However none of this, no matter how gruelling or disturbing, is justification for excluding the media, and thus essentially the public, from open court proceedings, as the Austrian authorities did in the trial of Josef Fritzl.
The media are the public's representative in court, and, notwithstanding appropriate privacy safeguards implemented when needed, exceptional efforts should be undertaken to ensure the media see and hear everything. Courts in Britain comprehend that mass media attention can be controlled to preserve the dignity of the court, and that efforts to do this are rewarded by an enduring trust in our justice system.
Media reports of a 'bizarre' and 'secretive' trial process have landed Austria with a massive PR own-goal. I do not doubt the prospect of learning the truth about those 24 years in that cellar would be a truly harrowing experience, but denial of proper media access to the trial, even a small rotating pool, reinforces the general perception of a proud, insular and oddly secretive Alpine nation unable to confront reality or cope in the spotlight.
Richard Bailey, senior consultant, Media House