By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita [Cebu]
News reporters who will report the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, set to open next Monday, have been briefed by the Senate on courtroom procedures and behavior of journalists during trial.
That will help as Senate reporters, adept as they are in reporting sessions and hearings, aren’t used to impeachment trials. Those who covered the aborted impeachment trial of president Joseph Estrada in 2001, must now be working elsewhere as editors, p.r. practitioners, or call-center agents. Impeachments are seasonal, usually after a president steps down or is evicted from Malacañang.
Some news editors or directors might send court reporters instead of, or in addition to, their Senate reporters. That would be shrewd as a trial, especially an impeachment trial, is more complicated than a Senate session or hearing.
Journalists at the trial need to know what’s going on, how the trial moves, functions and rights of senator-judges and lawyers, what they mean in torrents of argument, why they pursue a specific legal remedy. There will be lot of lawyers who speak in legalese, aside from being redundant or verbose, which will require that the reporter knows the law, with a sharp mind to cut through the thicket of non-essential and confusing language.
Reporters have to be familiar with legal terms and procedures as much as the lawyer-senators, and certainly more than the non-lawyer-senators, some of whom, to the public’s misfortune, think they don’t need law or evidence to find Corona guilty or not guilty.
What it is, what it’s not
Reporters also need to understand what an impeachment is and what it is not.
A high official is made to account for such high crimes as culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, and graft and corruption.
The chief justice, the official impeached, can’t be sued in an ordinary court. The Senate, shedding off for awhile its legislative task, will sit as jury whose collegial decision will determine Corona’s fate.
Is the Senate not a court, are the senators not judges, and is the proceeding not a trial–as what a House prosecutor contends–and thus the decision doesn’t have to rest on evidence and law since it’s a purely political decision, one based on what is good for the country and nation?
It’s not for reporters to resolve the question but they have to set in context events at the trial with how senator-judges and House prosecutors view the exercise and their functions.
Lapses and errors
Aside from that, it’s basic for the reporter to understand the events that led to the impeachment and trial, the near-collision between separate branches of government, the personal and political interests, and the nuances in the exercise of power.
Many reporters may leave that to their editors and opinion makers but good reporting results from knowledge of “how” and “why.” Perspective produces stories that tell the audience what the events mean.
Would media still fall prey to lapses that news sources and readers/listeners routinely complain about: hype on the insignificant but interesting; reporting allegations with no or unchallenged evidence and denials without any support; and “trending” supplied by spins from self-serving or biased sources?
It could. Impeachment is an important story but it’s a story whose size and high-profile is likely to cause errors and deficiencies. Competition may lead to strife for excellence but may also set off mediocrity, excess, or abuse.
The same rivalry though will expose partisan reporting, which media outlet has joined the administration’s lynching mood and which has given Corona a fair shake.
Different cycles, formats
Given their different news cycles and formats, broadcast will be more pervasive, far-reaching, and immediate, but print, if it tries hard enough, can be more useful in fixing focus, separating chaff from grain (and reporting the grain), supplying depth and explanation. But certainly, each will complement the other’s work. As to the social media, we’ll see, just as we watch mainstream media, how much good or harm bloggers and twitters will do.
To be sure, whatever the reporter’s platform, it will be much more than reporting a court litigation.