Bridging the Judiciary-Media Cultural Divide

Manila Bulletin, December 4, 2004 | Go to article overview

Bridging the Judiciary-Media Cultural Divide


PUBLIC perception of judiciary-media relations has been characterized as adversarial. But this perception has of late been gradually changing. We have reason to believe that the Action Program for Judicial Reform (APJR), guided by the Davide Watch statement has helped pave the way towards this improved relationship. The APJR policy statement mandates the judiciary to be fully accountable to the public by remaining transparent, yet not betray those aspects which require utmost confidentiality. The reengineering of the administrative structure and operations of the judiciary is aimed at promoting transparency while ensuring the formulation and implementation of a disclosure policy that will establish a balance between the right of the public to know and the right of the litigants to confidentiality.

That this one-time "adversarial" relationship is gradually evolving into a cooperative one was demonstrated in a series of consultative workshops conducted by the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC), together with partners from four units of the Supreme Court the Public Information Office, the Philippine Judicial Academy (PHILJA), the Office of the Court Administrator, and the Program Management Office. In addition to workshops, manuals, guidebooks, and other IEC materials for journalists were produced. A number of members from the judiciary which included judges in regional courts, and media personnel consisting of print and broadcast journalists in Cebu, Angeles City, Cagayan de Oro City and Metro Manila participated in these activities, part of a project supported by the Asia Foundation.

Here are observations from the consultations:

Both sectors recognize differences in their work "culture." Media is more open, oriented to the task of protecting the peoples right to know, and concerned with impact and outcome. The judiciary, on the other hand, is concerned with confidentiality of information, and strongly protective of its independence. Nonetheless, through the series of dialogues, both sectors are now beginning to recognize commonalities of purpose, better understanding of their differences, and awareness of need for flexibility in the process of working towards their goals. They recognize that they have a symbiotic relationship. The media needs the judiciary to protect its independence and the judiciary needs the media as an ally in its search for truth and justice.

Here are some perceptions of roles as well as expectations of the judiciary which were articulated by the court reporters who participated in the series of dialogues. Other sectors will recognize that these apply to them as well:

Journalists are expected to bring clarity in their reportage to make esoteric legal terms understandable. There is too much technical jargon in the language of the judiciary. Thus, they appreciate availability of background documents and glossaries of legal terms.

Difficulty in cultivating relationship with sources. They observe that generally, judges or clerks of courts are reluctant to show public documents especially on controversial cases. …

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