Court TV Divides Cape Legal Eagles
Henri Du Plessis
Whatever the decision of the Durban High Court on whether live television coverage should be allowed in a criminal trial, in Cape Town legal experts are divided on the issue.
Broadcaster e.tv has applied for permission to film and broadcast live the trial of controversial businessman Schabir Shaik as he faces charges relating to his involvement in the arms deal and to what the State has described as the general corrupt relationship between Shaik and Deputy President Jacob Zuma.
With its implications for Zuma's future, the trial is of immense public interest, which is one of the arguments put forward by e.tv in their quest to win the right to film.
Legal minds around the country are yet again contemplating the issues around televising court cases. A poll of senior Cape Town counsel revealed that views on the issue differed considerably.
South Africans have had live legal action on television twice before, but in both instances - the King and Hefer commissions of inquiry - the focus of the attention was not a criminal trial.
Mr Justice Edwin King presided over the cricket match-fixing investigation, while Mr Justice Hefer led an investigation into allegations made against Scorpions boss Bulelani Ngcuka in connection with the Shaik investigation.
Cape Judge President John Hlophe said he was not sure whether South Africans were ready for live court television.
"I cannot give an opinion or my personal views, because the issue is before court at the moment, but I have to ask whether South Africans are ready for this.
"A lack of live television coverage of court cases does not impact on people's rights. Most South Africans do not have televisions anyway, and I have to agree with the argument that television cameras could make it uncomfortable for witnesses and the parties involved to work in a relaxed way."
Advocate Denzil Potgieter said he did not believe it would be right to have television cameras in the court room at all.
"Witnesses will feel ill at ease. For most normal people, and I include myself, it can be a harrowing experience appearing before national television. It will be even more so during a high profile criminal trial.
"In court, the various parties and legal counsel should be able to speak freely and comfortably, without interference."
Advocate Norman Arendze gave the concept of court television an emphatic "yes".
"I think the court should be open to it. Courts in South Africa are already open to the public and I believe the Hefer Commission showed how successful it can be.
"It would also be good for people to see how the legal system works. They will also develop greater confidence in the legal system.
"This case is in the public interest and I think the court should err on the side of television."
With acknowledgements to Henri Du Plessis and the Cape Argus.