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TRO on Imbestigador 'threat' to press freedom

May 23, 2007 8:26am
A Canada-based media watchdog group branded as a "threat" to media freedom Wednesday (Manila time) the temporary restraining order slapped on a public affairs television program reporting on a clan's 60-year reign in Lanao del Norte province.

The International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX), in its website (www.ifex.org), classified the urgency of the censorship on the TV show "Imbestigador" as a "Threat."

Last May 12, a representative from Lanao del Norte's second district secured the TRO that barred GMA Network Inc.'s "Imbestigador" from airing the segment on the Dimaporo clan.

Rep. Abdullah Dimaporo said in his petition that the program would only cause "irreparable damage" to his "good name," claiming that the show did not show his side of the story.

He said that a circulating mobile phone message saying that the story would focus on his "corruption and greediness" (sic) prompted him to file the petition.

"The 72-hour TRO reached GMA Network when Imbestigador's staff was in the last stages of editing the program for airing," the IFEX said.

On the other hand, IFEX noted the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) labeled the restriction "as a clear case of prior restraint,"

In its statement, the NUJP said that while it not dispute the Dimaporo family's right to seek redress if they feel the episode is unfair to them, "any redress they seek should be after the fact and should not involve [preventing] the airing of an episode that very clearly touches on an issue of public interest."

Angel Directo, Imbestigador's associate producer, asserted that "Imbestigador" had tried to secure an interview with Dimaporo.

She said the congressman initially agreed to an interview, but was later not available. She added that the program had sent a researcher and a cameraman to Lanao del Norte on May 11, but were still unable to obtain an interview.

The network was said to have been "under intense pressure" the previous week from the Dimaporos and their go-betweens to kill the story, via "letters, phone calls, and personal visits."

Lawyer Jose Ibarra of the GMA-7 legal department said that the report's showing should not have been blocked, noting that a story on the Dimaporos as a political family is "not a private aspect of their lives, but a public fact."

Theodore Te, a human rights lawyer, said GMA-7 could have opted to still air the Dimaporo story in spite of the TRO, citing the constitutional provision on press freedom if charged with contempt of court.

Te also said that the network could have also appealed to the Supreme Court for an immediate restraining order on the TRO.

"GMA's legal department is still awaiting another hearing to settle the case, since the initial summons to determine if the TRO would go beyond 72 hours was set too soon, on 13 May," IFEX said. - GMANews.TV
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