SC bars live press conferences

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

REPORTERS covering the Supreme Court (SC) were baffled and disappointed about the decision of its Public Information Office (PIO) to prohibit the live airing of press conferences.

Prior to the start of the press briefing on Tuesday, a male staff of SC PIO chief Theodore Te reminded broadcast reporters and crew to pull out the cables being used for the live feed.

Otherwise, the staff said Te will not begin the briefing, which was around 30 minutes behind the 2 p.m. advisory.

After the press conference, Te told some reporters that the High Court has been against live media coverage of "anything."

"The Court has never allowed live coverage of its proceedings and I read that to include the presscon...I don't know what the basis is for the previous instances (where press briefings were aired live)," Te said.

Later in the day, Te clarified in a text message that his new policy "is part of how this PIO understands its role in presenting the Court's message requirements."

He said however that the rule is not absolute, citing Court pronouncements regarding high-profile issues such as the constitutionality of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and Reproductive Health (RH) law and even the results of the Bar examinations.

Te also advised media to "revisit" how the High Court is being covered, saying it should not be treated in the same way as the political branches of government "because there really is no breaking news all the time as far as SC is concerned."

"My understanding from the start when I took over was live coverage was an exception; and the record is clear when requests have been made they have never been denied," Te, who became PIO chief in December 2012, said.

In a statement, the Justice Reporters Organization (Juror) underscored the importance of informing the public of developments in the SC through the fastest way possible.

"Since 1998, when the PIO was created, we were allowed to air live press briefings. The PIO staff would even assist us to set up our cables and equipment. Why the sudden change now?" the group said through its president Teresa Tavares, reporter for tabloid Remate.

Juror, which is mostly composed of radio reporters, also reminded Te of the glaring difference between a news conference and a court proceeding.

Under the Manual Guide for the Judiciary in Dealing with Media issued by the Philippine Judicial Academy, court proceedings such as arraignments, pre-trials, trials, hearings, ocular inspections, oral arguments and other related incidents are open to the public "except in those instances when the law or the rules allow the court to exclude the public."

Veteran broadsheet reporter Reynaldo Panaligan, meanwhile, said he could not recall a single incident when the SC declined live television or radio coverage of an announcement of a resolution or decision, particularly those that affect public interest.

"Yes, media may be banned during closed-door deliberation of cases. But once a decision is reached and promulgated, there is no reason to ban live television or radio coverage during the announcement of the decision. The Supreme Court should be the example of transparency. It should not only, as it does, uphold press freedom in its decision. It should practice it," he said.

Panaligan has been covering the judiciary for nearly 40 years for the Manila Bulletin. (Sunnex)

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