Media's Public

Fewer news reports of acquittals?

By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita

RTC Executive Judge Gilbert Moises tells why a ruling of “not guilty” deserves to be published

Cebu Regional Trial Court Judge Gilbert Moises asked at a media forum last week why the press usually doesn’t report acquittal of a person accused of a crime.

It does not? We’ve seen news stories of the accused declared not guilty as well as of the accused convicted of the crime.

Judge Moises showed no numbers but as RTC executive judge, he must closely watch how media covers the local courts. Both news source and media consumer, the judge could offer valuable insight into media performance.

Which he did, in the segment “Critique On Media Coverage of the Courts: More Light than Heat?” during the “Ating Hustisya” one-day training seminar at USC last Feb. 24.

Newsworthiness

Without the stats, I can’t say there are fewer stories on acquittals. In either result of a court trial though, what decides the story’s fate– ignored or covered, big display or buried –is its newsworthiness.

And these days, as in the past, that depends on how reporter and editor assess its value as media content. Is it a big story or if not, is it interesting?

That’s the built-in standard, which observe every time news managers decide whether to use or spike a story. Public interest that guides news media that whips up public interest.

Why they must see print

But why would judges like to see as much reportage of acquittals as that on convictions?

Fairness demands that shaming in the indictment is compensated with news of acquittal. That can’t be, an editor once said in an earlier forum, as there are so many trials, not every result is published. I noted then that the media outlet that finds the story of accusation worthy to publish must also find news of acquittal publishable. How about importance of “completing the story” if the fairness value doesn’t kick in?

That doesn’t happen a number of times. There are reasons: slip-up, oversight, too much news at any given time, lack of reporters to watch the courts, breaking of other more interesting, newsy events.

Judge Moises though has as news source a special reason to see the acquittal story. The public is told why the evidence and the law cannot put the accused behind bars. Relevant for people to understand how an accused, earlier publicized as most probably guilty, gets off the hook. Did justice fail, was evidence tampered, prosecutor or judge bribed? In sum, the public will know why.

Other platforms

Not to despair though. With all other media platforms available, a story that doesn’t see light in one media may be published in other media.

Judges who routinely don’t talk about their decisions may still have them published in the internet en toto, sans comment. If the issue is significant or even if it’s not, anyone can post it to help promote an informed conversation.

Apparently though, many people still expect a lot from newspapers: for insight, fairness and responsibility. That should cheer print journalists a bit.

MEDIA’S PUBLIC IN SUNSTAR ONLINE
www.sunstar.com.ph

(publicandstandards@sunstar.com.ph or paseares@gmail.com)

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