By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita [Cebu]
Two weeks into the trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, it was inevitable that some complaints about media coverage would be raised.
But they were made outside the Senate, not before the impeachment court, and rightly so, because the press is not under its ambit. Senator-judges instead knocked prosecutors’ heads for releasing tax records of the Coronas a day after they presented the BIR chief to testify.
The complaints or, precisely, where the press “could do better”:
One, defense lawyers asked that media go easy on CJ Corona’s SALNs or statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth, by not publicizing them or, if they do, by being accurate.
Two, an educator asked that media cover the substance of the trial and not its sidelights, citing as example media attention on Karen Jimeno, a defense spokesperson, instead of trial issues.
‘Pistahan’ on documents.
The first complaint must stem from the “pistahan” (feasting) by media on Corona’s SALNs the first day they reached the court. A copy was released by prosecutors, an admitted indiscretion that House panel chief Neil Tupas Jr. said they wouldn’t do again.
Defense lawyers explained that the documents were merely marked and not yet admitted as evidence and shouldn’t be made public.
That won’t persuade the press to back off as media tend not to wait for release approval as long as they’re fairly sure they’re authentic. That’s why the court sought to plug the news sources instead of gagging the press.
Journalists are duty-bound, though, to make it clear the documents are not yet evidence and they don’t necessarily prove corruption as Corona might explain ballooning of wealth and discrepancy between records and properties.
Defense lawyers worry when figures in Corona’s records are trotted off without the clarification or, worse, in the case of broadcast, accompanied with snide remarks (and canned snickers) about inexplicable assets.
Gag order, sidelights.
The defense, though, has spokespersons, including Jimeno (who sacrificed a lot by putting off her honeymoon to do what she says she believes in). They can supply what media might miss but they can only hope the journalists will be diligent enough to put in the “caveat” for Corona, or anyone accused of wrongdoing, will find it tough to stop the press from using what is found to be a genuine document although it’s not yet officially proclaimed as evidence. He can ask media for caution, as defense lawyers did, but the handicap is a court order against discussing merits of the case.
As to the request for media not to miss the main dish for the sidings, the critic might have also looked only at sidebars and not principal stories.
The report about Jimeno was a sidelight, which media reported without sacrificing the big story that Article #2 stalled the trial or that the SALNs and taxes paid didn’t jibe.
The side incidents the critic wanted media to avoid provide color, even context. Senator-judge Miriam Defensor Santiago’s screaming at a prosecutor focused on the issue of the extent of court members’ powers.
The danger is when a journalist or news outlet provides an upside-down mix and treatment of hard and soft news, such as when Jimeno’s being “hot” or Santiago’s yelling get more space and play than which standard of proof is needed to keep or kick out Corona.