News Constructions of South Africa’s Trial of the Century: Identity Discourse in the Steenkamp Shooting and Pistorius Trial

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October 2020

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Journalism Studies

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Almost 20 years after South Africa’s formal transition to a democracy, South Africans of all races were consumed by the murder trial of former Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius, who shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on February 14, 2013. This article analyzes how the Times Live website in South Africa constructed identity discourse related to Oscar Pistorius, Reeva Steenkamp, and her mother, June Steenkamp, from 2013 to the conclusion of his final appeal in 2018. Drawing on theories of intersectionality and news as myth, we perform a critical discourse analysis of 208 articles to illustrate how these constructions serve primarily to reassert hegemonic discourses of gender, race, class, sexuality, and ability, but also to occasionally challenge those discourses. We found that several representations conformed to established myths: Pistorius as both the Victim and Trickster, and Reeva Steenkamp as the innocent Victim. June Steenkamp was initially constructed as The Good Mother and Victim, but news coverage later presented her as a villain because of her perceived greed. We conclude that enduring news values and economic imperatives foster editorial practices that sustain existing power relations despite efforts to transform and decolonize the newsroom.