A year and five months after some victims of the Ampatuan massacre asked the court for leave to broadcast the trial live on television and radio, the Supreme Court finally allowed this live coverage, so we thought. In their pleadings, the victims alleged that because every killing of a journalist is prima facie an affront on press freedom, the public at large have now acquired a right to know what is happening in the trial of a massacre that resulted in at least 32 counts of infringement of press freedom. This right to know and right to information on matters concerning public concerns should prevail as against the right of the accused to be protected against perceived pre-judgment. The fact is that the prohibition against live coverage of criminal trials originated in the United States where ordinary individuals, or a jury of “peers” will determine the guilt or innocence of an accused. Because this juries are composed of ordinary people with no training on the formal rules of evidence, American courts originally sought to protect the integrity of the process by insulating the jury members from pubic opinion which may arise from a live coverage of the proceedings. Through the years, though, American courts have discovered that there is no basis for this earlier fear of a pre-judgment. One, it appears that while jury members are untrained in law, they are nonetheless given directions by the Judge on how to appreciate certain evidence presented before them. Two, and more importantly, it has been the experience by American courts that jury members take their roles more seriously than originally thought. In fact, many of them have said that where life or liberty is at risk, they decide the issue of guilt or innocence independent of any outside information that they may acquired in the course of the trial. If only because we do not have a jury of one’s peers, we have more reason that live coverage must be allowed in our jurisdiction. To begin with, Filipino judges are presumed to be experts in evidence. Hence, there is more reason they should not be influenced by media coverage of cases pending before them. On a very pragmatic level, the live coverage would mean that the victims, already of limited means since they lost their bread winners, no longer have to come to Manila just to witness the proceedings. They can now do so in the comfort and safety of their homes. Moreover, the public, since they will now have the chance to listen to and hear the testimony of witnesses, can make heir own conclusions on the reliability and weight of the testimonial evidence. Also, because live coverage will inevitably prompt all the lawyers involved in the trial to be in their best behavior, live coverage may also assist in expediting the proceedings. No lawyer would ant to be accused of being the cause of delay. Having said all these, there remains the matter of guidelines issued by the Supreme Court. Apparently, and if we are to believe Court spokesman Midas Marquez, the Court required that all media outlets seeking to broadcast the proceedings must do so continuously until the proceedings are terminated. Apparently, the published guidelines also provide that the proceedings must be broadcast in its entirety, without commercial breaks, and without commentaries. While I have no issues against the provision that the broadcast should only be through one camera which should be static, I was perplexed to hear from the Court spokesman and administrator that the guidelines provide for all or nothing: broadcast everything or nothing at all. My view is that any act, be it from Congress, the Courts, or the Executive which would substitute their judgment for the editorial judgment of media practitioners on what should be covered or what should be broadcast, is an infringement of freedom of the press. In fact, in the United States, the right to reply, a mandatory act that would compel media owners to print the side of a person being written about was unconstitutional because it is the editors who should have the discretion on what should or should not see print or broadcast. Similarly, US courts have invalidated the right to reply as a violation of the due process clause since property rights of media owners are violated when they are compelled to carry a reply even if in their judgment, such is not necessary. These arguments apply equally to the guidelines issued by the court. It is the editors who should have the discretion to determine what to broadcast, and not the Court. Likewise, why should the Court compel them to broadcast the entire proceedings when the business reality is that the broadcast industry relies on precious air time for their advertisement revenues? To compel them to dedicate precious air time solely to the Ampatuan trial is tantamount to a taking without due process of law. To recapitulate, while the Court was correct in ruling that live coverage of the Ampatuan trial will not violate the rights of the accused, it should reconsider its guidelines which appear to violate the letters an spirit of press freedom. I hope the court can still amend its guidelines to suit its ends and protect the ever-important right to a free and vibrant press.