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Philippines high court rescinds decision to broadcast Maguindanao massacre trial

The Philippines Supreme Court [official website] said on Monday that it would not allow the live broadcast of the trial over the November 2009 Maguindanao Massacre [CSM backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. This decision reverses a 2011 decision to allow a live broadcast [JURIST report] of the trial of several members of a clan accused of killing 57 people, including 31 journalists, who supported a rival political candidate. Philippines presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said that the president is opposed to the high court's decision [Manila Bulletin report], which could potentially impede the transparency of the trial. The 2011 decision to allow live broadcasting marked the first time [AFP report] in the Philippines that a trial would have been broadcast live.

Although the high court's 2011 decision was hailed as a landmark decision, it did not give reporters free reign in the courtroom. At that time the court said it would not allow broadcasters to bring in their own cameras but would instead provide a single, stationary, widescreen camera. No panning or zooming was to be allowed, and broadcasters would have been obligated to show the entire proceedings from beginning to end each day, commercial free. The Philippines Department of Justice [official website] had implicated Andal Ampatuan Sr., the leader of a Muslim clan in the Philippines' semi-autonomous southern province of Maguindanao, and several of his followers in the November 2009 slayings of campaign workers, journalists and supporters of family political rival Esmael Mangudadatu. The court noted that broadcasting the trial was important because of the impossibility of fitting the large number of interested parties into the courtroom, including the families of those killed and of the witnesses. Also in June 2011, a Philippine court froze USD $23 million worth of assets [JURIST report] owned by the Ampatuan family, who are accused of ordering the 2009 slayings, while investigators determine how the Ampatuans accumulated accumulated the assets.

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