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Strictly Politics: Free Expression and the Supreme Court on live media coverage of the Maguindanao Massacre trial

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A television camera in court?

The European Court of Human Rights  has said that that there could be discussion of court proceedings as they were taking place, and that reporting including comment on court proceedings contributes to their publicity and is thus perfectly consonant with the rule  that hearings be in public. Moreover the media’s task of imparting information to the public and the public’s right to receive it, is all the more so where a public figure is involved, to wit:

[Para.] 50.  Restrictions on freedom of expression permitted by the second paragraph of Article 10 “for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary” do not entitle States to restrict all forms of public discussion on matters pending before the courts.

 There is general recognition of the fact that the courts cannot operate in a vacuum. Whilst the courts are the forum for the determination of a person’s guilt or innocence on a criminal charge (see paragraph 40 above), this does not mean that there can be no prior or contemporaneous discussion of the subject matter of criminal trials elsewhere, be it in specialised journals, in the general press or amongst the public at large (see, mutatis mutandis, the Sunday Times (no. 1) judgment cited above, p. 40, § 65).

 Provided that it does not overstep the bounds imposed in the interests of the proper administration of justice, reporting, including comment, on court proceedings contributes to their publicity and is thus perfectly consonant with the requirement under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention that hearings be public. Not only do the media have the task of imparting such information and ideas: the public also has a right to receive them (ibid.). This is all the more so where a public figure is involved, such as, in the present case, a former member of the Government. Such persons inevitably and knowingly lay themselves open to close scrutiny by both journalists and the public at large (see, among other authorities, the Lingens v. Austria judgment of 8 July 1986, Series A no. 103, p. 26, § 42). Accordingly, the limits of acceptable comment are wider as regards a politician as such than as regards a private individual [1]


[1] App No 83/1996/702/894, 29 August 1997.

We recently appeared on ANC’s Strictly Politics talk show hosted Ms. Pia Hontiveros to discuss the Supreme Court’s new guidelines for the live radio and television coverage of the Maguidanao Massacre trial. Prof. Theodore Te of the UP College of Law and Mrs. Melinda Quintos-De Jesus of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility were also guests.  Excerpts from of the talk show episode may be viewed here.

Written by Romel

June 30, 2011 at 8:14 am

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