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Court bars public affairs programme from airing story

(CMFR/IFEX) - A local public affairs program was barred from airing a story on 12 May 2007 by a temporary restraining order (TRO). A representative from Lanao del Norte's second district secured the TRO, preventing GMA Network Inc.'s Imbestigador (Investigator) program from airing a segment that reported on the almost six-decade reign of the congressman's clan in the province.

Rep. Abdullah Dimaporo said in his petition that the program would only bring about "irreparable damage" to his "good name," claiming that the show did not even attempt to show his side of the story. He said that a circulating mobile phone message saying that the story would focus on his "corruption and greediness" (sic) prompted him to file the petition.

Dated 11 May, the 72-hour TRO reached GMA Network when Imbestigador's staff was in the last stages of editing the program for airing. Judge Jacob Malik of Branch 21 of the Regional Trial Court in Kapatagan, Lanao del Norte, said in his decision that Dimaporo "will suffer grave injustice and irreparable injury" in the event that the report is aired.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines labeled the restriction "as a clear case of prior restraint" and said in a statement: "We do not dispute the Dimaporo family's right to seek redress if they feel the episode is unfair to them. But we assert that any redress they seek should be after the fact and should not involve [preventing] the airing of an episode that very clearly touches on an issue of public interest."

Angel Directo, Imbestigador's associate producer, asserted that Imbestigador had tried to secure an interview with Dimaporo. She said the congressman initially agreed to an interview, but was later not available. She added that the program had sent a researcher and a cameraman to Lanao del Norte on 11 May, but were still unable to obtain an interview.

The network was said to have been "under intense pressure" the previous week from the Dimaporos and their go-betweens to kill the story, via "letters, phone calls, and personal visits."

Lawyer Jose Ibarra of the GMA 7 legal department said that the report's showing should not have been blocked, noting that a story on the Dimaporos as a political family is "not a private aspect of their lives, but a public fact."

Theodore Te, a human rights lawyer said that GMA 7 could have opted to still air the Dimaporo story in spite of the TRO, citing the constitutional provision on press freedom if charged with contempt of court. He also said that the network could have also appealed to the Supreme Court for an immediate restraining order on the TRO.

GMA's legal department is still awaiting another hearing to settle the case, since the initial summons to determine if the TRO would go beyond 72 hours was set too soon, on 13 May.

Rep. Dimaporo's father, Mohammad Ali, started his political career as Lanao del Norte's governor, and later served in Congress. The petitioner, Rep. Dimaporo, is running for a third term in Congress, while his wife, Gov. Imelda Dimaporo, is a congressional candidate for the province's first district. Their son Khalid is running to replace his mother as governor.

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