Commissioner on Human Rights Questions DoJ Guidelines for Media

Article excerpt

Byline: David Cagahastian

Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Commissioner Wilhelm Soriano said yesterday Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez's plan to impose guidelines on media coverage during emergency situations is "prior restraint" that violates freedom of the press as embodied in the Constitution.

Soriano said the Constitution precludes any law or memorandum that would impose a prior restraint on the exercise of press freedom and the Department of Justice's "reminder" is a prior restraint.

Speaking in an interview on ABS-CBN DZMM's weekend news and commentary program "Pintig Balita," Soriano quoted the Constitution: "No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances."

An undated "reminder" from Gonzalez warned journalists who would cover police-military operations in the future to follow a set of guidelines in covering them or risk arrest and prosecution on charges of "obstruction of justice."

The reminder addressed media organizations and said that they "may incur criminal liabilities under the law, if anyone of your field reporters, news gatherers, photographers, cameramen, and other media practitioners will disobey lawful orders from duly authorized government officers and personnel during emergencies which may lead to collateral damage to properties and civilian casualties in case of authorized police or military operations."

The National Press Club (NPC) and other media organizations decried the advisory, which followed the arrest and handcuffing of newsmen covering the Manila Peninsula Hotel siege last Nov. 29, but Gonzalez said he would not withdraw the reminder, citing supposed limits to the conduct of media coverage.

Soriano said that while the reminder is still not within the jurisdiction of the CHR, human rights violations might arise when the police interpret and impose this policy during media coverage of police and military operations in the future.

Soriano said the police might interpret the reminder as a lawful order, but he pointed out that the carefully worded advisory "doesn't say or impose anything" and merely threatens to arrest and prosecute journalists who would not follow "lawful orders" during military operations.

Pintig Balita, nominated for best radio commentary program in the Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA), is aired every Sunday at 12 a.m. by DZMM, and is hosted by Vic Jose. The program is also heard on various time slots in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Australia, and other parts of Asia through ABSCBN's The Filipino Channel. …