Philippines allows live coverage of massacre trial

AP News
Posted: Jun 14, 2011 8:46 AM
Philippines allows live coverage of massacre trial

The Philippine Supreme Court will allow live broadcast coverage of the trial of members of a powerful clan accused in the killing of 57 people including 31 journalists in the country's worst political violence, a spokesman said Tuesday.

The tribunal, however, has set conditions that could cause problems for broadcasters, which have petitioned the court for live coverage since the trial started last year, said court administrator Midas Marquez.

He said broadcasts of the trial must continue from the beginning until the end of a day's session and must not be interrupted by commercials.

Court hearings are held twice a week at a maximum-security detention facility inside a police camp. A day's session typically lasts about six hours with a lunch break of about an hour.

The Supreme Court also said broadcasters cannot set up their own cameras inside the court, which will provide a camera with a wide angle view of the court room. Radio and television reporters are not allowed to comment on the proceedings live, the guidelines said.

President Benigno Aquino III, who wrote the court to support the petition for live coverage last year, praised the court for its decision, saying "it is important to learn what happened and how this happened" to ensure that such a massacre won't be repeated.

Rowena Paraan, secretary-general of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, said the "historic decision ... sets a precedent and hopefully will serve as a first step in bringing transparency in Philippine courts and help in the struggle for justice for the massacre victims."

Marquez quoted the unanimous court decision as saying that it was "time to craft a win-win situation that shall not compromise rights in the criminal administration of justice, sacrifice press freedom and allied rights, and interfere with the integrity, dignity and solemnity of judiciary proceedings."

A total of 196 people have been charged with multiple murder, 92 of whom are in custody, and 58 have been arraigned.

The principal suspect, former town Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., is accused of leading about 150 gunmen with his father's approval in halting an election caravan and mowing down the family and supporters of a political rival. Most of the victims were women and included at least 31 journalists and their staff, the single worst killing of media workers in the world.

Andal Jr. and his father, former Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., have pleaded not guilty. About a dozen family members have been charged.