Reject subpoena or summonses by local legislatures, media told
By Elias O. Baquero / Cherry Ann T. Lim
Sun.Star Cebu, July 1, 2011
THE Cebu City Council and the Cebu Provincial Board have no authority to summon members of media because that power is not granted to them by the Local Government Code.
The matter was raised yesterday during the quarterly meeting en banc of the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC) based on the proposed resolution submitted by the Cebu Media Legal Aid (Cemla) to stir discussion among the media community and concerned citizens.
Cemla is a loose group of volunteer lawyers who are helping media members who are facing work-related threats.
Also yesterday, police officials and the media agreed to further modify the guidelines on media coverage during crisis situations that had been proposed by the Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 after the August 2010 hostage siege of a tourist bus in Manila that claimed many lives.
Aggressive coverage, which included the live airing of blow-by-blow accounts of the 11-hour ordeal, and journalists speaking directly with the hostage-taker on the phone, had been partly blamed for the deaths.
Cemla came out with the proposed resolution after the Cebu City Council and the Cebu PB, in separate incidents, asked for the presence of journalists in their sessions to explain what they reported in their newspapers.
The two journalists refused the invitations but explained their absence. Fortunately, the council and the PB didn’t push for their attendance and considered the matter closed.
Recently, Cemla said, a Cebu City councilor, in a letter to a newspaper, threatened to subpoena a columnist.
The councilor cited Section 5, Article XV of the Rules of Procedure of the City Council, which, in effect, says that any person summoned to appear before it and refuses without justifiable cause may be cited for contempt.
Cemla lawyers noted that the presence of such provision in house rules, at least in the case of the council, may spur bolder moves in the future, using their perceived powers to drag journalists before legislators by issuing subpoenas instead of invitations.
Lawyer Rose Versosa, a Cemla volunteer, said lawyer Fritz Quiñanola reacted to the threat of the city councilor in a letter to a newspaper.
Versosa said Quiñanola cited a Supreme Court decision, dated Nov. 5, 1987 in the case of Arturo Umbac vs. Sanguniang Panglungsod ng Dumaguete.
The decision states: Local legislatures have not been granted by the Local Government Code the power to issue compulsory process and the power to punish for contempt and any such subpoena or summons would be “ultra vires” and therefore null and void.
Cemla considers journalists to be accountable for what they write or broadcast to their publishers and editors or station owners and news directors and to their public, and not to public officials who may be aggrieved by the publication or broadcast.
Cemla encouraged journalists and their news organizations to reject any subpoena or summons from local legislatures and to be cautious about invitations to explain before them news or opinion published in print or broadcast, without, however, disregarding accountability under established procedures and practices in the industry.
As for the guidelines on media coverage during crisis situations, they restrict certain aspects of coverage when a crisis, such as a hostage-taking incident, is in progress.
The CCPC had introduced various modifications to the guidelines after discussions with the police and local media during the CCPC’s quarterly meeting in February and a smaller group meeting in March.
But yesterday, Kapisa-nan ng mga Brodkaster ng Philipinas (KBP) Cebu chairman Ruphil Bañoc and executive vice chairman Leo Lastimosa still expressed reservations about the guidelines in their present form.
Police officials at the meeting led by PRO 7 Chief of Staff Josephus Angan said what was important was that the police and the media were engaged in a dialogue on the issue.
PRO 7 Regional Police Community Relations Division chief and public information officer Mariano Natuel Jr. emphasized that he respects freedom of the press.
The guidelines are meant simply to give both parties a “mutual understanding” that the police would request media to suspend coverage during a crisis if it was deemed necessary to save lives, he said.
TV Patrol Central Visayas anchor Haide Acuña said journalists of ABS-CBN Central Visayas already try to follow police directives when lives are at risk and don’t violate the police yellow line.
She raised concerns about portions of the guidelines dealing with live coverage and the acceptance of phone calls from perpetrators.
GMA 7 anchor Bobby Nalzaro, however, posed no objections to the guidelines, saying the network’s guidelines were even more stringent than the ones being discussed with the PRO 7.
The KBP Standards Authority last December ordered three media giants to each pay P30,000 in penalty for violations of the KBP Broadcast Code, said the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism earlier this month.
CMFR executive director Melinda Quintos De Jesus said they were fined for broadcasting information that could have compromised police efforts to rescue the hostages during the Aug. 23, 2010 hostage-taking incident in Manila.