Press Release
September 10, 2010


Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago today appealed to the judiciary to limit the issuance of gag orders prohibiting the media from reporting or publishing information on cases of "widespread concern to the community."

Santiago, a former judge of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court, said that the trial court hearing the Maguindanao murder case should keep its proceedings open to media coverage and refrain from bringing up the sub judice rule.

"It is important that the court refrain from invoking the sub judice rule so that the media coverage of the Maguindanao case would remain unhampered. Let every Filipino know how the wheels of justice churn for this monumental case," Santiago said.

The sub judice rule is often invoked by the courts to prohibit the media from reporting, commenting on, or publishing events surrounding a trial. The rationale behind the rule is to prevent the media report or commentary from interfering with the fair and impartial resolution of the case.

"The sub judice rule is a foreign legal concept," Santiago explained. "It originated in countries, such as the United States, whose justice systems have adopted the trial by jury system."

"Philippine courts frequently invoke the rule, notwithstanding the palpable absence of jurors who need to be sequestered from widespread publicity surrounding a court trial," she said.

Santiago said that in the United States, the sub judice rule used to be seen as a reasonable restriction on the freedom of the press. "Today, however, most U.S. Supreme court decisions regard it as an unconstitutional impairment of the freedom of the press," she said. "Thus, in the case of Sheppard v. Maxwell, the U.S. Supreme court noted that 'there is nothing that proscribes the press from reporting events that transpire in the courtroom.'"

Amidst criticisms on the way the media covered the bloody hostage-taking incident two weeks ago, Santiago stressed that responsible and ethical media coverage is inseparable with the constitutional guarantees of free speech and the right to information.

"The constitutional guarantees of free speech and the right to information on matters of public concern occupy lofty positions in the Filipino people's hierarchy of values. While the abuse of these rights should be denounced, we should remain vigilant that these rights are not unreasonably curtailed," Santiago said.

Santiago has filed Senate Bill No. 1852, also known as the Judicial Right to Know Act. The bill prohibits the issuance of court orders, writs, or injunctions "that would have the effect of enjoining the press and other media from publishing information in connection with a criminal, civil, or administrative case of widespread concern to the community."

The proposed measure only allows for the issuance of a gag order against the media in cases where the report, commentary, or publication is based on information gained from other sources, and only upon prior showing that the report, commentary, or publication "will likely prevent, directly and irreparably, a fair and impartial resolution of the case. This requires a clear showing that the report, commentary, or publication will prejudice the outcome of the proceedings of the case and that no less restrictive alternatives are available."

"Discussions on public affairs in a free society cannot depend on the preliminary grace of judicial censors," Santiago said. "Any attempt at curtailing the constitutional guarantees to free speech, free press, and the right to information on matters of public concern, which gag orders or other forms of prior restraint do, must be shown to be necessitated by an interest more substantial than the guarantees themselves."

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