So, has the media gotten anything right reporting the Pistorius murder case?

We’ve blogged here about what’s been wrong about the coverage of the murder of the relatively unknown model Reeva Steenkamp by her boyfriend, Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius. A ratings bonanza, coverage has ranged from frivolous to the ridiculous. The “international community” “rediscovering” that South Africa is dangerous, violent, even paranoid; or the media’s eagerness to demonstrate the ‘typicality’ of Pistorius. (See TO Molefe’s post from yesterday.) Reeva Steenkamp’s value is as statistic and as corpse, and not much else. (See Linda Stupart’s post here yesterday too.) But has the media gotten anything right? 

What does the event ‘highlight’? On the bright side, Pistorius’ oh so brief imprisonment highlights the plight of South Africa’s disabled prisoners. It would be good if the world, and even more if South Africans at large, paid more attention to the conditions in South Africa’s prisons. Meanwhile, locally, some have noted that the treatment of the Steenkamp case “highlight(s) the police’s general bungling of gender violence cases.”

Pistorius’ fixation, as some have called it, with guns “highlights the violence at the heart of South Africa, a country that suffers more than 15,000 murders every year … The truth is this: guns are us.”

The murder of Reeva Steenkamp “sheds light on the humongous problem of domestic violence, in particular femicide, which is murder of an intimate partner. There are so many cases that happen on a daily bases that don’t even get reported because so many of them that have been reported have just been thrown out of court. The numbers are astounding. And so people get discouraged. They don’t — they don’t report those cases, because there’s just no real justice for women at this point.”

Not every reporter has fallen for the highlight hype nor does every reporter recognize South Africa in the international descriptions, nor, by the way, in Pistorius’ self serving statements in court.

For example, Globe and Mail reporter Geoffrey York noted,

Even in the most dangerous cities, gun-wielding paranoia is not nearly as common as outsiders believe… Studies suggest that 12 per cent of South Africans own guns. It’s a relatively high percentage by global standards. But it still means that the vast majority of South Africans prefer not to have guns in their houses – mostly for safety reasons, since they realize how often guns can be stolen, misused, or accidentally fired.

And as development blogger Tom Murphy noted, homicide is actually down in South Africa. Furthermore, violent crimes tend to occur in areas with high unemployment and low income (as Molefe made the case here too), while property crimes tend to occur in areas of, well, property. This pattern is true for most of the world, and it suggests that those who live in wealthy areas have reason to protect their property, but not with lethal force.

Adriaan Basson, assistant editor editor at South African City Press, noted in Rapport newspaper (City Press and Rapport are part of the same company, so cross-post) that eight out of ten murder victims are killed by someone they know.

Who’s at risk? Women: “guns play a significant role in violence against women in South Africa, most notably in the killing of intimate partners.” So, it’s Reeva Steenkamp who’s typical, whose life and death should highlight something. That of course hasn’t happened.

But there’s still some bad stuff.

This sludge stew all came together the night of the murder, in an interview on PBS with Michael Sokolove, a New York Times reporter who had written an earlier, long profile of Pistorius. Here’s part of what he said:

Oscar liked his guns. Oscar felt under threat, and South Africa is a place that apartheid is over, but there’s a terrible chasm between rich and poor, income equality, and people with money, people with homes, tend to live behind walls, behind barbed wire, behind gates with guns. And this is not a pretty thing. It is somewhat understandable, but I think Oscar’s paranoia, if that’s what it was, was not uncommon to his class in South Africa … I think that perhaps even more than our own violent society and our own gun-soaked society, South Africa society is on a hair trigger. And I think it’s fair to say… that Oscar was on high alert. Oscar was on a hair trigger. Oscar had a paranoia about who might be coming into his house … I didn’t see malice from Oscar. I didn’t see him as a violent person. I did see him as a man of action, coiled, and on a hair trigger. And that has its own dangers.

So, that’s the story. The paranoia of the White master class explains violence. The hair trigger does what hair triggers do. High alert is high alert; ‘we’ are in a Code Red. And the facts be damned. What matters are the impressions, on the one hand, and the perception of malice. Because, as we know, the perpetrators of domestic violence, as of sexual violence more generally, are always recognizable. Aren’t they?

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7 thoughts on “So, has the media gotten anything right reporting the Pistorius murder case?

  1. You can’t let facts get in the way of a good story. Not especially if these facts challenge the back breaking efforts of many to make an entire nation fit into a neat little set of tautologies

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