Opinion: The Oscar deflection

The story of Oscar Pistorius allegedly shooting Reeva Steenkamp in cold blood does raise pertinent questions about a number of vital issues, ranging from domestic violence to the treatment of women in our society. But, why must the untimely death of a model at the hands of a national hero take precedence over other matters of national importance?

The country collectively gasped as the news of a shooting at Pistorius’s upmarket Pretoria home broke early on Valentine’s Day morning.

But if you removed the fame aspect of the characters involved, it would be just another occurrence in our crime-ridden society.

Steenkamp is one of roughly 2 500 women who suffer the same fate annually in South Africa – often through the actions of their spousal partners.

Taking violent assaults, rapes, and other sexual misdemeanors against women into account, Steenkamp is approximately one of 200 000 yearly victims.

Yet the nation has been spellbound, hanging onto every minute detail of the unfolding drama.

All but two South African newspapers ran with the shooting as their lead story on Friday morning – despite President Jacob Zuma’s State Of The Nation address on Thursday evening.

The ensuing media frenzy has been a leading cause of South African citizens ignoring the other very pressing issues that haunt our country almost on a daily basis.

As we heard about how Oscar wept in the courtroom, we quickly forgot about Zuma’s speech that was filled with more empty promises.

As we pondered what Oscar might be sleeping on in his Brooklyn police station holding cell, we stopped thinking about the Nkandla saga and the multibillion-rand private sector collusion being investigated in the construction sector.

And as news trickled in that Oscar allegedly shot Reeva through the bathroom door, we collectively gasped and stopped thinking about the gang rape and murder of Anene Booysen.

This is not to say that South Africans should not be outraged that one of our national heroes could be guilty of premeditated murder.

If Oscar is found guilty and sentenced to jail time, it will mark the most spectacular fall from grace in South African history.

But surely we should be circumspect in our reaction and employ some perspective?

In the three minutes it has taken you to read this article, approximately 10 women would have been raped. Yet we are not outraged and shocked in the same manner as we are in the Pistorius incident.

Perhaps the answer lies in the media’s coverage of the event, which raises serious questions about our ethics.

Staying true to the maxim of “if it bleeds – it leads”, has led to the flouting of a court order compelling the media not to publish pictures of court proceedings and the possible violation of the subjudice rule.

The story of a beautiful blonde allegedly murdered by a disabled national icon will certainly sell more newspapers and magazines than covering another corruption scandal, another sexual assault or another murder in South Africa.

But it doesn’t mean that it should take charge of our national psyche.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

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