If eTV has Its Way, the Trial of Schabir Shaik will be Coming to a TV Screen Near You
Estelle Ellis, Jeremy Gordin
In the first application of its kind in South Africa, television broadcaster e.tv has applied to broadcast the trial proceedings of Schabir Shaik.
"It is our belief that we have a right to televise and broadcast the trial ..." e.tv editor-in-chief and SA National Editors Forum chairman Joe Thloloe said in papers filed before the Durban High Court.
He said if the court found that e.tv did not have a "right" to broadcast the trial, it was still up to the judge to give "permission" that it could be broadcast.
"It will give the public a fuller and more accurate understanding of the proceedings," Thloloe said. He added e.tv could reach a million people with its news broadcasts nightly.
Owing to high levels of illiteracy in SA, target groups reached by the print media were much smaller.
Shaik is to go on trial on Monday. He and 10 of his companies have been charged with corruption, fraud and tax evasion, with alternative charges to these hinting at money-laundering and organised crime.
And e.tv's application may be granted unless Justice Hillary Squires, who will be presiding, rules in favour of the proposed objections by lead counsel for the state, advocate Billy Downer SC, and Shaik's attorney, Reeves Parsee.
Both have indicated that they do not want cameras in court. But, by 4pm yesterday, the deadline proposed by e.tv in papers before court, they had not filed documents opposing the application.
Up to now, almost all episodes in the arms deal saga and its spin-off investigations have been televised. These included the Hefer Commission into allegations that the former director of public prosecutions, Bulelani Ngcuka, was a spy for the apartheid government, and Ngcuka and public protector Laurence Mushwana's public spat in parliament relating to the criminal investigation against Deputy President Jacob Zuma.
Zuma laid a charge with Mushwana after Ngcuka announced that, at first glance, there was a case against him, but declined to prosecute.
According to a letter from acting Durban Judge President Brian Galgut, Judge Squires has no objection in principle to the trial being televised subject to certain considerations, including security arrangements, proceedings in other courts and the suitability of the courtroom.
Judge Galgut also made it clear the decision would have to be taken by Judge Squires about every witness as some "might not be able to think clearly" if they knew their evidence was being broadcast live.
Thloloe said in his affidavit the Shaik case had been "subject to intense public scrutiny".
"Great public debate has ensued regarding the charges, the alleged involvement of the Deputy President Jacob Zuma and the previous role of the (former) director of public prosecutions, Bulelani Ngcuka."
Thloloe said it was in the public interest to televise proceedings because of :
He pointed out that the court was open to the public and that broadcasting proceedings was "essential to ensure openness and transparency".
It is "vital to the process that the hearings be scrupulously conducted and ... seen to be so", Thloloe stated.
He pointed out the "means of communication have been radically transformed by radio and television broadcasting".
"... (T)here is an extensively high level of illiteracy in South Africa and ... a substantial number of people receive their information primarily through the broadcast media," he said.
He said a bar on TV cameras would discriminate against TV reporters as print media reporters were allowed to have all the tools of their trade in court.
The application is expected to be argued on Monday.
With acknowledgements to Estelle Ellis, Jeremy Gordin and the Cape Times.