|dc.description.abstract||News coverage of high profile criminal matters has increased in South Africa. Such matters are
of public concern, as every citizen has a right to receive and impart information and to debate
openly and frankly matters which are of public concern, including matters before the courts.
The legitimacy of the courts is dependent on robust media reportage and public scrutiny of
judicial matters which such reportage stimulates. However, criminal trials of high profile
accused persons such as Oscar Pistorius, Shrien Dewani and J Arthur Brown, turn easily into a
show with strong entertainment value, giving the media strong profitmaking reasons to cover
it. In their pursuit of profit and in seeking to satisfy the curiosity of their readers, listeners or
viewers, the media regularly resort to trial by media or adverse pre-trial publicity. Trial by
media is nothing more than commercially motivated expression which does not warrant
At the receiving end of such coverage are accused persons. Public censure of crime and
of accused persons which follows trial by media should not be imposed on the innocent. The
right to a fair trial requires that an accused be treated fairly from the inception of the criminal
process, from which point the person suspected of committing the crime in question is
considered innocent. Any pre-trial process which implies that the accused is guilty, including
any such process influenced by media reports surrounding criminal offences, violates the
presumption of innocence.
Despite the availability of remedies, the media in South Africa usually are not held to
account for their actions and persist with adverse, biased and irresponsible pre-trial reporting.
Courts have shown a tendency to protect the media in these cases, despite the effect of such
reporting on the judicial process, the administration of justice and the fair trial rights of
accused persons. The reason for this is usually the hesitation on the part of judges to
recognise their susceptibility to extraneous matters. Judges should not be placed in a position
where their independence and impartiality are questioned as a result of media sensationalism.
Where the media create mistrust in the integrity of the judiciary, the rule of law is in peril.||