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Arzaga, Jesus Joel Mari D.

A.M. No. 01-4-03-SC September 13, 2001 RE: REQUEST FOR LIVE RADIO-TV

COVERAGE OF THE TRIAL IN THE SANDIGANBAYAN OF THE PLUNDER CASES

AGAINST FORMER PRESIDENT JOSEPH E. ESTRADA

Dissenting Opinion of Justice Reynato Puno

Facts

On March 13, 2001, the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, wrote Chief Justice

Hilario G. Davide, Jr., to be allowed the privilege of covering the anticipated trials in the

Sandiganbayan of the plunder cases against former President Joseph E. Estrada.

Similar letters to the Chief Justice and petitions requesting the Supreme Court to allow live

television coverage of the trial of former President Estrada were made by Senator Renato Cayetano

Secretary of Justice Hernando B. Perez, with the conformity of the Ombudsman, and by a group of

businessmen led by Atty. Ricardo Romulo of the Makati Business Club.

On May 21, 2001 former President Estrada, thru counsel, opposed the petition for live radio-

TV coverage of his trials in the Sandiganbayan. He cited the need to preserve the rule of law and

warned that radio and television as media can be easily manipulated for propaganda purposes.

The Supreme Court in an en banc resolution of October 22, 1991 absolutely prohibited live

TV and radio coverage of court hearings, explaining that a trial of any kind or in any court is a

matter of serious importance to all concerned and should not be treated as a means of entertainment.

To so treat it deprives the court of the dignity which pertains to it and departs from the orderly and

serious quest for truth for which our judicial proceedings are formulated.

Citing the case of Estes vs. Texas, the Supreme Court noted four (4) areas of potential

prejudice which might arise from the impact of the cameras on the jury, witnesses, the trial judge

and the defendant.

Thus, the Supreme Court ruled that considering the prejudice it poses to the defendants right

to due process as well as to the fair and orderly administration of justice, and considering further
that the freedom of the press and the right of the people to information may be served and satisfied

by less distracting, degrading and prejudicial means, live radio and television coverage of court

proceedings shall not be allowed. Video footages of court hearings for news purposes shall be

restricted and limited to shots of the courtroom, the judicial officers, the parties and their counsel

taken prior to the commencement of official proceedings. No video shots or photographs shall be

permitted during the trial proper.

Issue

Whether or not the 1991 resolution absolutely banning live radio and television coverage of

criminal proceedings should be re-examined to re-adjust the balance between a free press and a fair

trial and to expand the right of access of the press and the public to information without, however,

impairing the right of an accused to due process.

Held

The absolute ban on televising criminal trials should be lifted and the petitions to televise the

trial of the plunder cases against former President Joseph E. Estrada as well as the oppositions

should be remanded to the Sandiganbayan for proper disposition in accordance with the suggested

guidelines.

I.Estes case has been modified by subsequent cases

In subsequent cases of Chandler vs. Florida, Richmond Newspapers Inc. vs Florida, and

Globe Newspaper vs. Superior Court, the Court concluded that An absolute constitutional ban on

broadcast coverage of trials cannot be justified simply because there is a danger that, in some cases,

prejudicial broadcast accounts of pre-trial and trial events may impair the ability of jurors to decide

the issue of guilt or innocence uninfluenced by extraneous matter. The risk of juror prejudice in

some cases does not justify an absolute ban on news coverage of trials by the printed media; so also

the risk of such prejudice does not warrant an absolute constitutional ban on all broadcast coverage.

The appropriate safeguard against such prejudice is the defendants right to demonstrate that the
medias coverage of his case be it printed or broadcast compromised the ability of the particular jury

that heard the case to adjudicate fairly.

II. Objection as to ill effect on dignity and decorum has long receded

The Court resolution of 1991 absolutely banning televised trial was also premised on the

disruptive effect of cameras on the dignity and decorum in the courtroom. It should be noted,

however, that this debasement of dignity and decorum argument relied upon in Estes was due to the

intolerable physical disturbances caused by annoying equipment, cables, lighting and

unsophisticated technicians in the decade of the sixties. With the quantum leap in communications

technology in the last twenty (20) years, TV cameras are now less intrusive and disruptive. Indeed,

various states have imposed rules successfully regulating whatever interference cameras may have

on the dignity and decorum of judicial proceedingsAn overwhelming majority of the states now

allow radio-TV coverage of criminal trials.

III. An overwhelming majority of the states now allow radio-TV coverage of criminal trials.

The absolute ban against radio-TV coverage of criminal trial has now been lifted in majority

of the states in the United States. Television is today arguably the most powerful medium of

communication. Its communicative influence is qualitatively different and is distinctively unique.

For this reason and more, there is clear growing body of literature from known legal scholars

postulating that an absolute ban on televised trials constitutes a violation of the press and public

right of access: Firstly, an open trial has a great value. Openness enhances both the basic fairness of

the criminal trial and the appearance of fairness so essential to public confidence in the system.

Second. It is a truism that an educated, enlightened and vigilant citizenry makes democracy works.

The need for the citizenry to comprehend how its government fulfills its task of efficiently serving

the people cannot be overemphasized Third. In a very informative article, Lassiter has revealed that

empirical studies show that cameras in the courtroom do not have any negative effect on judicial

proceedings Fourth. Televised trial helps the press fulfill its role of exposing miscarriage of justice
IV. On a case to case basis, televising criminal trials should be addressed to the sound

discretion of the trial judge.

Live radio-TV coverage of a criminal trial cannot be demanded as a matter of right but its

absolute denial is also constitutionally suspect. It is therefore respectfully submitted that the matter

of whether or not the proceedings in a criminal trial should be televised, totally or partially, should

be addressed to the sound discretion of the trial judge on a case to case basis. The exercise of this

discretion will depend on the facts of each case and will involve the delicate balancing of the

constitutional right of the accused to fair trial and due process of law, the press and the public right

of access to trials in criminal cases, the right of the state to prosecute crimes effectively and the duty

of courts to ensure the fair and orderly administration of justice.

Additionally, it shall be the duty of the trial judge to provide and impose the necessary rules

and regulations to assure that the televised trial will not detract from the solemnity, decorum and

dignity of the court. Among others, the rules and regulations should insure that: (1) the television

cameras and related equipments must be unobtrusive, must not produce distracting sounds and shall

not in any manner interfere with the proceedings; (2) the media representatives shall present a neat

appearance in keeping with the dignity of the proceedings and should not move unnecessarily about

the court while it is in session; (3) no film, videotape, photography and audio reproductions may be

used for advertising or commercial purpose; (4) only a single fixed camera set-up shall be installed

in the courtroom and the audio-video output of the fixed set-up will be fed only to broadcast

stations to avoid too many photographers and TV camera crew in the courtroom; and (5) that radio-

television broadcasters should give a balanced coverage of the prosecution and the defense.