Q&A with Debora Patta

1. Given your experience in the media, how has the Oscar Pistorius Trial being televised changed the face of open justice in South Africa?
What it’s done is it allowed South Africans the opportunity to understand for themselves how the judicial system works. The interesting thing for me- I would get a lot of tweets from South Africans who didn’t understand the basics and would ask questions like: Why is Barry Roux talking all the time? When he was interrogating Gerrie Nel’s witnesses. Why is there no jury system? Perhaps because they have gained their understanding of legal processes from American television. The televising of the case was good for South Africa. Barry Roux is going to argue that it wasn’t fit for his client and he may even seek an appeal on unfair media scrutiny if Pistorius loses this case and is found guilty. But I’m not entirely convinced that will stand up- this is the way of the future it’s opened up the way up for all court cases to be televised.

2. Has the Oscar Trial set a high standard for what South Africans can expect out of our justice system?
The televising of the Oscar Trial was very important because it gave South Africans an opportunity to see how justice can be done at its very best now bear in mind that is not the experience of the average South African. A lot of South Africans do not have the experience that Oscar Pistorius had with exceptionally paid and skilled advocates like Barry Roux defending him, the very best prosecutor put on the case. Every element of the case has been tested and re-tested and scrutinized over and over again. But this is the best case scenario and in a constitutional democracy as South Africa, this is the kind of judiciary that we should expect and South Africans should demand if they are ever find themselves in a situation where they stand trial.

3. There are a lot of social media critics of the Oscar Trial, what is your take on the rise of armchair critics?
Social media is the way of the future so you have to embrace it and you have to understand it. It is the ultimate democratizing of the media- it allows everybody to have their say. Just like you do in newspapers and television you have to sift the idiots from the intelligent ones. There are a lot of idiots on Twitter, who say very stupid things and know nothing. You have to know who to follow, who not to listen to and see who to take seriously. And it’s the same as one would discern in social media, newspaper columns and television. Not everyone who speaks their mind is worthy of being listened to. You have to be sure as a journalist that your facts are correct, whether on twitter, newspaper, television or radio. The principles of journalism remain the same.

South African journalist Debora Patta. Photo: Provided

South African journalist Debora Patta. Photo: Provided

4. You covered the #BringBackOurGirls campaign in Nigeria. Has that received more media attention than the Oscar Trial?
Hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, in my opinion that is actually a far more important story. Because what it’s profiling is a situation that’s continued in Nigeria for many years now, it’s only gained international interest because of the number of girls that were abducted in April. Over 200 Chibok girls. That is why it gained traction in that sense but the story itself has been around for a long time and it’s actually to our shame as a media that we haven’t covered it more proficiently in the past. The hashtag itself garnered a lot of criticism, I think it was important because it focused worldwide attention via social media on the plight of the Chibok girls. Obviously social media doesn’t mean that’s going to release the girls, what it did do was put pressure on President Goodluck Jonathan to take this issue seriously.

5. The Hashtag #BringBackOurGirls trended many weeks on Twitter, is there an obligation for the international community to do more?
Obviously a hashtag is not a solution and it was even ridiculed by the leader of Boko Haram himself Abubakar Shekau in a recent video where he mocked the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. I think the important thing now is to not let that story rest. Its 100 days today exactly when you are doing this interview since those girls were stolen and there doesn’t seem to be much hope for their release at all. What international media need to do is not focus only on the situation of the Chibok girls but on the situation in Northern Nigeria in general and make sure those stories are constantly covered. Because Western Africa and Eastern Africa are hotbeds of terrorist activity and need to be paid attention to because its becoming an alarming problem in both corners of Africa.

6. What has it been like working on the two most controversial events of 2014 and the international exposure that has followed?
I think the Oscar Pistorius case is not the most worthy journalist story, let me put it like that, on some levels it’s a fairly tabloid story. At the end of the day it’s one rich white man’s quest for justice and we’ve spent an exorbitant amount of time covering it. But the trial has had traction, the international community is fascinated by this case. It’s dubbed the trial of the century and the next big case after the OJ Simpson case. It’s been a fascinating experience to participate in a trial which is not of interest only locally but internationally as well. Whether that’s right or wrong is another question.

7. Do you think the face of journalism is changing?
To an extent I don’t think the face of journalism is changing, I think the way we access information is changing. For me personally, I don’t buy newspapers at all, I do everything online. I choose what I want to read, instead of reading a newspaper front to back I choose what I want to read. In a way I devise my own newspaper, cause I’m more interested in intelligent commentary. I still think you need the mainstream media to do the heavy lifting , whilst you watch a video on youtube, go to social media or read a blog at the end of the day seasoned commentators and their newspapers still matter.

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