Thursday, June 23, 2011


Lawyer Romy Capulong said it best: The legal battle to have live coverage of the Ampatuan massacre trial is not just about media coverage; it is about access to justice. Now, the families of the victims (and the accused) can be spared the heavy burden of regular travel to Metro Manila to witness the trial. Hopefully, live coverage will also educate Filipinos on the law and the judicial process in this country.

It is true that many journalists gulped at reading the 15-page Supreme Court decision penned by (just retired) Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales. A cursory read does show daunting challenges. To keep this note brief, I shall not rehash the SC decision; please use the hyperlink.

But in a meeting convened by petitioners immediately after the promulgation, we agreed (on Atty. Capulong’s advice) to hold off filing any clarificatory motion and, instead, explore all avenues via dialogue with the Supreme Court. After all, it IS a unanimous decision; unprecedented and with positive repercussions for the administration of justice in this nation.

The petitioners, thus, proceeded on the presumption of good faith – a view that has been validated by swift (and very level-headed) action from the part of Court Administrator and spokesman, Justice Midas Marquez.

There are still a few issues that need to be clarified. But on the whole, discussions between petitioners and the SC have been very fruitful. Already, media entities are preparing their applications. These will be processed speedily, Marquez says, once the decision becomes final and executory. Hopefully, lawyers for the accused accept the decision. At least one counsel, for suspended ARMM governor Zaldy Ampatuan says they will not file a motion for reconsideration.

From my notes, here are the results of the dialogue between the SC and petitioners:

The SC starts trial live streaming next week on its website and will confer with media groups on improvements needed;

Networks with more than one TV channels can file as a single entity, listing down all platforms available for live coverage;

Networks with more than one channel can shift carriers of the live coverage, so long as there are no breaks, up until promulgation of verdict. (TV to website is not acceptable). Networks should inform viewers at all times where the live coverage can be accessed.

While the decision directs no breaks, unless sanctioned by the judge, news organizations may exercise their discretion should life-and-death and/or earth-shaking news erupt. (There is still the danger of cancellation of license for live coverage but we will have to trust the court’s appreciation of our good faith.)

While live coverage is on-going, crawlers about other news will be allowed, as well as SILENT windows about other events happening. No override of audio will be allowed while proceedings are on-going.

Live coverage on TV and the Web can have windows with graphics to provide viewers with context and greater clarity about proceedings (timelines, for example).

Media entities are allowed to use excerpts of the live coverage for their news reports, which can also occur during breaks.

Brief annotations before and after “scenes” are allowed, as is commentary so long as these are factual and do not violate the rules governing sub judice.

The SC will try its best to provide its own legal expert to annotate points of law. News entities can also have experts during their news breaks – again, subject to rules covering sub judice.

The SC will operate the lone camera in the courtroom, giving focus to the judge, witness on the stand and lawyers of both sides; mics will be provided all five.

The SC will ask lawyers to position themselves so that their profiles and not their backs are shown on-cam. (This is, of course, not binding and they won’t be penalized if, in the heat of the moment, they forget that fine point of coverage.)

The Court will decide on the blurring or blacking out of persons with seucity problems or of children. Justice Marquez is amenable to requesting the Court to provide media at the start of the day’s proceedings with a list covering all possibilities.

The SC will provide still photos of courtroom proceedings for the media, but these will just be higher-reso images of the same angle provided by the audio-visual camera. Photographers will be allowed opportunities for photos at the start and end of each day’s proceedings, on a first-come-first-served basis.

Reporters covering will be allowed to live tweet or post grabs on social networking sites, subject to sub judice rules. The SC will not hold the public’s comments against any media organization and will not monitor individuals. Website live chats covered by the same guideline: Journalists advised to be factual, the public free to comment.

Media entities not covering live can still grab from the SC live footage or purchase from networks doing live coverage and process these for news; the same, for other organizations interested in the proceedings – all subject to the same sub judice rules. They can still apply for recording but prority will be given those that cover live.

Radio stations (often stand-alone) can do live stream on their websites and use the same for their broadcast news packages. Any live coverage on radio will be covered by the SC rules for TV.

The SC will do its best to arrange for a viewing room where tech arrangements will also be set up to fulfill the decision’s mandate for the least disruption to trial proceedings.

Marquez foresees no deadline for applications. As the trial is expected to go on for years, media entities that pass for the moment on live coverage can apply at a latter time.

The petitions for live coverage were filed by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation, GMA Network, Inc., (ABC 5’s senior media officers signed as individuals) relatives of the victims, individual journalists from various media entities, and members of the academe. Government networks were not part of the petition but Presdent Benigno Aquino III has instructed NBN to undertake “gavel-to-gavel” live coverage of the trial.

(INDAY is head of Bayan Mo iPatrol Mo, ABS-CBN's citizen journalism arm. She formerly chaired the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.)

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