What's Happening?

22.4.14

David Basckin... On the Couch: TV Faceplam



The great and terrible drama of Reeva Steenkamp’s murder continues to capture the thoughts and feelings of a vast array of international viewers. A couple of days ago, mid-morning local time, continuous broadcasting of the Oscar Pistorius trial occupied eNCA, SABCTV, ANN7, CNN, BBC World and Sky.

This massive international coverage is a story in its own right. It is a small puzzle to me that only part of the context is actually shown. While we certainly hear all sides of the proceedings, the witnesses remain invisible. Surely if the officials allow television into the courtroom, all contributors to the action should be seen? They |are appropriately visible to everyone in the public gallery after all. At first, I was discomforted by the television coverage and the dedicated channel on DStv. This seemed to reduce the trial to a public spectacle with all the disadvantages that come with |such a decision.


The OJ Simpson trial was a circus with an outcome to match, but that was in America. They do things differently there. Here, free from the dubious input of a jury, the dignity of the bench ensures grandstanding is limited, rights are respected and the entertainment demands of a public audience rebuffed and outlawed. Well, that’s what happens in court. In the television-viewing context of the nation, other forces come in to play. Reality television, a format as complex and attractive as dog poo on the sole of your shoe, adds its own mindless tropes and metaphors to the mix.

When this all began, Anton Harber in his Business Day column asked why similar coverage of trials wasn’t available in South Africa. A great idea and a far more useful democratising process than the Parliamentary channel – a time waster so extreme that five minutes of watching induces a deep, cataleptic sleep.


Party politics continue to dominate local programming. Judge for Yourself, one of eNCA’s exceptional talk shows is chaired weekly by Judge Dennis Davis, a man of great intellect and charm. He, and only he, maintained control of a land restitution debate contributed to by the Freedom Front, the DA, ANC and a commissar from the EFF.

There was a lot of shouting, especially from the jolly commissar in his red Christmas hat. At one time, in fact, the aunties who maintain politeness and other aspects of general civilisation bleeped out some of the commissar’s observations. Come now, if television cameras can broadcast every last detail of the Pistorius Trial, surely South African democracy can cope with the fragrant insights of the EFF. In polar contrast, Athol Trollip of the DA was his usual moderate, informed and clearly focused self. His party continues to win all the clever awards at prize giving. The only sadness is that good policies are complex in concept and structure, attributes which cannot fit into television’s demand for three-word sentences and bumper sticker insights.

On the other hand, ANN7, with its curious mix of chaos and tabloid enthusiasm, loves three-worded sentences. These, combined with the more frequent one and |two-worded sentences, dominate the performance of Political Edge.

Neither circus nor Oprah-themed after party, this harmless piece of recycled waste features a stand-up host who wanders though a small audience offering the mic to anyone who wants it. There’s a panel of sorts, all talking at once while host Hajra Omarjee does obbligato banshee shrieks in failed efforts to maintain control. It’s all a bit like Grade 2 just before little break when everybody needs to pee. Give this a miss.

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