TV Scrambles to Broadcast History: Chief Justice No More
CMFR - Tuesday 15th May, 2018
ON MAY 11, the Supreme Court (SC) by a vote of 8-6 granted Solicitor General Jose Calida's petition to remove Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno from her post. By upholding this little known mechanism as a supposedly valid means of removing an impeachable public official, the decision has set a precedent: the President, the Vice President, associate Supreme Court justices and other impeachable officials may now be removed through the same proceeding. This was unheard of, let alone thought to be possible.
But Sereno's ouster also marks a historic first on several levels. This is the first time that associate justices have openly challenged the authority of the chief justice. This is also the first time that the High Court has weakened the authority of another branch, in this case, the Senate, which holds the sole power to remove a Supreme Court justice through conviction in an impeachment trial. Filipinos are used to the dirt of partisan politics. But for the first time, they have also witnessed political patronage openly influencing, through the Executive Branch's Office of the Solicitor General, the removal of members of the highest court in the land.
While anticipated by many, given the number of justices who had shown their bias against Sereno, her ouster sparked heated protests on the streets as well as in social media.
Television was the first medium to carry reports of Sereno's ouster. It is from such turns of events that television draws its primacy as a medium, demonstrating its power to connect the public at once to an event of historic import through live, on the spot, coverage. Despite this advantage, however, some TV stations went live much later than others. Their followers were instead fed regular programming as scheduled, with some resorting to reports on the decision as breaking news.
Free TV channel CNN Philippines and cable news channel ANC began reporting from the Supreme Court on Padre Faura an hour before the scheduled start of its session. Their live reports mostly focused on the demonstrations for and against the quo warranto petition.
Also on free TV, on GMA News TV started coverage at this time, as some media organizations began to pick up leaks from insider sources about the decision.
Media trained their cameras on Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te as he made the official announcement of the decision: the Court had granted the quo warranto petition by a vote of 8-6. The press briefing was aired live by the ANC, CNN Philippines' and GMA News TV in its noontime broadcast program .
TV5's scheduled noontime newscast began reporting the event live only with the scheduled noontime newscast at 12:00 n.n., recalling the events that had transpired in the Court and reporting on the current situation in the venue. The coverage, however, lasted only roughly eight minutes.
In monitoring the developments, the news anchors threw questions at their correspondents on site, asking them what was known so far and what was happening in the vicinity, as well as other detailed real-time updates. Other topics discussed on air included the political options of Sereno.
The coverage picked up reactions on the ruling:
Phone interviews accessed a range of views. sought the views of Sereno spokesperson Josalee Deinla before the announcement of the decision. Post-announcement, booked Deinla, Presidential Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo and Abdiel Fajardo, national president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, for interviews.
Free TV channels GMA-7 and ABS-CBN 2 continued with their regular programming, reporting the decision only briefly as breaking news. This failure denied the mass audience the appreciation of the event as a historic first, which it could have helped to do, gathering both information and context.
CHEERS to ANC's special coverage, "Sereno: The Fight Continues" and later "The Fall of the Chief Justice," which stood out for staying on the topic the longest, going live as early as 7:30 a.m., airing relevant reports on the quo warranto proceedings prepared for the occasion. ANC continued reporting on other news in the hours leading to the decision, maintaining a video inset to monitor events at the Court, and then shifting to the live coverage of what was happening outside. ANC also aired an exclusive interview with Sereno ("Exclusive: Ousted CJ Sereno says she has no regrets") at 2:50 p.m., and covered Sereno's press conference which started around 6:23 p.m. until 7:00 p.m.
ANC also featured panel discussions with guests. The morning panel, hosted by Christian Esguerra, included impeachment complainant Larry Gadon, Sereno spokesperson Jojo Lacanilao, and Soledad Margarita Deriquito-Mawis, Lyceum of the Philippines College of Law dean and Philippine Association of Law Schools chairperson. Its continuing coverage in the afternoon was hosted by Lynda Jumilla-Abalos and featured Abdiel Fajardo of the IBP.
The guests spoke on topics such as the validity of the quo warranto petition, Sereno's next legal recourse, and the landmark decision's impact on the framework of government, including the options to be taken by key sectors, such as the legal community, primarily the IBP, among others.
But as ANC is on cable, all this reached only a sector of the public audience. (ANC's coverage is uploaded as a two-part video in their official YouTube channel [PART 1 | PART 2].)
CMFR notes the failure to go live, even if limited only on key developments, as an unfortunate option of free TV channels. News media should attempt to engage much of the public as possible so more Filipinos can realize how certain events are relevant to them and will affect them as well as those who have personal, partisan or political interest in certain outcomes. Among the primary mandates of the news media is to make what is relevant and significant interesting to as many citizens as possible as a means of empowerment. The obligation is institutional, and non-recognition of this responsibility undervalues the gift of press freedom.
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