Friday, February 22, 2013

Canada should learn from South Africa

South Africa’s legal system is doing an admirable job of demonstrating how it does justice.

Magistrate Desmond Nair’s decision today granting bail to Oscar Pistorius on a charge of murdering his girlfriend was broadcast live on audio around the world.

Even better, cameras in the courtroom showed video and still pictures of the accused and the spectators.

Canada, unfortunately, still forbids such openness.

Not only are journalists here banned from reporting the prosecution and defence arguments in most bail proceedings, but cameras are verboten in courtrooms.

The South African experience refutes several arguments against cameras in the courts.

First, even in this sensational, emotional case that fascinated people around the world, broadcasting and recording the proceedings did not pervert the course of justice.

So forget the O.J. Simpson trial, where American lawyers who fancied themselves entertainers played to the cameras.

Second, broadcasting did not mean that sensational segments pushed out reasoned argument. In fact, the live broadcast forced us to listen to the magistrate’s entire two-hour reasoning process.

As Canadian lawyer Bob Sokalski and other media-law practitioners argue in court and outside it, most citizens cannot attend legal proceedings. They rely on journalists to tell them what is going on. Video and audio recording and broadcasting are essential tools of journalists.

You may have already heard me make this argument.

Now South Africa has provided an example of not only how cameras in the courts could work, but how they actually do work.