Bashir faces contempt charge over Jackson silence

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The Independent US

The British journalist Martin Bashir could be prosecuted for contempt of court after refusing to answer several questions put to him during the Michael Jackson trial.

The British journalist Martin Bashir could be prosecuted for contempt of court after refusing to answer several questions put to him during the Michael Jackson trial.

Bashir refused to say how many hours of videotape were recorded in the making of his controversial programme about the star.

The ITV1 documentary Living With Michael Jackson led to the millionaire singer being tried on child abuse charges.

A senior vice president of ABC News, who Mr Bashir now works for, defended the reporter's decision to invoke the California shield law which protects journalists from having to disclose their sources.

Henry Hoberman said: "ABC News view it as a matter of significant importance and principle, and we stand firmly behind our reporter Martin Bashir in his decision to decline to answer questions that so clearly and directly in our view, and in Mr Bashir's view, invade the news gathering process."

Mr Hoberman made his statement outside the Santa Maria court where the Jackson trial is unfolding.

Mr Bashir's attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr said: "We today invoked the California shield law, which is part of the constitution, and it protects the independence and autonomy of journalists who report the news, and gather the news.

"The judge has taken our objections under consideration and has also indicated that the defence may be allowed to call Mr Bashir as a witness in their case, but only if they meet the standards of the constitution and of the First Amendment."

Mr Bashir, who famously interviewed Diana, Princess of Wales, is the first witness in the Jackson case.

Jurors watched the documentary after prosecutors called Mr Bashir to the witness box.

The programme, taped in 2002 and aired in 2003, led to the investigation that ultimately resulted in charges that Jackson molested the then–13–year–old cancer survivor Gavin Arvizo.

Jackson dabbed his eyes with a tissue during a segment in which he says children are his reason for living.

The singer appeared agitated when Mr Bashir was in the witness box, at one point putting out his arms as if to tell him to speak up.

Mr Bashir testified in a near–whisper.

As the programme was played, some jurors leaned forward in their seats, a few smiled or laughed when Jackson said humorous things, and a few bobbed their heads along with Jackson's music.

Some smiled when the video showed Jackson singing "smile while your heart is breaking" as he left a hotel.

Although the documentary is best known for Jackson's comments about allowing children to sleep in his bed, it also exposed jurors to a sympathetic portrayal of him.

Jackson is seen racing go–carts and climbing trees, as well as teaching Mr Bashir how to "moonwalk."

At one point Jackson emotionally describes abuse that he claims he and his brothers received from their father, Joe Jackson, during their days in the Jackson 5.

"I remember hearing my mother scream, 'Joe, you're going to kill him,"' Jackson says at one point.

The documentary also referred to Jackson's relationships with adult women, and briefly showed the 2002 incident in which he dangled one of his children from a hotel balcony in Germany.

At one point, Jackson appears with the boy who is now accusing him, and the boy's brother and sister. The children do a dance routine in Jackson's kitchen.

Later the boy holds hands with Jackson and says the pop star is perpetually childlike and understands children.

"You're an adult when you want to be one," the boy says.

When the boy says that Jackson once told him and his brother, "If you love me you'll sleep in the bed," Jackson tells the interviewer that the children slept in his bed and he slept on the floor in a sleeping bag.

Holding the boy's hand tightly, Jackson says: "My greatest inspiration comes from kids. It's all inspired by that level of purity. I see God in the face of children."

After the viewing, Jackson's lawyer Thomas Mesereau Jr sought to have Mr Bashir's testimony and the documentary removed from the record when Mr Bashir refused to say how many hours of tape were recorded during the making of the programme.

Judge Rodney S. Melville refused to strike the video or the evidence.

As Jackson left court, reporters asked him how he was feeling.

He said "good," then added "angry." He thanked reporters and walked away.

In his opening statement, Mr Mesereau accused the prosecution of changing the dates of the alleged molestation because they were in conflict with an interview between child welfare workers and the family.

He sought to counter allegations that Jackson showed the boy sexually explicit materials and later fondled him at his Neverland ranch.

In his remarks, Mr Mesereau suggested the entertainer may testify.

"Michael will tell you one time he got a very bad feeling at Neverland," he said, describing an incident when the boy's mother suddenly told her children to kneel and pray with "our daddy, Michael Jackson".

At another point Mr Mesereau said: "Mr Jackson will freely admit that he does read girlie magazines from time to time. He absolutely does not show them to children."

Mr Mesereau's suggestion that Jackson may testify was intentional, Jackson spokeswoman Raymone K. Bain said, adding: "They have not made a decision yet."

Jackson, who would be exposed to cross–examination if he takes the stand, is not on the defence witness list.

Mr Mesereau also said the mother was using the criminal charges to build a civil case in order to get a payoff, and he addressed allegations that Jackson gave alcohol to his accuser and the brother.

Mesereau said the children were sometimes "out of control" at Neverland and read Jackson's magazines and broke into his alcohol cupboard without his permission.

Jackson would face prison if convicted of all charges, although the term is uncertain because of many sentencing variables.

Former San Francisco prosecutor Jim Hammer, now a legal analyst, said the term could be more than 20 years.