SC upholds ban on live coverage of Maguindanao massacre trial

On the second anniversary of the brutal Ampatuan massacre, journalists worldwide have also marked November 23, 2011 as the first International Day to End Impunity. (MNS Photo)

On the second anniversary of the brutal Ampatuan massacre, journalists worldwide have also marked November 23, 2011 as the first International Day to End Impunity. (MNS Photo)

MANILA, Jan 14 (Mabuhay) – The Supreme Court has upheld its earlier ruling barring radio and television coverage of the five-year-old Maguindanao multiple murder trial.

SC Public Information Office chief and spokesman Theodore Te said the high court denied motions for reconsideration seeking to reverse its Oct. 23, 2012 ruling denying the petitions for radio and television coverage of the trial currently being held at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.

“The Court cited the lack of uniformity in rule or practice in other jurisdictions in relation to allowing cameras in the courtroom,” Te said in an e-mailed statement on Wednesday.

The spokesman added: “It also cited the need to protect the rights of the parties and the dignity of the courts as well as ensure the orderly conduct of the proceedings.”

Te said the magistrates also considered the “practical aspects of broadcasted criminal trial proceedings in foreign jurisdictions, finding that most countries still do not allow cameras in their courtrooms.”

The petitions for live coverage were filed by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, as well as relatives of the massacre victims, Editha Tiamzon and Glenna Legarta.

In their petitions, they requested the setting up of a video camera and monitor just outside the court for reporters to cover and for the people to witness the trial of the controversial case being heard by Branch 221 of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court.

In its first ruling on the matter in June 2011, the high court initially allowed live radio and television coverage of the trial, under certain conditions like requiring media entities to apply for broadcast and to continuously broadcast a hearing with no commercial breaks. The guidelines also disallowed the media from re-airing recordings of the trial and giving annotations while the hearing is ongoing.

But in a subsequent ruling in October 2012, the court totally scrapped live coverage but allowed audio-visual recordings of the trial for documentary purposes and for transmittal in closed-circuit viewing areas within the Camp Bagong Diwa premises and trial court in Maguindanao, Koronadal, South Cotabato, and General Santos City, where relatives of the victims currently reside.

Witnesses, however, would be prohibited from watching the proceedings, whether inside the court room or the designated closed-circuit viewing areas.

The high court said a single fixed compact camera will be used to provide a wide-angle full view of the sala of the court, with no panning and zooming “to avoid unduly highlighting or downplaying incidents in the proceedings.”

The SC Public Information Office has likewise been tasked to coordinate and assist trial courts involved in the physical setup of the camera and equipment.

The high court also said original recordings of the murder trial shall be deposited to the National Museum and the Records Management and Archives Office for preservation and exhibition in accordance to law.

The recordings would be placed under the control of Quezon City Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Regional Trial Court Branch 221, even as she is allowed to issue supplementary directives concerning the audio-visual recording, subject to the SC’s supervision.

The petitioners had branded certain guidelines in the high court’s June 2011 ruling as prior restraint that infringes on their constitutional right to free expression.

Regarded as the single-day, worst election-related killing in Philippine history, the massacre left 57 people dead and one missing. The victims belonged to an electoral convoy that was supposed to register then Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, who was challenging the influential Ampatuan clan for the gubernatorial seat.

Mangudadatu eventually won in the polls, and clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr. and several of his sons were all arrested for the killings. More than 100 suspects have already been arrested, while around 90 others remain at large three years after the carnage.(MNS)

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