Jackson trial sparks reporter rage

Outside the courtoom ITV's Adrian Britton is fighting for position with the rest of them

If you drive three hours out of Los Angeles on the 101 freeway north towards San Francisco, you will find a town built to be by-passed. The undistinguished settlement of Santa Maria might have been more appropriately named Blandville, California. With justifiable shyness, it is tucked away on the edge of chardonnay-making country and, until recently, heralded its importance as a main producer of broccoli. Now a town you have probably never heard of is about to stand in judgement of a man you most certainly have. Can there be a more unlikely venue for what Judge Rodney S Melville, presiding over this case, has called "the trial of the ages"?

If you drive three hours out of Los Angeles on the 101 freeway north towards San Francisco, you will find a town built to be by-passed. The undistinguished settlement of Santa Maria might have been more appropriately named Blandville, California. With justifiable shyness, it is tucked away on the edge of chardonnay-making country and, until recently, heralded its importance as a main producer of broccoli. Now a town you have probably never heard of is about to stand in judgement of a man you most certainly have. Can there be a more unlikely venue for what Judge Rodney S Melville, presiding over this case, has called "the trial of the ages"?

The most glitzy thing about Santa Maria is its name, but news organisations around the world are to make it as famous as the defendant being tried in the town's Superior Court. More than 1,000 journalists have been accredited to cover the trial of Michael Joseph Jackson and the process of jury selection saw the huge media circus trundle into town.

"Jackson-ville Under Construction" was the headline in the Santa Maria Times, which reported that the local authorities had rented out around £20,000 worth of land space to media outlets. Towers and platforms have been built by the US television networks to get a steady unobstructed shot of Wacko Jacko arriving and leaving the court building. Melting under the wattage of studio lights, plastic-faced news anchors, elevated in their towers over MJ's adoring fans, analysed every moment of the proceedings. And the trial hasn't even started yet.

This was the first stage of whittling down 450 prospective jurors to a panel of 12 with eight reserves. But who needs dramatic courtroom exchanges to fill airtime when "trial psychologists" and former attorneys can second- guess the defence and prosecution's dream jury?

There is certainly an advantage having a booming voice when covering an event of this media magnitude. Behind barriers running the length of the car park in front of the court, "live position" cameras are squeezed into allocated spaces. Small rectangular areas, no larger than the floor space of a cubicle loo, are marked out on the tarmac with tape. "Do Not Cross Your Line" warns a notice tied to the railings. Should you stray a few inches from your camera spot you may well find yourself addressing an entirely different nation. Cramped in spaces too small for most TV egos, we stare down the lens, our voices struggling not to be drowned out by a news network neighbour from hell. Shortly after Jackson's arrival, I had to contend with not just Larry (or was it Brad) booming to his US viewers, but also my studio director screaming in my earpiece - "Speak louder, speak louder". I raised the decibels, so did my American competitor and for several minutes our suffering viewers were subjected to reporter rage. We weren't the first journalists to raise our voices. They were heard on Media Accreditation Day. For four hours, photographers, reporters and producers queued to collect the passes which will hang around our necks for the next few months allowing us access into the court compound. Just one court official was on duty to deal with applications, each taking 20 minutes to process. The jet-lagged queue shivered in the evening chill. The fleeces had been left at home because California was supposed to be hot, wasn't it?

Even with pass in hand, or rather around neck, accessing the court room itself is severely restricted. Only seven reporters have been allocated seats. They are journalists with later deadlines who can obey Judge Melville's rule that no one can leave or enter the room while court is sitting. What use is that to Larry, (no, I think it was Brad) and me who have regular appointments to shout at our viewers? The second option is a media overflow room where a courtroom camera relays the proceedings on to a screen. Not the same as being in court. However, the selected few who will be able to say 'I was there' when Jackson was acquitted or convicted have a duty to those left out in the sun. At the end of play each day, they are obliged to stand before the cameras to describe in turn what Michael was doing, looking at or reacting to during the day's hearing. Journalists interviewing journalists to glean crumbs of information to feed the trial psychologists for further analysis. Madness - and you can't even blame the heat.

Away from the compound, where there are enough satellite dishes to find life on Mars, the trial is proving to be a bigger money spinner than growing broccoli. "Media room for rent" read the signs in shop, café and house windows. Three years ago, when attorney Michael Clayton bought offices directly in front of the court building, he had no idea a megastar was coming to town.

When Tom Sneddon, chief prosecutor, ensured that Michael Jackson would be tried in the court closest to his Neverland ranch, Mr Clayton was rather pleased with his newly acquired real estate. Now, for £1,200 a day, you can set up your camera on his flat roof space to film the Jackson cavalcade. The roof has been fenced to satisfy the local authorities that it is a safe working environment. He has installed phone lines up there. Or you may wish to interview Attorney Clayton for "expert legal analysis" at a cost of 50 quid. Don't worry about distracting him from his routine legal work - he has hired another attorney to cover him while he's on media duties. Last week, when Judge Melville warned the jury that their services could be needed for up to six months, hands rubbed in Santa Maria and controllers of news budgets groaned.

If you thought the OJ Simpson murder trial was big, ask yourself this question: did you really know his name before his arrest? Unless you are a nomad or part of a tribe yet to be discovered, you have probably heard of Michael Jackson. This year, you'll certainly get to know of a town called Santa Maria.

The author is an ITV News correspondent

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Publishing

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Guru Careers: Report Writer / Reporting Analyst

£25 - 30k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Report Writer / Reporting Analyst is nee...

Guru Careers: German Speaking Account Manager / Account Executive

£24-30K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A German speaking Account Manager ...

Day In a Page

Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace