6 November, 2005

court strikes at leading philippine journalism blog

The last few days has the Philippine blogosphere abuzz with the news that the PCIJ blog has come under attack. And so it has come to pass, that after repeated attempts, one effort has finally succeeded. The courts have intervened when it comes to blog content.

Do read the PCIJ entry on the case in full. In its entry, the PCIJ says,

The PCIJ was served the temporary restraining order (TRO) today after the court granted the request of Tiongco’s wife, Rona, who said that the PCIJ blog post was an intrusion into “my private life and happy 12-year marriage with my husband” and a “grave violation of my rights and those of my minor children.”

In issuing the TRO, Quezon City RTC Presiding Judge Ralph S. Lee said that it had not yet ruled on the merits of Mrs. Tiongco’s allegations, but that an order removing the blog post was “the safer and more prudent recourse in order to safeguard and balance conflicting rights and interests of the parties/litigants.”

The court also banned the PCIJ, for the 20-day duration of the TRO, from “broadcasting, publishing or posting or causing to broadcast, publish, or post articles and statements similar and related to, or connected and in conjunction with,” that blog post. It is for this reason that we cannot repeat the facts about Tiongco that we had revealed in our blog post, nor can we say what Mrs. Tiongco found so offensive in it. (That post, however, is cached in Google and can be downloaded from the Google website, which is not covered by this court order.)

This is the first legal action, and the first TRO, issued against a blog in the Philippines.

It always seemed to be, that a restraining order is meant to prevent a potential action, but then again it might also cover an ongoing action, which I suppose a blog entry could be construed as being. But to target a blog entry, without targeting, say, television or radio, or even the papers, suggests at the very least that the difference of blogs with regards to traditional media, is that while an offended party may want to penalize a columnist, broadcaster, or radio announcer for a particular incident with a specific date, when it comes to bloggers, our work will be considered something of a continuing crime.

Or perhaps neither the lawyers of the offended party nor the magistracy have thought it through as much, and simply view the internet as a bulletin board, from which a person a can be instructed to remove an offending article. But do so, as Edwin Lacierda points out, is as futile as finding an offending article in a newspaper, and ordering every single copy of that day’s issue of the newspaper destroyed. As the PCIJ and everyone else has pointed out, once you post something on your blog or any online forum for that matter, you lose control of your content to a certain extent. Both Google and have already archived the offending article, which includes the information Tiongco’s wife believes should not have been made public (and a part of me hopes a case is filed compelling both companies to follow the TRO: it will make news around the world and engage free speech advocates globally). The question will be, does a “PNP dossier” have the same status as, say, the blotter of a police station? Because once blottered, an incident becomes subject to public reportage and dissemination, being a public document.

This event also shows that a critical mass has been reached by a critical subset of the Filipino blogosphere: the lawyer-pundits. With Edwin Lacierda leading the charge, Punzi temporarily in shock they believe that this is about freedom of expression. Says Lacierda,

The judge violated a cardinal principle in the issuance of a TRO. The article complained of has already been published, in this case, posted. It was a done deed. That ought to have made the request for the issuance of a TRO moot and academic. You can no longer restrain an act that has already been performed. And even assuming that Mrs. Tiongco can make a compelling case of her privacy, the judge, if he knows how blogs work, could have ordered that particular paragraph alluding to Mr. Tiongco’s marital status removed, at most and not the wholesale censorship of the blog. Mrs. Tiongco’s request and the order of the judge is therefore, invalid and assuming it is valid, it is downright impractical.

Sassy Lawyer taking on a dissenting opinion, saying that this is about the right to privacy:

PCIJ is quick to point to that decision. However, while the central issue there is the right to freedom of expression, the central issue in the current case is the right to privacy. PCIJ plans to make a collateral attack on the privacy issue by raising the right to freedom of expression. Bad move, I think. Personally, I don’t like sneaky defenses. They’re weak. I’d attack the issue squarely by saying that no privacy was invaded because the blog entry contained nothing that wasn’t already public knowledge at the time of publication. If that, in fact, is the case of course. Okay, unsolicited legal advice, sorry. At any rate, I have a lot of respect for the law firm representing PCIJ and since their lawyers are the ones privy to the facts, they are in the best position to decide which move is best.

All views, nonetheless appreciates the seriousness of the situation, not just journalist-bloggers but lawyer-bloggers have come of age. Quite clearly, media bloggers, from Jove Francisco, to Leon Kilat, to Piercing Pens, are concerned. Is this a government effort, aimed at the PCIJ, for whom the Palace surely has no love lost? It depends on whether Mrs. Tiongco can afford, personally, her legal team, and the process in which she and her lawyer have become engaged. It depends, too, on whether her case can be separated from prior efforts to bring the PCIJ to court. Obviously, it cannot: Tiongco, the husband, went to the Supreme Court; after that effort failed, his wife then went to an inferior court. My view is that the government has been out to get PCIJ and Newsbreak for some time, and that the blogosphere is small potatoes for the Palace. This is about those two organizations, and they deserve our fullest support: this will not end until the Palace exacts whatever vengeance will satisfy its people.

The PCIJ already received some grief at the hands of Inquirer columnist Vic Agustin, who asked some questions concerning the funding of PCIJ and Newsbreak magazine at a time when both organizations were incurring the ire of the Palace for their reportage. Newsbreak itself, after being harassed, subsequently discovered that its offices had been bugged. The President’s continued belligerence toward ABS-CBN is just the latest example of her attitude towards media she does not control. The thoughts of Marites Vitug, editor-in-chief of Newsbreak, are all the more relevant today: we have a lot to learn from South Korea.

(Update: Dean Jorge Bocobo in Philippine Commentary, weighs in too).

by @ 7:51 pm. Filed under Philippines

One Response to “court strikes at leading philippine journalism blog”

  1. Dean Jorge Bocobo Says:

    The right of privacy ends, where the public’s right to know begins, or way before that–at the point where its enforcement would be moot and futile. But the information sought to be suppressed is about the public criminal record of Jonathan Tiongco, who is the person accused by ABSCBN News Anchor Julius Babao of bailing out terror suspect Dawud Islam Santos last March and is apparently an “asset” of Sec. Mike Defensor in the Gloriagate coverup. THAT ongoing obstruction of justice is the key to understanding practically everything the Palace is doing or saying. It is WHY there is a crisis.

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