Channel Seven’s Sunday Night has controversially asked its viewers to vote on Oscar Pistorius’ trial, after showing them footage his lawyers claim was “illegally obtained”.
Channel Seven’s Sunday Night has asked viewers to vote on the guilt or innocence of Olympian Oscar Pistorius, currently facing court charged with the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
According to Seven there were 1.1 million votes cast on the question during last night’s program. Viewers were evenly split after watching the program, which examined the arguments for and against his guilt.
“Is it acceptable to turn a murder case into a viewer vote because it is in another country and not under Australian jurisdiction? Would we have accepted TV viewers voting on the guilt or innocence of an Australian on trial overseas? Rolf Harris? Or what about Queenslander Tyson Dagley, who faced a negligent homicide charge in Hawaii in 2012 after a skijet crash?
“What happened to innocent until proven guilty and allowing justice to take its natural course? Cheap stunts like this, in the race for viewer interactivity, take us closer to a TV colosseum.”
But Sunday Night executive producer Mark Llewellyn disagrees, telling Crikey the report could not have been “more matter-of-fact or unbiased”. “Our story methodically cross-referenced his statements with evidence publicly presented to the court. Indeed, the first half of the show was dedicated, in elaborate detail, to the case for his innocence.”
Asked if the use of a viewer poll undermined such fair reporting, he was dismissive. “I assume from your lofty tone that you hold the view that the ‘great unwashed’ should not be entrusted with an opinion or the ability to express it. By the way the vote, was roughly 50/50, so clearly bias was not an issue. The story presented both sides fairly.”
The vote wasn’t the only contentious thing in last night’s program. The broadcast also featured footage of Pistorius re-enacting the events that led to his fatal shooting of Steenkamp. The footage, Pistorius’ lawyers claim, was “illegally obtained” through paying a company the defence team hired, US forensic animation firm The Evidence Room. Pistorius’ lawyers also say the airing of the footage was “a staggering breach of trust and an invasion of the family’s privacy”.
Llewellyn says if Seven believed the footage was illegally obtained, the network would not have run it. “Whose privacy was invaded? Oscar’s? His trial is the most public trial on earth.”
Speaking to The Times, Stephen Tuson, an associate law professor at the University of Witwatersand in Johannesburg, said the airing of the footage could constitute a breach of privilege between the defence and The Evidence Room, and that this, in turn, could be grounds for a mistrial.
But Sydney University associate legal professor David Rolph told Crikey the fact that Pistorius’ trial was being conduct without a jury meant the burden of proof for a mistrial was relatively higher.
He also notes it’s not the first time Australian television networks have been asked to vote on the innocence or otherwise of someone facing court. In 2005, Channel Nine asked a studio audience whether they thought Schapelle Corby was innocent or guilty, and polling on the subject resumes whenever she’s in the news.