Lawyer says SC guidelines on live coverage of Ampatuan Massacre trial repressive

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews) – Malacanang as well as groups monitoring the Ampatuan Massacre trial may have expressed appreciation of the Supreme Court decision allowing live media coverage of the trial. But an associate of a law firm handling the case for some of the victims’ families said the guidelines [for the coverage] appear to impinge on the rights of the editors to decide on what part of the trial should be reported.

The SC guidelines provide among others that the coverage should be done without interruptions like commercial breaks.

“The court cannot substitute its discretion for that of the editors in choosing what to report on. That prerogative has been reserved by the constitution to the press,” lawyer Romel Bagares, an associate of the Roque and Butuyan Law Offices said in a statement.

Bagares also pointed out what he called the “impractical and ultimately repressive aspects of the guidelines, such as its insistence that no edited rebroadcast of any portion of the footage taken by the court-provided video until after the judgment is finally handed down by the trial court”.

“This suspends a fundamental right for an indefinite period of time and defeats the purpose of expanding the right of media to gather news, which is to honor the right of the public to information needed for a robust discussion of matters of public interest,” he said.

He added the sub judice rule is inapplicable in a judge-directed trial that is a key feature of the Philippine criminal justice system. He said that “if it at all should be applied, it should be set against the clear and present danger test, which above all privileges public discussion of issues critical to a functioning deliberative and participatory democracy”.

Bagares however expressed confidence the High Tribunal will see the “constitutional significance” of the points he has raised.

“We are sure the broadcast media are in a far better position to tell the court that the requirement of continuous broadcast without interruption is an editorial imposition that puts a strain on limited resources. That would mean suspending regular programming all throughout the trial, which could very well last for an indefinite period of time,” he said.

The Palace meanwhile said the SC’s decision will give the people an opportunity to see the justice system at work and to understand the horror and magnitude of the mass murder that took place.

It said the public will also come to understand the reasons why such “a brazen and cold-blooded act of impunity could take place”.

“The Supreme Court’s heeding this administration’s call, one also made by many concerned citizens’ and media groups, is a victory for justice in the broadest sense,” it added.

A survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations in the fourth quarter of 2010 found 90 percent of the respondents saying the Ampatuan Massacre trial should be televised and only 10 percent said it should not be televised.

The findings were first reported by BusinessWorld on February 21, 2011 and repeated in other media. The full report was posted at on February 23, 2011. (MindaNews)