The leadership of the National Press Club (NPC) on Thursday denounced Supreme Court spokesperson Theodoro Te who prevented reporters from covering live a recent news briefing by the Court.
“The NPC is outraged by the new SC PIO [Public Information Office] policy against live media coverage, a fundamental element in the practice of journalism under the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press, which the Supreme Court and other pillars of democracy are bound to uphold,” Joel Sy Egco, NPC president, said in a statement.
“Let the SC PIO under Theodore Te be reminded that the SC Public Information Office, like any other government instrumentality, is a public trust. Thus, it is presumed to serve with the highest standards of accountability, responsibility and integrity,” Egco, a senior reporter of The Manila Times, added.
Reporters covering the Court issued statements on June 4, slamming Te’s action on June 3 when he prevented media personnel from covering the news briefing live.
Last Tuesday, Te even threatened to scrap a press conference if television crews did not remove the camera cables from the conference hall.
Reporters had been waiting for at least half hour for Te, who had refused to start the briefing until the cables were cleared and radio reporters agreed not to report live his answers to their questions.
He then read a two-page summary of the cases taken up by the justices that day. There were few questions from the reporters after that.
The two groups of reporters covering the Supreme Court and the Justice department have released statements condemning Te’s action.
The Court’s “orders, resolutions, and decisions are of utmost importance to people, particularly those in the provinces, who seek justice and protection,” said Reynaldo Panaligan of The Manila Bulletin and founding member of the Justice and Court Reporters Association (Jucra). “As such, the SC’s orders, resolutions, and decisions should be communicated immediately to them, and the fastest way to deliver the news is through the media—newspapers, television, and radio.”
“I have covered the SC for almost forty years for the Manila Bulletin. I could not recall an incident, before the creation of its public information office, when the SC declined live television or radio coverage of an announcement of a resolution or decision, particularly those that affect public interest,” Panaligan added.
The Justice Reporters Organization (Juror) also denounced Te.
“Since 1998, when the PIO (Public Information Office) was created, we were allowed to air live press briefings. The PIO staff would even assist us to set up our cables and equipment.
Why the sudden change now? May we also remind Atty Te that we are only airing live news conferences and NOT court proceedings,” Juror said in a statement.
Sought to clarify his actions, Te said beaming live the press briefing is “not a rule of the SC.”
“It’s part of how this PIO understands it’s role in presenting the Court’s message requirements. As I told one reporter earlier the rule is not absolute. I think media may want to revisit how the SC is covered as a beat. It is not and shouldn’t be treated in the same way as the political departments because there really is no breaking news all the time as far as SC is concerned. My understanding from the start when I took over was live coverage was an exception; and the record is clear when requests have been made they have never been denied,” he said.
In another text message, Te wondered where the reporters got the idea that they can cover live the press conferences.
“The Court has never allowed live coverage of anything. It’s only upon exemption. I don’t know where you got the idea that we would allow it live. I have never allowed it live. I have never said it. So, if you were filming it live, then you were filming it without permission,” Te said.
Reporters said on at least two occasions, Te had explained en banc decisions wrongly.
Television and radio anchors have difficulty getting him for a phone-patch interview.
On one occasion, they added, Te agreed to be interviewed by mobile phone at about 6 a.m., only to be told at 9 a.m. that he could not be on air because he was still driving.