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Bashir in Contempt?

California- Martin Bashir faced being thrown in jail today as he prepared to return to court for the third day of the Michael Jackson child abuse trial.

The British TV journalist, whose documentary was the catalyst that led to the singer’s child molestation charges, yesterday refused to answer a string of questions from Jackson’s attorney Thomas Mesereau.

Today the judge will decide if Bashir was in contempt of court – and whether he should be jailed or fined.

Bashir was said by his lawyers to be protected by California’s “shield law”, which prevents reporters from being charged with contempt if they refuse to answer questions on the witness stand about their sources or the way they gather news.

But if the judge rules against him, not only could Bashir be put in a county jail until he answers the questions, but the prosecution case against Jackson could be badly undermined. Bashir’s testimony could be thrown out, along with the prosecution’s use of the Living With Michael Jackson documentary – a central plank of the case against the singer.

Bashir’s confrontation with Mr Mesereau came on the second day of the trial, when Jackson’s attorney also told the Santa Barbara County Court, in Santa Maria, that the singer may take the stand to defend himself against charges that he abused cancer patient Gavin Arvizo, then 13.

Jackson looked agitated and uncomfortable as Bashir entered the courtroom with his lawyers and continued to stare at the former BBC journalist as he walked past him and sat behind the prosecution table.

When the documentary was shown, Jackson wept as a scene showed the boy putting his head on his shoulder.

Bashir clashed with Mr Mesereau as the journalist refused four times to answer direct defence questions.

Throughout the cross-examination, Bashir’s lawyers raised objections to the questioning. But four times the objections were overruled and Judge Melville asked Bashir if he wished to answer. Looking straight ahead into the courtroom he solemnly replied: “No, your honour, I do not.”

When Mr Mesereau asked for Bashir to be held in contempt, Judge Melville said: “I will review all of the questions asked to the witness and the objections raised to see if the witness is in contempt of court. It is a really ticklish area.”

Mr Mesereau asked the judge to strike Bashir’s testimony from the case, which he refused to do.

Bashir, who now works for America’s ABC News, refused to answer the following questions:

• “Did you get Michael Jackson to sign two documents without a lawyer present?”

• “How many hours of footage did you omit from the documentary?”

• “Are you covering this case as a correspondent who is paid?”

• “Before this film was shown, and I am talking about the actual film shown by the prosecution today, did you watch the trial reel?”



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