BBC Home
Explore the BBC
Low graphics|Accessibility help
newswatch banner
Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 April, 2005, 09:05 GMT 10:05 UK
'We all carry a sense of guilt'

By Peter Bowes
BBC News Correspondent

Just how does the BBC go about covering the Michael Jackson trial, what's it like inside the court and why is there a soap-like atmosphere at a child abuse trial?

Cameras cover the Michael Jackson trial
The trial... is the sick product of a celebrity-obsessed world and we all carry some guilt for just being here

Every day I sit on the edge of my seat in the courtroom half expecting something bizarre or surreal to happen.

And it usually does - just in time for the evening edition of Newsbeat on Radio 1.

So far we have had mad dashes to the hospital, "flu-like symptoms", pyjamas and a myriad of other strange twists that continue to make this one of the most extraordinary criminal trials I have ever covered.

It could go on for six months. Jackson dramas aside, it always feels like Groundhog Day. The same routine - day in, day out.

Quick escape

We reporters file into the courthouse at 0750. We go through the metal detector, tell the sheriff which company we work for and sometimes get a body pat-down.

Inside the courtroom, the bailiff gives her daily lecture. "No eating, sleeping or chewing gum," she warns.

She reminds everyone that we are in a court, a formal environment, as observers, and that no emotional outbursts will be tolerated.

During the first couple of weeks she had a beef about people leaving chewing gum stuck to their chairs: "We're all adults here, please don't do it."

I usually try to sit at the end of a row. It is easier to make a quick escape to file without disturbing too many people.

Michael Jackson
Jackson cuts an extremely gaunt figure, says Peter Bowes

All electronic devices are banned from the courthouse, which makes communication with the desk at Radio 1 and 1Xtra difficult.

The rule is that once you have left, you cannot return until the next break.

Sitting close to the door means that I get a very close look at Michael Jackson. He cuts an extremely gaunt figure.

His pallid complexion appears all the more sickly in person. His cheeks are sunken, and close up those fancy black suits don't always look so slick.

On the day that he fell in the shower and turned up late, you could almost feel his pain as Jackson shuffled into the courtroom.

Supported by his bodyguard he looked like a wizened old man on his last legs. Moonwalking was out of the question. The look of sheer horror on the face of one of his lawyers was priceless.

Ultimate humiliation

Everyone seems to love Jackson's mum, Katherine. She usually greets the fans with a big smile.

When the court was shown Michael Jackson's extensive collection of pornography - magazines with titles like Plumpers, Over 50 and Barely Legal - many of us were left even more confused by the singer's private life.

But for his poor mum, it must have been the ultimate humiliation. He is, after all, still her little boy.

The cast of characters that make up this trial add to the soap-opera-like atmosphere.

We have had comedians, a weatherman and a dizzy flight attendant on the witness stand.

The surreal moments keep on coming - like the day I ended up doing a live interview from the court, on BBC3's 7pm news, with Gary Coleman. The former child star is covering the trial for a comedy radio network.

Gary Coleman
It takes different strokes...Gary Coleman covers the trial for radio

There are days of emotion and high drama, punctuated by moments of pure farce and hilarity.

The flight attendant had the courtroom guffawing when she offered to demonstrate to one of the lawyers the meaning of the word "cuddle". Then, for some inexplicable reason, she fell off her chair on the witness stand.

At times it is so hilarious you forget that the King of Pop is in the room - never mind that this is a case about child abuse.

And therein lies the great tragedy of the trial. It is the sick product of a celebrity-obsessed world and we all carry some guilt for just being here.

No cameras

No one was laughing the day Gavin Arvizo talked about the abuse he believes he suffered at the hands of Michael Jackson.

Some of the jurors dabbed their eyes as the teenager recounted the story of his miraculous recovery from cancer.

The most heart-wrenching moment came when another alleged victim, Jason Francia, almost broke down on the witness stand.

He appeared to be genuinely haunted by the memory of something awful happening. It is, of course, for the jury to decide whether he was just acting.

The trial has not captivated the US like the OJ Simpson case. There are two reasons. Many Americans are simply turned off by the salacious nature of the allegations and, crucially, there are no cameras in the courtroom.

In the first few days, a reporter from a Miami TV station told me he would stay in Santa Maria "until the ratings stop driving the story".

I have not seen him for the past two weeks.


^^ back to top
BBC News frontpage | NewsWatch | Notes | Contact us | Profiles | History
BBC News Newswatch Friday 20:45 on BBC News 24 and Saturday 07:45 Breakfast