Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Seares: Bohol broadcaster ordered jailed for 30 days. Not for radio talk but for FB posts. Judge, reporter argued online on errors in story.

Medias Public

THIS is something far different from most cases of contempt of court involving media practitioners.

Bohol Regional Trial Court Branch 2 Judge Jennifer Chavez-Marcos ordered last Friday, January 22, the jailing of broadcaster Dave Charles Responte of dyTR for 30 days after declaring him in indirect contempt of court. She also slapped him with the fine of P30,000.

According to the January 25 Chronicle news story, the 14-page decision of Judge Marcos-Chavez said Responte refused to delete or correct a news report posted on his Facebook page on April 27, 2020.

The story was about the release of one Roberto Alba, a former barangay councilor of Poblacion, Tagbilaran City who was detained on an illegal drugs buy-bust case. The post drew comments of dismay over the release, speculating on possible corruption. The public comments prompted Judge Chavez-Marcos to issue last November 27, 2020 a show-cause order why Responte should not be cited for indirect contempt.

Previous complaint of judge

Note the relevance of a previous incident: Judge Chavez-Marcos had filed a complaint for cyber-libel against Responte, based on the same "offensive" news report, with the prosecutor's office.

The prosecutors downgraded the charge to unjust vexation. Chavez-Marcos appealed the ruling to the regional Department of Justice, the Bohol Chronicle account said, but DOJ affirmed it. There is a pending petition for bail on the unjust vexation charge. The Chronicle story does not say if the broadcaster has filed for bail on his contempt charge.

The previous case is likely to be used to magnify the judge's personal motive in going after the broadcasted.

Interesting sidelights

There were eye-catching sidelights during the December 9 and January 22 hearings of the case:

[1] Judge Chavez-Marcos herself directly examined a witness, one Richard Carcallas Jabines, to prove that the news report maligned; and

[2] Broadcaster Responte refused to cross-examine witness Jabines and to take the stand and answer the judge's questions.

The radio person's lawyer, court-appointed Atty. Janice Parilla from the Public Attorney's Office (PAO), filed a motion to inhibit "to prevent a spectacle " of the judge "acting as complainant, prosecutor and arbiter at the same time."

Three-in-one person

An indirect contempt case is often an occasion for spectacle since the complainant is the judge, the prosecutor is the judge, and the judge is the judge.

The PAO must have known that. Maybe Atty. Parilla just didn't expect the judge to take such a heavily active part, to the point of doing the examination of a witness and the cross-examination of the accused broadcaster.

Judges often remind an accused or respondent not to make a fool of oneself by acting as one's own lawyer. Contempt against judges must be the exception.

Core issue: the news story

The principal issue is whether the news story, carried in a Facebook post, showed convincingly that accused Responte "exhibited criminal intent to degrade, affront and insult the administration of justice, and in fact degraded caused affront and insulted" Judge Chavez-Marcos.

Was the story factual, substantially correct? If there was an omitted fact, was it so essential that its absence caused readers to be angry at the judge? The judge asked for it to be taken down or corrected. What was the correction sought by the judge? Was Responte justified in refusing the correction?

If slander comes from readers

Which material smeared the judge's reputation: the basic news story or the comments of readers about it?

What prompted the speculation by the FB readers about corruption could be (a) the story itself or (b) the slander or libel added to it. But what if there was nothing wrong in the story? What if the defamation against the judge came from readers' comments?

If the news story could stand scrutiny and didn't violate standards of reporting, the judge could be jailing Responte for the comments of his readers who responded to the post. If that was so, the sanction against Responte may be justified only by the principle that the FB account holder is responsible for anything posted on his wall.

What judge asked reporter

The weirdest of it all in the Responte case is that Judge Chavez-Marcos exchanged strong words with Responte on FB.

Had the argument happened in the courtroom, the judge would've sent Responte to jail more quickly, for direct contempt.

The judge's tirade though mostly contained legitimate requests, as any news source or consumer would press for in claiming right of reply.

In sum, Judge Chavez-Marcos asked Responte:

[1] "To complete his news, get all the documents in court, do not twist the news, be a responsible journalist."

[2] "To straighten the facts. Half-truth is not the truth. Umayos ka. You base it only on one document? You don't know how to find the other documents."

Responte insisted he based his story on the judge's order and an interview with the police. He said. She said.

Why the public attention

However the case will be decided by the higher court, these elements have made it worth the public attention:

[1] The platform used by the broadcaster was his personal FB account, not his broadcast station (one doubts if the news was reported on DYTR and if so, was it phrased the way it appeared online?).

[2] The judge's out-of-court complaint was made online, to the broadcaster, apparently not with the dyTR news director or owner/manager (one sees that the reporter's lawyer is provided by PAO, not his radio station);

[3] The judge herself dove into social media waters and tangled with the reporter, necessarily casting off judicial aplomb.


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