The Media as a Co-Conspirator in the Van Breda case

Henri van Breda’s appeal was originally scheduled for late June 2018. It was then postponed to August 14th, 2018. Two weeks before that day, just long enough for the media message to soak in, Australia’s 60 minutes will do what they called a “world exclusive” on the story.

Australia’s Liz Hayes has, they say,  been given unprecedented access to the Henri van Breda murder files. That’s interesting because when I went to the registrar of the Western Cape High Court in person and with a fellow researcher, on more than one occasion including in late June, we were denied access. When I called, we were told the files were sealed until after the appeal. Only a few days ago, when I mentioned the status of the court files to another senior journalist covering the case, who has also written a book on the case, he’d experienced the same thing. The court files – unusually – still aren’t available for public consumption.

Which is why this is so weird:

60 Minutes reporter Liz Hayes is given unprecedented access to the Henri van Breda murder files…

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Now I know the media were allowed a brief peek at the files while the court case was underway. No photos or video cameras were allowed. The media were allowed a few minutes to page through the file in court. So the suggestion that overseas media got “unprecedented” and privileged access to the court feels like grammatical license, or something worse.

60 minutes is clever in the way they suck the viewer into the premise. They pretend to be showing the gory crime scene in all its detail for the first time and then pretend they’re going to be asking why Henri committed the crimes.

I haven’t seen the documentary, but I wonder what footage they have? As part of my research for Indefensible, I contacted Warrant Officer Andrè Hitchcock, the police videographer who took the video inside the crime scene, and also discussed this footage with the prosecutor. I wasn’t allowed to see it until it was officially released by the court. This footage was shown in court last year in June, early on when the state pled their case and fielded their evidence. But it remains in the care and custody of the court.

More likely, in my opinion, they’ll use the little footage there is of the axe from police evidence, but the real story is this: not why Henri did it, but why he didn’t.

According to 9News.com.au:

On 60 Minutes, Hayes also speaks exclusively with van Breda’s girlfriend Danielle Janse van Rensburg, and his aunt Leenta Nell. They explain why they refuse to believe Henri is guilty.

All of this has been a carefully contrived and plotted dance between the media and the mass murderer – and his affilitates, in order to gain maximum traction just before the appeal trial. The idea is to sow seeds of sympathy with an international audience, and obviously, local media will cover the “revelations” as well.

Interestingly, neither Henri’s girlfriend nor his aunt testified at trial, not even in mitigation of sentence. So one has to wonder, why should the “exclusive” media narrative now be better, more convincing, or less biased than the evidence led in court?

It’s an influence campaign, aided and abetted by the media, to make the sentimental case that “the Henri I know would never do this…” Then who did? The Henri they didn’t know? The hardcore Henri that Henri’s hidden away?

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The 60 minutes exclusive on Sunday 29th July will nevertheless be interesting to watch to see how Henri’s closest family rationalise his crimes – if not to court, and perhaps not even to themselves, but to a media made to appear credible on the facts of the case.

The most reviewed and in-depth narrative on the Van Breda is available on Amazon.com.

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2 thoughts on “The Media as a Co-Conspirator in the Van Breda case

  1. If the reason for non-access for journalists in general is that it ‘may prejudice the appeal’, how is it ethical a broadaster gets ‘exclusive rights’ to it?

    My bet is that it comes up with ‘an alternative perpetrators’.

    Watch this space.

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  2. I suspect 60 minutes is either exaggerating their access, or, possibly, the defence gave them access to the file. In terms of the legality of it, remember the same thing happened with Oscar’s re-enactment video. Since it was broadcast in Australia, it wasn’t strictly speaking a breach of SA law. And that’s a nice way to contaminate the local media narrative, by having the story “source” in Australia [but via South Africa], and then filtering back. Sneaky though, isn’t it.

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