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Media restrictions in Ampatuan trial must be lifted, says coalition of Filipino journalists

(SEAPA/IFEX) - A coalition of Philippine media organizations expressed concern on 12 January 2010 at what it described as the continued refusal of the court to allow live coverage of the trial of Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., the prime suspect in the Ampatuan Massacre.

"While we respect the view that publicity of the trial can be detrimental to the accused, we fail to see how that can happen in this case. The Ampatuan case is extremely important for the public, the media and the relatives of the victims. The media and the public - particularly those who live outside Metro Manila and who can only follow the proceedings through the media - need to know exactly what is going on inside the courtroom," said Carlos Conde, spokesman of the November 23 Movement, in a statement.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) earlier said it will file a motion asking presiding Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes, of Branch 221 of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court, to allow journalists more access to the trial.

During the 5 January hearing, journalists had to undergo several inspections by the police before being allowed into the courtroom, to ensure that they did not bring recording or digital devices to record the trial.

"As though it wasn't enough to ban live coverage, the court and the police have likewise restricted the way journalists cover the trial. They disallowed the use of mobile phones, laptops and recording devices inside the courtroom and have also limited the number of journalists who can get inside. Needless to say, this hampers how journalists perform their tasks," the November 23 Movement said in a statement.

The court instead commissioned an artist to illustrate scenes from the trial.

Media groups said allowing live coverage during the trial will ensure transparency and accuracy.

"We concede that the court has to abide by some rules during the course of a trial. But restrictions in the Ampatuan trial are, at best, unreasonable and, at worst, a violation of press freedom and the public's right to know," the coalition said.

The November 23 Movement is a coalition of media organizations calling for justice to the 30 journalists and 27 other innocent civilians who were abducted, slaughtered and hastily buried in mass graves in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, on 23 November 2009. It counts among its members the NUJP, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists.

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