Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Address petition now, media groups appeal to CA

Here is a post from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism blog about the March 21 petition of media groups and journalists reacting to the the clampdown on the press.

Media groups urge court:
hear TRO petition

MEDIA groups filed this morning (March 21) an urgent motion asking the Court of Appeals to immediately set a hearing on a petition they filed against executive officials whom they said were engaging in an assault on the press.

Named respondents in that petition are Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita; Justice secretary Raul Gonzalez; Philippine National Police Director General Arturo Lomibao; and National Telecommunications Commission Chairman Ronald Solis.

In that petition, the complainants asked the court to prohibit the respondents from “imposing any form of content-based prior restraint on the press, be it formal or informal, direct or in the form of disguised or thinly veiled threats of administrative sanction or criminal prosecution.” The petition stressed that “only a court, with its accompanying due process safeguards, may impose content-based prior restraints, when the grounds therefor are duly proved.”

The petitioners asked the court to immediately issue a “certiorari and prohibition with application of a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction” against the respondents.

Echoing arguments they made in that petition, the complainants, in their urgent motion, today told the court that “the attacks (against the press) are becoming more and more virulent, and more ominous.”

Thirty-seven more groups and individuals have joined the petition, bringing to 83 the total number of signatories. The petitioners include journalists from various regions of the country.

In their urgent motion, the petitioners referred to incidents which they said continued to provide “direct and thinly veiled threats against the press.” These include, they said, the suspension of an award-winning radio program by the station that aired it for four years, and the subsequent testimony of a government witness that the program’s producer was fronting for the communist party; and the attempts by the Quezon City police to secure a warrant to search the premises of the PCIJ.

There were also, the petitioners said, repeated statements by the respondents and other executive officials about journalists being “monitored,” as well as warnings that the media will not be accorded any “special treatment” should they fail to police their ranks against those who will use them for their own gain. The petitioners also noted that a newspaper whose office and printing press were raided, following the declaration of a state of national emergency, continue to be monitored even after the pull-out of police personnel from its premises.

“The foregoing acts,” said the petitioners, “coming within days of each other and without let-up, show a deliberate pattern by the government to muzzle the press and gag protected speech.”

Saying that the respondents “have deliberately thickened the air with uncertainty, insecurity, apprehension and even fear,” the complainants asked the court to stop “these acts … of prior restraint.”

They asked the court to immeditely set a hearing “at the soonest possible time,” and then issue a TRO and preliminary injunction “on such terms as (the court) may deem just.”

The Inquirer this afternoon reported that the CA’s 15th Division has said it will defer any ruling on the petition until the petitioners have submitted a required certification lacking in their plea.

The petitioners’ counsels, of the Free Legal Assistance Group or FLAG, said they have not received any such resolution and that they hope the CA will look at the petition’s substance, rather than its form. “We fervently hope that the court will hear us,” lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno said.
The petitioners include:

Philippine Press Institute, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Newsbreak, Probe Productions, Center for Community Journalism and Development, and ABS-CBN News and Public Affairs.

The media groups are joined by the following:

Maria Ressa, head of News and Current Affairs of ABS-CBN Broadcasting Network; Jessica Soho, Vice President for News and News Director of GMA-7; Ed Lingao, Vice President for Operations of ABC-5; Arnold Clavio of GMA-7 and dzBB; Pia Hontiveros of ABS-CBN Broadcasting Network and ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC); Ricky Carandang of ANC; Marites Vitug of Newsbreak; and Sheila Coronel of PCIJ.

Read the urgent motion here and the March 8 petition here. View list of petitioners.

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