Ruling on media access to ET trial expected this week

2010-11-30 07:21

Media houses will hear on Thursday whether they will be granted access to the murder trial of right-winger Eugene Terre’Blanche.

Argument was heard in the Ventersdorp Circuit Court last week and judgment was reserved.

Media groups including e.tv, Media 24 and the SA National Editors’ Forum lodged an application because the trial was closed to the public because one of the accused was a minor.

Acting on behalf of the media, advocate Steve Budlender argued that there was a serious, compelling and profound public interest in the case, and closing it would undermine the principle of open justice.

He said the killing of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) leader sparked a public debate on race relations, raised questions of whether the crime was politically motivated, opened speculation of sodomy, and highlighted allegations that the murder was linked to the singing of the “Shoot the Boer” song by the ANC Youth League.

He contended that this was no ordinary murder trial and that Terre’Blanche was no ordinary man.

Budlender proposed that the court permit 14 journalists to be present at the trial with conditions attached, and stressed that it would not harm the minor’s rights to a fair trial.

The order states that the minor’s name would not be released and that reporters would be taken to another room to watch the testimony on closed-circuit television if the minor testifies.

If it becomes apparent that the presence of the media impedes the child’s right to privacy and a fair trial, the court retains the power to direct them to leave the courtroom.

He submitted that if the application was unsuccessful, the media would rely on comments and sound bites from the National Prosecuting Authority, and legal representatives involved in the case. This would lead to further speculation.

State prosecutor George Baloyi said that public interest could not interpret that minors in low-profile cases would enjoy the protection of law, while minors in high-profile cases would not.

He argued that it amounted to the unequal treatment of children, which went against the rule of law.

The minor’s attorney, Zola Majavu, did not oppose the media’s application, saying it did not compromise his client’s identity.

A late application for access to proceedings was also made by the AWB for the Terre’Blanche family and its leadership.

Chris Mahlangu (28) and the 15-year-old boy allegedly bludgeoned Terre’Blanche to death at his farmhouse outside Ventersdorp in April.

Both were employees at the time and a wage dispute was believed to be the motive.

The trial was due to get under way on December 6.

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