Friday, March 10, 2006

A quick look at media's petition vs muzzling efforts

The petition the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) has filed along with other media groups and journalists last March 8 against efforts to muzzle the press is written concisely and elegantly, thanks to the efforts of Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), which prepared the petition.

The petition raised the arguments well as to why the current efforts of the government to stifle the press in the country should stop now and should never happen again. I urge you guys to read the 41-paged petition in full (which you can download from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism blog) . But if you want an executive summary of the petition to have a quick grasp of what it is all about, I'm pasting it below.

Executive Summary:
Petition for Certiorari, Prohibition and Declaratory Relief

The decision to file a petition was arrived at after two meetings between FLAG and media practitioners; the contents of the petition were fully discussed with media practitioners; substantial changes, were, however, made to ensure that the petition addresses concerns of both print and broadcast media.

A. Objectives

a. To declare that the Executive Department, represented by the Executive Secretary, the Secretary of Justice, the Director General of the Philippine National Police, the Chairman of the National Telecommunications Commission and their officers, agents or other persons acting under their authority or supervision, have no lawful power, authority or jurisdiction to prohibit the publication or airing of news and commentary based upon its contents.

i. Only a court, with its accompanying due process safeguards, may impose content-based prior restraints, when the grounds therefore are duly proved.

b. To prohibit the Executive Secretary, the PNP, the DOJ, and the NTC 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.

i. The threat of official intervention—in the form of administrative sanction or criminal prosecution—is just as damaging to a free press as the fact of it.

c. To annul and set aside the issuances of the NTC that prohibit the press from airing or broadcasting news and commentary that, in the NTC's sole and unfettered discretion, are "subversive," which "tend" to propose or incite sedition or rebellion, or which constitute "rebellious/terrorist propaganda, comments, information, interviews and other similar or related materials."

i. NTC does not have any lawful power, authority or jurisdiction to prohibit these, much less judge what is subversive (when the crime of subversion has long been repealed), what merely "tends" to propose or incite sedition or rebellion (whatever that means to the NTC), and what constitutes "rebellious/terrorist propaganda, comments and the like (whatever that means to the NTC).

d. The dangers of un-reviewable administrative actions that impose prior restraints on the press are as ancient as dictators. We seek the intervention of the Court to stop the use of the strong arm of the law to exclude speech protected by the Constitution.

B. Petition is not hinged on declaration of state of national emergency; hence its “lifting” does not in any way affect the nature and objectives of the petition.

C. Parties

a. Petitioners

i. Media organizations
ii. Journalists and Broadcasters
iii. Academe

b. Respondents

i. Eduardo R. Ermita, Executive Secretary
ii. Raul Gonzalez, Secretary of Justice
iii. Arturo Lomibao, Director General of the Philippine National Police
iv. Ronald Olivar Solis, Chairman of the National Telecommunications Commission

D. Venue: Court of Appeals

a. Supreme Court has no jurisdiction to hear petitions for declaratory relief.

b. FLAG has concerns over current composition of Supreme Court, most of whose members were appointed by GMA.

c. FLAG has concerns over outcome of petitions challenging Proclamation 1017.

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