Media under spotlight at Reitz trial
The Bloemfontein Regional Court on Monday ordered the media to leave alone the accused and witnesses in the crimen injuria trial of the so-called Reitz Four.
Chief magistrate Mziwonke Hinxa warned that the court would not like to “charge the media” in the matter.
This was after state prosecutor Ben Mulutsi told the court he had a problem with journalists approaching the witnesses in the case.
“I have a problem with the media as far as the witnesses [five black workers of the University of the Free State] are concerned. It is illegal to consult with witnesses on the merits of the case.”
Mulutsi said the state had a duty to protect its witnesses and that it was detrimental to the case that the witnesses speak to the media.
The four students—RC Malherbe, Johnny Roberts, Schalk van der Merwe and Danie Grobler—are accused of humiliating the five black staff members in an initiation-type ceremony that they filmed. The four women cleaners and a man are seen on their hands and knees eating food that had apparently been urinated on by a white student.
The workers are state witnesses in the matter.
Legal representative for the students Christo Dippenaar said the defence “took notice” of the state’s request, but added as far as it was concerned, the accused had already been found guilty in the media and by politicians in the country.
“All this before this court has made a ruling in the matter,” he said.
Dippenaar said if the court was willing to make a ruling on the media, to leave the witnesses alone, that it should include the four accused.
Asked if he wanted to address the court further on “politicians”, Dippenaar said no, agreeing they were entitled to their opinions.
Postponing the matter, Hinxa said the media should take note of the allegations made and “act in the interest of justice”.
He ordered the media to “desist” from talking to the accused and witnesses.
Making his order, Hinxa said the four students were not yet standing trial, but found themselves already in the “prisons of the media” and “prisons of politics”.
Mulutsi on Monday asked the court to postpone the matter to consider representations made by the defence which were received on Wednesday October 21.
“I must admit the representations have put pressure on the prosecution,” he said.
Mulutsi said the state had no option but to consider the representations and needed more time.
Hinxa said although a final remand was made previously, the court was not a “cannon which fires irreversibly” and due to the new aspects to the matter, the postponement was granted to February 24 2010.—Sapa