Pistorius trial reminds me of Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope boxing
Watching the inevitable brouhaha surrounding the bail hearing of Oscar Pistorius has been a ringside seat into a world where there are no reporting restrictions.
No jury means no restrictions on what journalists can write or publish electronically. In short, it has been a complete free-for-all and a feeding frenzy.
Even when we have non-jury courts in the UK, as in the Diplock courts in Northern Ireland, where major criminal cases are heard concerning paramilitary activity, the media are still very much bound by the contempt of court act.
Basically this means you are restricted to the “10 points” from the moment proceedings are deemed active – from the point of arrest, for instance. Those points cover the facts, from name, address, age, and plea through to bail conditions and so forth. You cannot speculate about whether he or she did it. The quaint olde worlde concept is that the person in the dock is presumed innocent until due process finds otherwise or acquits.
And from the moment matters come to court you are limited to report fairly, contemporaneously and accurately what was said in court and, usually, only what was said in the jury’s hearing, as opposed to legal argument when they are sent out.
In theory, transgressing any of the above lays the media open to contempt proceedings, about which, in theory, the courts take a dim view.
There’s an argument to be had that successive attorneys general and the system in general have allowed the contempt act to fall into, well, contempt, and there are plenty of victims of trial by tabloid who would readly agree the act has not been enforced as it might.
The dangers of prejudicing a trial – with or without a jury – are obvious if unfettered speculation is allowed. Or so goes the argument.
But is it all that obvious?
The Pistorius story may well show us something rather interesting here. I think most observers would be in no doubt that the accused was pretty roundly hung out to dry in the court of public opinion, in the forum of the blogosphere, in the frenzy of trial by Twitter.
And yet. And yet. One is reminded of the infamous rope-a-dope boxing strategy . You let your opponent come out and swing wildly at you as you cower on the ropes, giving very little back. Then, in round six or whatever, you floor him as he’s given all he’s got. Ask George Foreman about the Rumble in the Jungle in Kinshasa, when Muhammad Ali famously dismantled the fearsome Foreman with precisely this approach.
So now in South Africa we have seen the prosecution case shouted from the streets and the rooftops by the media – shouted in fact virtually anywhere and everywhere except an actual courtroom, until very recently. Mr Pistorius and his defence counsel have kept their c ounsel.
Until now. So after all the “bloodied cricket bat”, the “screaming rows”, the “drugs”, the litany of guilt presumed before the facts are examined, we now find in court that the witness to the screaming was 600 metres away and could not identify the voices. We find that the investigator admits the bedroom was pitch-black inside. We find the same investigator did not read the label properly on the bottle of “testosterone”.
We find in fact that just when the insatiable public wants a new angle is it getting one. It’s called a defence.
Rope a dope?
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