Talking Point with Ron Harris

Our intrepid chief reporter could be thinking about a move to South Africa...

FOR wance, poverty-stricken auld hacks existing in a wee Lanark garret and solicitors lounging in their six bedroom mansions in Bothwell had something in common last week.

Baith were watching the telly wae a wide-eyed mixture o’ amazement, horror and envy as the coverage o’ the case o’ yon South African athlete Oscar Pistorius unfolded in all its sad, gory detail.

Y’see, there’s a widespread myth aboot that this country enjoys a ‘free press’ whereas it has nothing o’ the sort.

You widnae believe the hoops yir average British reporter has tae go through tae rake ony muck at a’ oan your behalf, such are the legal restrictions, especially when covering court cases.

Elsewhere in the world - like South Africa for instance - everything is fair game for an eager young hack wae a sharp pencil, a jotter and a functioning pair o’ lugs.

Hereaboots, the press freedom shutters REALLY come doon when reporting - or attempting tae - murder cases and you’re just aboot allowed tae report basic facts like who’s deid and who’s being blamed for them being deid.

Hee-haw else can be telt tae oor readers until the trial is ower and done wae and the guilty person’s aff tae start serving their ‘life sentence’ - ie, aboot seven years in Barlinnie.

This is why we have the ridiculous state o’ affairs in the Gazzy and every other UK paper that somewan oan trial for chuckin’ a sweetie wrapper doon oan Carluke High Street can get hauf a page devoted tae their case whereas your friendly, local mass axe-murderer gets less coverage than the winner o’ the Carnwath WRI hamemade shortbreid competition.

Whit stuns me aboot yon Pistorius case is that, even afore the trial has started, we ken just aboot everything we need tae know aboot the circumstances frae just the opening shots o’ the defence and prosecution.

Wan image that was totally alien tae mah eyes was the accused, staunin’ in the dock o’ the court wae aboot twenty press photographers all furiously snapping Mr Pistorius’s miserable fizzog.

Now, in Scotland, a press photographer wid land in the pokey quicker than a streaker at a Lanark Presbytery meeting if they even took their camera oot in a court never mind starting tae take happy snaps wae it.

Sometimes your foreigner in soapy bubble in Scotland gets taken by surprise by oor legal system and its rituals.

Ah mind mony years back a wee, auld Irishman was hauled up in front o’ the Justice o’ the Peace Court in Hamilton who just couldnae grasp the fact that being drunk and incapable was an actual criminal offence in Scotland.

Frustrated at his arguments that being face doon in Quarry Street singing Danny Boy at the tap o’ his voice at midday caused naebody ony harm were getting nowhere, he snapped.

Pointing a still hungover, quivering finger at his judge, he declared frae the dock: “British justice is a bum!” The finger moved tae the court polis officer: “And dah British police is a bum!”

Finally, his reddened eyes fixed oan me and he cried: “And dah British press is dah biggest bum of dem all!”

And, you know, he might weel have had a point there...

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