the “trial in a trial”when all that had to be determined was whether bail should be granted or not

      In my layman understanding all that had to be established at the bail hearing was (1) Whether he is a flight risk and (2) whether he poses a “threat” to witnesses which means anything from threatening to harm them or paying them to keep silent.

      In conducting this “trial i a trial” evidence about a so called witness who heard screams/fighting and gunshots would have been tested before being brought to the trial proper.. Further the allegations about drugs and whether Pristorius had his prosthetics on when he fired the shots should have been reserved for the trial proper, when the prosecution had time to examine all possibilities and interrogate them before presenting them as “evidence”

      In my opinion this trial is over . Premeditated murder or not , the prosecution has so messed up that Prestorius will certainly walk.Remember O J Simpson in the US?

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Abuse often happens in Army and Police cultures – because of the adrenaline needed to do the job, and no proper de-stressing support structures.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Angie, wearing her Womens’ League Hat, says all abusers of women should be prosecuted irrespective of “status”.

      A pity they had a totally different approach when the “status” of Zuma was questioned in court.

    • Maurice

      I am no proponent of trial by media, but it should be allowed to reflect unfettered on any matter it chooses to. Freedom of the press is paramount even if it ventures soap opera like now. Another matter, Hilton should have been suspended until established safe and qualified to serve in a law enforcement position. Corruption, ineptness and incompetence within the public service, the fruit of affirmative action, allowed this dangerous person to cause harm.

    • Rod MacKenzie

      Nice one Traps, put this on my Facebook. I am struck by the coincidence of Botha’s old and laid to rest charges coming back to him PRECISELY at this moment. I sniff an interested party/Oscar stakeholder rigging it….

    • Frans Verloop

      @STephen Browne, Michael says in his profile that he is a cirminal lawyer. That could mean a) that he is a lawyer specialising in defending criminals, or b) that he is a lawyer who is also a criminal. In either case he would be working against, not with, the police and prosecutors.

    • http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/sarahbritten Sarah Britten

      1.7 million views of a news24 Oscar story, a record for them by well over a million. In this case, the media is giving the public what it wants. And during the hearing they’re only reporting on what Pistorius’s lawyers are saying, so if the police give them ammunition, that’s their failing.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      O J Simpson is a very good example

      Ne was found NOT GUILTY in the Criminal Case, but GUILTY in the Civil Case because the onus of proof is stricter in a Criminal Case (Without ANY reasonable doubt) than in a Civil Case (Most Reasonable Interpretation of the facts).

      Botha shot at ONE taxi of people – how do you know why or in what circumstances? Maybe he thought they were a Hi-Jack gang?

      And I find the media circus and their cameras being allowed into court to be shoved into the face of the accused disgusting – why not just go Back to the Ancient Romans and the Christians fighting the Lions in the Circus?

    • Stephen Browne

      @Frans Verloop: is there an option C.)both of the above? 😉

      Thanks for clearing it up though, makes a bit more sense.

    • Momma Cyndi

      Rod MacKenzie

      The charges against Botha had been reinstated 10 days BEFORE the murder even took place. The NPA was just their usual, on the ball, selves and ‘forgot’ to tell him (or poor Nel) about it

    • Britney’s Spear

      Stephen Browne.
      As far as I am concerned, they are two sides of the same coin : )
      So b) it is.

    • Charlotte

      This mammoth public interest goes much further than just the sensationalised trial of a famous sportsman man shooting his girlfriend. It is of even more interest because far exceeds the boundaries of any normal orbit.

      Some people are born to it – their lives earmarked for tragedy. Such has it been with Pistroius: Without feet, his mother dying when he was 15, he somehow overcame ‘the slings and arrows’ – only to be overtaken again by the disaster that perhaps springs from it.

      This worldwide public attention far supercedes the legalities of a court case. It is a human interest story of enormous proportions: of triumph over ‘outrageous fortune’ with all its ramifications – only again to be overtaken by it.

      (Hilton Botha? Scandalous S.African police screw-ups, although a disgrace, are nothing new…. It happens all the time)

    • http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/taliameer Talia Meer

      What an incredibly odd view to take.
      I agree that policing is a though, and often thankless job. Police are often ill-equipped to do their jobs effectively, let alone deal with the psychological toll.
      But as someone rightfully already pointed out. Botha is not being charged with illegal parking. Whatever the cause police are often perpetrators of violence in this country, and if additional media coverage spurs the NPA to do what they should have done in the first place, great!

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