The Judiciary and the Media: Partners, Not Adversaries

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IF the present trends and mood continue, the judiciary and the media are moving away from the adversary to a partnership relationship. Not too long ago, former Senator Miriam Santiago described the relationship as adversarial. But during meetings and roundtable discussions held on this topic, the emerging conclusion was that both media are indeed partners working towards the same goals of protecting freedom and human rights, and the strengthening of our democratic institutions.

During a seminar workshop among media and judicial personnel held in Cebu recently, an observation made by several journalists was that the series of dialogues towards reaching consensus on critical issues, and the documentation of these rules and procedures into handbooks that would guide media coverage is long overdue. The Project is one of the dozen or so activities now being implemented by the Supreme Court under its Action Program for Judicial Reform (APJR).

Why the need for agreements on rules of behavior in judiciary-media relationship? One reason is the growing recognition by both sectors that each needs one another.. The media safeguards the independence of the Court. The Court likewise protects the freedom of the journalist to seek and access information. As SC Chief Justice Davide noted, both are expected to be staunch sentinels of fundamental rights and freedom. But there is need to reconcile "cultural" differences such as the judiciarys concern with process and confidentiality on the one hand, and the medias culture of openness and transparency on the other. Because the media is more focused on outcomes and impact, works under time pressure and the constraints of the commercial system, it sometimes overlooks the need for depth, balance, and accuracy. Existing rules in this area are either too general or not analyzed by each group to be able to arrive at a consensus. The Philippine Press Institute (PPI) and the Kapisanan ng Brodkaster (KBP) has its Codes of Ethics; some major dailies and even provincial newspapers have their own local codes just as the Judiciary has its own unwritten rules of behavior governing media relations. The time is now ripe to codify these rules into manuals and establish mechanisms for continuing dialogue especially on contentious issues.

At the Cebu workshop, 10 areas of agreement between the Judiciary and Media were arrived at by the participants representing the Cebu press. The Draft Agreement will later have to be validated by the media in other regions and subsequently submitted to the working committees of the Supreme Court, the PPI and the KBP for further review before adoption. They are: (1) need for standard and clearer rules of behavior among judges in relating to media and among media in covering the courts; (2) Judiciary to assist media to perform its functions through training and publications; (3) understanding by the media of how the courts work through dialogues and publications, and by the judiciary of the media environment through training, dialogues, and publications; (4) improving working relations between court personnel and journalists; (5) recognition by media of the need to observe standards of good journalism, including fairness and accuracy, as provided by universal codes of ethics for journalists; (6) encourage more balanced coverage and more human interest stories; (7) Court decisions should be in reader-friendly language; (8) improve access to judiciary through continuing dialogue with media especially on contentious issues; (9) support initiatives to establish policies that promote greater transparency in the judiciary; and (10) recognition by judiciary and media that both are partners in strengthening our democratic institutions. …