Critics of SC live-coverage decision

“We will not let the pursuit of the perfect stand in the way of achievable goals.” – Barack Obama

    I thought everybody welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to allow live coverage of the Ampatuan trial so I was surprised to read that some people were not happy with certain conditions that came with the ruling.

    Atty. Harry Roque who represents the families of some of the massacre victims objected to Condition No. 5 – “The broadcasting of the proceedings for a particular day must be continuous and in its entirety” and Condition No. 6 – “No commercial break or any other gap shall be allowed until the day’s proceedings are adjourned, except during the period of recess call by the trial court and during portions of the proceedings wherein the public is ordered excluded.”

    Arguing against condition five, Roque said, “any act, be it from Congress, the Courts, or the Executive which would substitute their judgment for the editorial judgment of media practitioners on what should be covered or what should be broadcast, is an infringement of freedom of the press.” He added, “It is the editors who should have the discretion to determine what to broadcast, and not the Court.”

    At first glance, Roque’s argument makes sense. However, upon closer examination, it is misplaced. The Court is not substituting its judgment for anybody’s, it is simply taking the capacity to shape public opinion on the guilt or innocence of the Ampatuans out of media’s hands. The Court’s stipulation will appear unwise to Roque until a network picks an editor patently sympathetic to the defendants.

    Interestingly, Roque found no problems with a single static camera “installed inconspicuously inside the courtroom to provide a single wide-angle full-view of the sala of the trial court; no panning and zooming shall be allowed to avoid unduly highlighting or downplaying incidents in the proceedings” despite the fact that he believes in the primacy of editorial freedom.

    Is not the one static camera rule an infringement on the individual editorial freedom of the networks that will cover the trial? If Roque is to be consistent, he must argue for one or more dynamic cameras per network.

    Roque objects to condition six on the grounds that “to compel them (networks) to dedicate precious air time solely to the Ampatuan trial is tantamount to a taking (confiscation of revenues) without due process of law.” Other critics argue that without commercial breaks no network will provide coverage thus rendering the Court’s decision useless.

    First of all, the Court is not compelling anyone to provide live coverage of the trial. Secondly, the government TV network can provide coverage. Funded by Congress, it does not live solely on advertising revenues. Third, there is no prohibition on running commercials as chyrons or crawlers at the bottom of the TV screen. So what’s the problem?

    There are also objections to condition no. 7: “The proceedings shall be broadcast without any voice-overs, except brief annotations of scenes depicted therein as may be necessary to explain them at the start or at the end of the scene;”

    The argument made is that during lulls in the proceedings, as when purely administrative matters are being discussed, there is a need for a reporter to give a summary or a backgrounder. The argument presumes that the viewer is so stupid he will be hopelessly lost if a reporter is not around to confirm what he saw with his own eyes and heard with his own ears.

    The Court’s decision may not be perfect but it gave the public something it did not have before. Instead of bitching, critics of the Court’s decision would be better off heeding Barack Obama’s wise words above and just lie back and enjoy Harry Roque’s exciting performance at the trial, in front of a single static camera installed inconspicuously in the courtroom recording the proceedings continuously and in their entirety without any commercial breaks or voice-overs.

Manuel Buencamino

Buencamino was a weekly columnist for Today and Business Mirror. He has also written articles in other publications like Malaya, Newsbreak, "Yellow Pad" in Business World, and "Talk of the Town" in the Inquirer. He is currently with Interaksyon, the news site of TV5. MB blogged for Filipino Voices, blogs for ProPinoy and maintains a blog, Game-changers for him, as far as music goes, are Monk, Miles, Jimi, and Santana.

  • GabbyD

    my question is this:

    had the SC not allowed it or if the tv guys decline, how would the trial be covered?

    would reporters from print and tv sit in? take notes?

    or if not, they would get the info from…?

    • Manuel Buencamino

      If the SC did not allow then we would get reports in the same way we are getting them now.

      If the commercial networks decline then we must demand that the government station provide coverage.

      BTW, I just heard on the news that CJ Corona ordered court administrator Midas Marquez to ensure that the trial must be carried live on the web so that the whole world can watch.

      • GabbyD

        but reports in the way we get them now… that means that the reporters sift thru transcripts and pick what they want to pick.

        whats the diff between that, and allowing them to cut off the broadcast if they need to, or to provide voice overs, or even commentary?

        • Manuel Buencamino

          The difference is the role of the press as filter is eliminated. Information will be raw and unedited, not shaped by a reporter’s perspective and prejudice.

        • GabbyD

          no, my point is this:

          BEFORE the decision, the press would report/edit what its given, whatever that is.

          AFTER the decision, if they decide not to accept the guidelines), the press would do what they would do before.

          so, my question/confusion is practical — whatever the SC does (give or not access), the press would do what it does ANYWAY.

          • manuelbuencamino

            Yes but it can’t televise anything. Except the faces of their correspondents and commentators. And that’s a big difference.

          • GabbyD

            i did some research. it looks like, apart from some huge milestones in the case, the press CANNOT cover court cases.

            discussing them with the participants is illegal.

            so this television thing is a concession on the court’s part.

      • GabbyD

        also, that internet feed… would the press have to agree to the guidelines to use that feed?

        that seems useless to me. if ordinary people are free within their homes to comment, splice, etc the video, why shouldnt the press?